Tag Archives: rejection

A Little Rejection Tale

MurderedAngel

A professional writer is an amateur who didn’t give up. If you keep going you improve and you’ll break through eventually, but you must keep going.

Some years ago I had a room-mate, lets call him Robert, who was an exceedingly talented writer and a super bright individual. Robert had come from a north of England working class family and had won a scholarship to a top college at Oxford to study law, and then proceeded to get a 1st. In a class ridden society such as England is, this is quite a feat. He then went on to barrister pupilage in London. So far, so successful. He struggled in London however, his working class roots a subtle bar from invitation to the glossiest circles, and he let it get to him. Robert decided to jack the law trade in and devote his time to his hobby, writing prose.

Robert was blessed with a wondrous poetic use of language and could craft very beautiful, visual prose. He also had an instinct for story. Within a year, a short story by Robert, had won a prestigious national prize. The way seemed set for a glittering career as a writer. Robert sent out his first novel manuscript to an agent of his choosing. It was rejected. Robert was speechless and sunk into a depression for a few months. Eventually he rallied round, spent another six months moving commas around pages and plucked up the courage to send it out again. And again it was rejected. This process was repeated a third time, after which Robert hit bottom and decided to never write again – and I learned a valuable lesson by proxy.

Robert’s book was slow-paced and poetic and not to everyone’s taste, but there’s no doubt it was good. It may have even eventually have been published had he persevered and found the right agent/publisher. However, Robert’s issue was that he could not take rejection. Following a lifetime of over-achievement, he had unreal expectations and a sense of privilege and entitlement that often accompanies high success at a young age – yes, even for those from working class backgrounds. If Robert had had the skills to roll with the blows, he would have no doubt become a barrister and a published and acclaimed author – but he did not know how to handle rejection, so he gave up. Dealing with the turn-downs is the most important skill a writer needs.

Robert had three rejections and then stopped writing. It’s July, I’ve had 33 rejection letters since January this year alone, and I’ll have the same number again by December (I’ve had 10 acceptances thus far this year, however, just to give you an idea of the percentages). If you are not willing to take the hits, you need to get out of the writing game. The upside is that if you keep going, keep sending those ships out, keep improving and keep rolling with the punches, you absolutely will break through… eventually.

 

 

 

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Keep on Keepin’ on

 

 

It’s not over ‘til the fat lady sings at midnight December 31st, however I’m already reviewing my log for 2014. Writing-wise, I’ve had a middling-to-good year. As seems to be the norm, about a third of the ‘ships’ I sent out, returned to port carrying some form of booty, be it publication, acceptance, broadcast, recognition or short-listing. Veterans of this blog will know that when I refer to ‘ships’ I’m talking about all the short-stories, stage/screenplays, radio dramas, training/workshops, residencies etc… which I’ve sent out on spec re publication, staging or broadcast or whatever. Over two thirds of my ‘ships’ sank without trace. For a writer, that’s actually a good hit. That’s how hard this profession can be and how utterly important it is to be able to deal with relentless rejection.

So, these are the stats: .last year I sent out a total of 45 ships. Some 16 returned to port, 26 never made it and three are still out there bobbing on the waves of publisher/broadcaster whim. It was a pretty similar story in 2013 when I sent out 56 ships, 17 returned to port and 39 went nowhere. The highlights of 2014 were my three broadcast radio plays and beginning my PhD on New Writing at The Royal Court Theatre (and the move to London that entailed). I’ve also been selected to go to Italy (Assisi) to an artists’ residency in 2015 and a number of short-stories of mine have recently been selected for publication in anthologies – meaning a total of nine stories of mine have now been published, along with four broadcast radio plays. But, believe me, for every one of those ups, there have been at least two disappointments.

Rejection is part and parcel of the writer’s lot and learning how to handle it is one of the most important (and difficult) challenges writer faces. I’ve seen terrifically talented writers fail because they couldn’t hack the relentless disappointment. Equally, I’ve seen mediocre writers break through due to their tenacity and self-belief.

Don’t give up – look at how you can improve your rejected story/script/novel/play and send it out again. And, much depends on what the magazine or the competition judge is looking for at that particular time, it may not be a comment on your writing skills. It’s all about not giving up, and sending out more and more ships… Now, get back to work.


What Writers Want

On Tuesday, March 4th, I was asked to give a provocation at Writers’ Centre Norwich (monthly salon) re what writers want. I thought it might be of use to publish the points I made here. Please feel free to comment.

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Writers want to write (usually). However, writers may also want a holiday in the Maldives, a Thai massage, to lose weight, to meet George Clooney and to win the Lottery. So, for the purposes of this provocation, it is probably best to concentrate on what writers need. There are three needs to which all writers must attend: to find time, to obtain honest criticism and to cope with rejection.

Time:

Individual writing needs are subjective, obviously. Stephen King likes to write with a wall of heavy metal music blaring in the background. Zadie Smith opts for a silent, darkened room, while J.K. Rowling famously favours bustling cafes and the motion of trains. Nonetheless, one need all these writers have in common is that they all need time to write. Virginia Woolf once said that a great obstacle for writers (particularly female writers) is a pram in the hall. Children are doubtless demanding of the writer’s time. However, Virginia was a wealthy woman and perhaps unaware that in the hallway lurks another time-killer for writers, one which probably didn’t bother Virginia that much – bills on the doormat. Yes, the need to pay rent, bills, feed and clothe yourself means that unless independently wealthy or supported by a generous, affluent partner, most writers will have to work to survive. This will result in limited writing time. Therefore, one of the first matters to address when you begin your career as a writer is how you are going to find and fund time to write.

Get a day job seems the obvious answer. Some writers opt for a writing-related gig such as teaching creative writing or journalism. However, both are rather stressful jobs and you have to be careful that you leave time for your own writing. When I worked as a journalist, a keyboard was the last thing I wanted to see when I got home. Therefore, there is much to be said for working in a monotonous job that requires no writing and little mental effort (on a factory line, for example). And such a setting keeps you connected to the real world and can provide good material for our work. The writer Nell Dunn chose factory work for this reason and her experiences translated into her landmark 1960s T.V. series ‘Up the Junction’. That said, taking a factory line means the loss of social status, which can be an issue for some, especially if they have spent many years studying for an MA etc… Alternatively, yo ucna investigate obtaining funding from the Arts Council which allows writers to buy time. As a 2013 Escalatee, I received an Arts Council grant which gave me the freedom to go part-time at work for the greater part of a year – the fruit of which was a completed novel and screenplay. Be aware that the Writers’ Centre Norwich will read over your Arts Council application before you submit.

Criticism:

Writers need objective criticism and your mum usually doesn’t provide the same. Rather, you need honest feedback from fellow scribes. It is an idea to approach writers in your community whose work you admire and offer to swap work for feedback purposes. It is not easy to take criticism onboard but to improve, you must. It is fine to defend your work or disagree with comments made but remember your critics are giving a reader’s perspective and if they’re confused/unimpressed, it is likely your readers will be also and you will not be able to phone all your readers and defend your choices. Learn to listen and consider the criticism you receive. You can contact fellow writers via writers’ groups, writing classes and the Internet. Also, there are commercial manuscript-critiquing services. The Writers’ Centre Norwich has some recommendations in this regard. Moreover, rejected work is sometimes returned with helpful criticism. Read it, consider it, re-work your piece and send out a better version. Your writing skills will improve with each new draft of your work.

Rejection:

Learning to cope with rejection is one of the most difficult, yet most important of the writer’s needs. You are a writer and you will fail and your work will be rejected. And you will be rejected again, and again. Not only do you need to keep going, you need to learn how to deal with these constant dismissals of your work. Having a brass neck would help, however writers tend to be a sensitive bunch. I’ve seen a number of very talented writers give up because they couldn’t hack the (seemingly endless) rejection. Equally, I’ve seen lesser talents succeed because they mustered the strength to suck it up and keep going. Some use drink as a crutch (probably not to be encouraged, but it can be fun in the short term). My own coping method is to send out so many ships, be they short stories, screenplay pitches, radio dramas, funding applications, that if one ‘sinks’ I hardly  notice and simply concentrate on launching more. As someone said to me once, if you knock on a door three times you might not get a reply, if you knock on a door three-hundred times, someone will hear you.


New Year Ships’ Log

It’s 2014 – a year that still sounds to me like the title of a Sci-Fi movie. And I’m hoping the spaceships I encounter over the next twelve months will be of the friendly variety .Veterans of this blog will know that when I refer to ‘ships’ I’m talking about all the texts/scripts which I’ve sent out on spec re publication, staging or broadcast etc… I have always liked the idea of my work as ‘ships’ as it somewhat relieves me of responsibility – once launched, they are out there and I can only hope they return to port in some form, preferably laden with a win or publication.

Last year I sent out a total of 59 ships. Some 17 returned to port, 39 never made it. Rejections/disappointments/ non-runs/PFOs are part and parcel with the writer’s lot and learning how to handle them is one of the most important (and difficult) lessons a novice writer faces.

I when I was 22, I wrote seven short stories. They were bad, really pretentious, decorated with adjectives and adverbs and with no theme or character development or point to any of them at all but I thought they were pure genius. I sent them off to every magazine I could find in the bookstore. And waited. And waited. And waited… until I became convinced that they had all been lost in the post. It was the only explanation, surely, as any editor would recognize my genius immediately, no? A couple of months later, I received a single rejection letter. And the truth dawned. No one else even bothered replying. It was 100% rejection. I was floored. I burned the stories I was working on and I didn’t send anything else off for another ten years.

That was very stupid of me. I should have brushed myself off and tried again. I would be in a much better position and be a better writer now if I had. But I wasn’t strong or  mature enough to know that then. Ah, well. During my first year on my MA at UEA  (2009), I sent out another batch of stories. I’d had a few shorts published at this stage and was confident that I’d now win every competition going and it would pay my MA tuition. And, again I got nowhere. I was pretty down but I recalled how I’d let rejection defeat me before and vowed it wouldn’t happen again. I sent out more, and then more and after six months, I had bagged the Mary and Ted O’Regan Award, and then the Annaghmakerrig award and the Molly Keane Award, the HISSAC, the Sussex Playwrights’, the Meridian, the Escalator Award. I’ve now got two broadcast radio plays under my belt (and am working on a third)  as well as signing with an agent and my novel is currently on submission to publishers. My  short stories have been published in seven anthologies/literary publications. I’ve had staged readings of my work in Norfolk, Brighton and Cornwall. I’ve served as writer in residence on the Aran Islands, lead workshops in creative writing in Ireland and the UK and teach writing for a living. These are all ships that came home to mama over the past five years but believe me, many had to sink before I saw the slightest hint of success.

Don’t give up – look at how you can improve your rejected story/script/novel/play and send it out again. Remember, much depends on what the magazine or the competition judge is looking for at that particular time, it may not be a comment on your writing skills. It’s all about not giving up.

The 2013 stats:

Ships sent out: 56

Wins/acceptance/short-listings/publications:17

Ships sunk: 39

The 2014 stats thus far:

Awaiting news on 13 ships launched

Wins/acceptance/short-listings/publications: 1

Ships sunk: 3


Snakes and Ladders

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No, they’re not snakes. It’s drying seaweed. I was in Ireland. Everyone knows there are no snakes in Ireland…

I asked a Chinese friend of mine yesterday if the Year of the Black Snake was a good or bad one (let’s face it, it doesn’t sound like a carnival, does it?) Chen tells me it’s good and bad. So, snakes and ladders – or a regular year, then, with all its ups and downs, triumphs and rejections.

Triumph in any form is marvellous, and for a writer, so used to rejection letters, a small success can propel one to the moon. What I find difficult is to keep an even keel, not to go under when the rejections roll in (and roll in they do) and not to lose the run of myself when I win an award or get a story published (which thankfully is happening with increasing regularity these days).

I when I was 22, I wrote seven short stories. They were bad, really pretentious, crammed with adjectives and adverbs and with no theme or character development or point to any of them at all but I thought they were pure genius. I sent them off to every magazine I could find in the bookstore. And waited. And waited. And waited… until I became convinced that they had all been lost in the post. It was the only explanation, surely, as any editor would recognize my genius immediately, no? A couple of months later, I received a single rejection letter. And the truth dawned. No one else even bothered replying. It was 100% rejection. I was floored. I burned the stories I was working on and I didn’t send anything else off for a long time.

That was very stupid of me. I should have brushed myself off and tried again. I would be in a much better position and be a better writer now if I had. But I wasn’t strong or  mature enough to know that then. Ah, well. After a few years, I returned to creative writing and during my first year on my MA at UEA, I sent out another batch of stories. I’d had a few shorts published at this stage and was confident that I’d now win every competition going and it would pay my MA tuition. And, again I got nowhere. I was pretty down but I recalled how I’d let rejection defeat me before and vowed it wouldn’t happen again. I sent out more, and then more. And after six months, I won the Mary and Ted O’Regan Award, and then the Annaghmakerrig award and the Molly Keane Award, the HISSAC, the Meridian and the Sussex Playwrights’ and this year I’ve been selected as an Escalator Literature Artist and have just recorded my first radio drama, ‘Cow’.

Anyway, the moral is don’t give up – look at how you can improve your rejected story and send it out again. Remember, much depends on what the magazine or the competition judge is looking for at that particular time, it may not be a comment on your writing skills. Do a bit of research, try to find a suitable home and try and try again. You will get there in the end.


Shipping News

Waiting for ships, Brighton.

When one launches a ship, one surrenders responsibility to the waves. Once the vessel has disappeared over the horizon, it’s on its own. You’ve got to get on with life and other ventures until it either returns to port or news comes in that it hasn’t made it (admittedly and thankfully rare these days, but you get the picture).

And this is how I see writing projects I’ve sent off, as ships.  Whether they be short-stories sent to competitions/magazines/anthologies, a funding application, chapters of my novel sent to an agent, a script sent to the Beeb, a script sent to a theatre – whatever, they’re all ships into  which I’ve put all the skill and talent I’ve got. Once they’ve gone, it’s up to the seas of luck, taste, fashion and need to put them to the test and see whether they sink or come back to port laden with goods (acceptance/publication/a win/a short-listing etc..).

Last year I sent out a total of 61 ships. Some 20 returned to port with bounty, 41 never made it. For various reasons, I’ve been slightly less productive this year, but am doing my best to rectify this situation.

Thus, my stats thus far this year:

Ships sent out: 37

Wins/acceptance/short-listings/publications/performances:11

Ships sunk without trace: 17

Awaiting any news on 9 ships launched.

The year is not over and I intend to launch quite a few more ships before 2012 draws the curtain. It’s what keeps me going…

Bon Voyages!


Feeling Rejected?

Thank you so much, all of you lovely people who sent warm wishes regarding my short-listing. I ran a half marathon once and remember being carried forward by the cheering of the crowd and your comments yesterday were a reminder of that support. Muchísimas gracias, merci bien, nagyon szépen köszönöm, go raibh míle maith agaibh!

Posting this “success” also made me feel a bit of a fraud. Don’t worry, the short listing is genuine, I’m referring instead to the number of rejections/disappointments/ non-runs/PFOs I receive and never post because, well, one doesn’t make a big deal out of “failure”. A writer’s lot is pickled with rejection however, and learning how to handle it is one of the most important (and difficult) lessons a novice writer faces. Therefore, I thought it might be an idea to look at dealing with letters that begin: “The standard this year was very high and unfortunately…”

I when I was 22, I wrote seven short stories. They were bad, really pretentious, crammed with adjectives and adverbs and there was no theme or character development or point to any of them at all but I thought they were pure genius. I sent them off to every magazine I could find in the bookstore. And waited. And waited. And waited… until I became convinced that they had all been lost in the post. It was the only explanation, surely, as any editor would recognize my genius immediately, no?

A couple of months later, I received a single rejection letter. And the truth dawned. No one else even bothered replying. It was 100% rejection. I was floored. I burned the stories I was working on and I didn’t send anything else off for another ten years. That was very stupid of me. I should have brushed myself off and tried again. I would be in a much better position and be a better writer now if I had. But I wasn’t strong or intelligent enough to know that then. Ah, well.

During my first year on my MA at UEA, I sent out another batch of stories. I’d had a few shorts published at this stage and was confident that I’d now win every competition going and it would pay my MA tuition. And, again I got nowhere. I was pretty down but I recalled how I’d let rejection defeat me before and vowed it wouldn’t happen again.

I sent out more stuff, and then more stuff. And after six months, I won the Mary and Ted O’Regan Award, and then the Annaghmakerrig award and the Molly Keane Award this year (and received a tonne of rejections too).

My key coping tactic is multiple send outs. I like to have twelve “ships at sea” at any one time.  That way, if one ship sinks, I don’t notice it so much.

And don’t give up – look at how you can improve your rejected story and send it out again.

Remember, much depends on what the magazine or the competition judge is looking for at that particular time, it may not be a comment on your writing skills.

The 2011 stats:

Ships sent out in 2011 so far: 50

Wins/acceptance/short-listings: 13

Ships sunk without trace: 26

Ships yet to report back: 11