I wonder, sometimes, what people who don’t write, or want to write, or who don’t strive with every fibre to get their work published, think about people who do. Perhaps they imagine that the life of an aspiring writer is one of non-stop excitement and hobnobbing with the literary elite; they might think that things come easy, because the stories which make big headlines are always the spectacular, glittering ones, the ones which tell of huge book advances and fabulous launch parties and celebrity endorsements.
And, of course, perhaps they have more common sense. But still, I wonder.
Things have been quiet in my writing tower of late. I have distractions, other plans, unexpected life-branchings and plenty of quietly exciting stuff to be getting on with – but none of it has to do with writing. The only ‘development’ I’ve had in recent times has been another slew of rejections, which may give you the reason behind this post’s title.
For yes, my friends. I have been here before.
It doesn’t make things any easier or less eye-wateringly painful, nor any less disappointing, but at least it’s familiar territory. Not only that, but it’s territory I share with everyone else who has ever written, for even the most successful of us has known the dark sorrow of being told ‘No’.
Not for us. Not in the current market. Not quite what we’re looking for. Good, but not quite good enough. Beautifully written, but far too many problems with plot. Wonderful voice, but we really hate the protagonist. We weren’t quite on board with the pace of action – it’s too fast. Things move far too slowly. Too full of unlikeable characters.
Or – worst of all:
I have received so much feedback on my work to date that it has almost spun my head right off my shoulders. Some people who have read the things I’ve written have loved certain aspects, and other people have detested those very same things. For one reader my novel may crawl along like cold treacle; for another it zips by in a mind-muddling mess. Some readers love my fictional people and others would happily drop them over the nearest cliff. It’s hard to know what to do with all this editorial opinion. The only thing worse than being told why your work is being turned down, though, is to receive a simple rejection which doesn’t explain itself. Simply ‘No, thanks’, without any elaboration. It’s impossible to know what to do with that.
Writing is a process of learning, much like life, and I never expected to meet with universal approval when I started out. I knew I’d get knocked back, and that the knockbacks would vastly outnumber the successes. I’m not sure I expected to be left in such a spin by the reasons given, though; that has been harder to process than the actual rejections, in many ways. For how do I learn from this? How do I improve, how do I grow? How do I ensure I don’t keep making the same mistakes, if nobody can agree on what, exactly, these mistakes are in the first place? It’s a scary thing, to be left simply with a vague sense of not being good enough, like a nebulous vacuum at the centre of your creative being which sucks at your confidence like a black hole. If I could delineate the limits of my not-good-enoughness, draw its outline and understand where it begins and ends, sense its shape and size, it would not only be easier to handle, but far more useful for my future career.
There aren’t any secrets to being published. You do it by writing the best book you can, being brave enough to share it around, and hoping for the best. I read an interesting (if depressing) article this morning about a possible unconscious bias in favour of male authors over female, but I’m not sure I’d let that upset me too much in terms of children’s publishing. It may well be a factor in literary fiction circles, sadly (and wrongly), but there’s no reason to let that put you off. Plenty of women succeed marvellously; plenty of men do, too. Writing a good book is the only vital bit.
I have written a good book. It’s a book I love. My faith in it has never wavered, and I still love it now as much as I did when I put the first words on the page almost two years ago. I was brave enough to share it around, and it has met with a certain amount of success – which is the best feeling in the world. And I’m still hoping for the best in terms of its future. But it has been, and continues to be, a long and hard road. Keeping one’s enthusiasm going and ensuring that all hope is not lost is a continuous struggle, and trying to stay focused on the long-term goal is something I’m finding hard at the moment. Writing isn’t all about stupendous book deals and joyful release days and the popping of champagne corks; it’s mainly about lonely struggle, and the daily teeth-gritting ritual of checking your inbox to see whether someone else has decided your work isn’t up to scratch. I’m doing my best to learn, and grow, and use these experiences for the good, and I know it will benefit me one day.
Today is not that day. But it is coming.