A strange thing happened to me the last time my novel was rejected.
- I saw my publisher’s email address in my inbox.
- My stomach gave that excited twitch – the same one we experience as a high schooler when our latest crush walks past.
- I thought ‘That was quick, I only submitted it last week.’
- I opened the email.
- I read the words ‘sorry to say, we won’t be offering for it’
- Blood rushed around in my head.
- My heart tried to implement some kind of evacuation procedure.
- The font on the screen seemed to shrink.
- My entire world seemed to shrink.
- I kept thinking ‘I still have teaching, I’ll just be a teacher.’
- I stared at the screen for a long time.
- I didn’t tell anyone for ages.
- Time passed.
- I rang two trusted writer-friends and cried.
- And moaned.
- And gnashed my teeth.
- I stopped writing.
Rejection hurts. For me, rejection comes with initial feelings of shame, embarrassment, frustration, anger, disappointment and annoyance. And then I get the selfies. Not the “Look-at-me! Look-at-me!” frame-yourself-in-a-screen selfies, but the other kind:
But it’s item 17 on the list above that was the real hero who saved the day. That time of Not-Writing – and it was a good six months or so – seemed very bland and pedestrian while I was living through it. Not Writing was a kind of rebellion against my relationship with writing, a kind of teenagery “stuff you” and slam the door knee-jerk reaction. But I realise now, in hindsight, that something incredibly powerful was shifting within me as a writer. During that period of ‘recovery from rejection’ I was discovering something that hurts more than rejection:
Not Writing made me lonely, depressed and disconnected… I was empty and sad and unfulfilled. I was hungry for something. I was homesick. I was not myself.
After a while I think I realised that the only thing that was going to restore my equilibrium was the very thing that had unsettled it:
So I took a breath and a big swig of harden-up and opened the laptop and started writing again. It seemed strange at first, like I’d gone rusty or lost my footing but overwhelmingly, it just felt right. I felt like I was back inside my own skin.
After a while I even went back to that rejection email and read it again. And I discovered that there was a whole heap of feedback and advice from the publisher that was actually relevant, helpful and useful. I noticed some other words in the email too, like ‘fascinating angle’, ‘interesting story’ and ‘do stay in touch’. As I went back to my novel with that email in hand I found myself agreeing with the suggestions that had been made. I could see a better novel hidden within my current novel. I started feeling grateful for the rejection. Weird huh?
Right now I’m reading Stephen Covey’s 7 Habits of Highly Effective People (I’m secretly a self-help junkie) and I found myself reading and re-reading his pages on being proactive. In this section, Covey shares an anecdote about a man that tells Covey he no longer loves his wife. Covey’s advice is simple: “Love her.” The man is baffled and explains again to Covey that the feeling of love just isn’t there anymore. He asks:
“How do you love when you don’t love?”
“My friend, love is a verb.”
I feel the same way about writing. If I want to be a writer, then I simply have to write.
Being published doesn’t make me a writer.
Winning an award doesn’t make me a writer.
Gaining a grant doesn’t make me a writer.
Writing makes me a writer.
Although simple, this has been a profound paradigm shift for me and in many ways, it has also been liberating. I know that if I was rejected tomorrow, I’d just keep on writing. Because that’s what I do.
And more than that – it’s what other writers do. At the 2015 Byron Bay Writers Festival, Kate Grenville said that she wrote twenty-seven drafts of her latest book ‘One Life’: My Mother’s Story. Twenty-seven! Like I mean, twenty and then seven more. That’s HUGE. But it makes sense doesn’t it? She’s a writer, so – she writes.
And recently, during a Virtual Writer’s course, Charlotte Wood explained how once, when she was dwelling on a ‘bad review’ she rang her publisher and asked what she should do… and her publisher said “Write. That’s what you do.” Good advice, hey?
Of course, writing still brings moments of frustration, anger, disappointment and all of those messy emotions. But when those feelings come, I don’t put down my pen. I keep on writing.
I’ve also put some supports in place, to help my fragile writer-ego recover from the inevitable stumbles. These are things like:
- Reading another self-help book
- Remembering that Kate Grenville revises her novels more than twenty times
- Reminding myself that even great, established authors like Charlotte Wood endure writing-struggles
- Chatting with trusted writer-friends like my sisters here at The Print Posse and really listening to their encouraging words
- Setting new writing goals
- Signing up for a new writing-related course
- Re-reading positive feedback I’ve received in the past
- Letting the energy and the enthusiasm of writing friends fuel my own writing fire
And if I’m really honest…
- Those messy feelings can mean having a glass of wine and plenty of chocolate: a family block of Caramello is helpful or if I’m really troubled, a box of Guylian Sea Shells.
For me, being a writer isn’t about getting published, getting rejected, getting noticed or even getting read.
The very act of writing makes me a writer, and I’m happy with that.
Please let me know your go-to chocolate when the writing world caves in on you… Recommendations should be listed in the comments box below.