Monday, 1 March 2010

Talking ... about rejections

The talk I was supposed to give last week to a creative writing class was postponed because the class tutor had the Flu. In a way it did me a favour because I had a croaky sore throat myself (not that I'd wish the poor woman the Flu, of course!) ... and I'm now due to give the talk tomorrow.

It's quite timely. One of the things I always stress when giving talks to any group of writers or would-be writers is the importance of anticipating rejection, not taking it personally, treating it as part of a writer's life and taking it on the chin. And so on. Of course, we all know it isn't always easy to follow that well-worn piece of advice! - but it's important to recognise that rejection goes with the territory and that it's possible to recover from it.

I'm aware that, because I've had a small degree of success over the years, some of the people listening to me spouting this stuff might think, "It's all very well for her to talk!" Of course, I tell them about all the rejections I had before I finally had a novel accepted - and about all the short stories I've had rejected over the years, and still get rejected now - and I like to think that this gives some of them a bit of hope: I did get lucky along the way, and it could happen for them too.

But I certainly never got complacent! I often quote Graham Greene's very depressing statement that 'For a writer, success is always temporary. Success is only failure delayed.' ! Of course, there are those writers who find success easily, and go on to be successful for the rest of their lives ... but these are the minority. For most of us, we're only ever as good as our last contract, and those contracts are increasingly difficult to secure.

My recent writing career hasn't exactly gone swimmingly. I had an agent briefly last year, who having been enthusiastic about my work and professed herself optimistic about getting me a good publishing deal, worked hard with me for a few months and then abruptly left the agency, informing me that none of the other agents there were interested in handling me, and leaving me wondering if it was something I'd said! So I was back on my own again, unagented as I'd been throughout most of my writing life, and (to be honest) thinking maybe I'm better off that way.

As some of you know, I've recently had a stab at writing a serial for one of the women's mags. This was my first attempt and I knew it wasn't going to be easy, but the editor was really helpful and encouraging, and I tried my best to follow her advice - ending up doing two complete re-writes. I can honestly say it was the hardest thing I've attempted to write - and I've just heard that the third version hasn't been successful - so that's the end of the road with it. Maybe I can eventually adapt it and try it elsewhere, but for the moment the thought of doing that is quite overwhelming and I'm just going to sink back into the comfort of writing some more of my new (as yet unsold) novel!

I found writing the serial a tremendous challenge - and quite a humbling experience, not that I needed one! - reinforcing my admiration of those writers who do write them successfully. Of course I'm feeling disappointed, but (always looking for the silver lining), I'm now in exactly the right frame of mind to talk to the creative writing class about coping with rejection!

Today I've visited my ex-colleagues at the hospital where I used to work, and as always, found myself wondering if I wished I was back there. The answer is always NO - although I still miss them all, and have some great memories of my years there, I know I'm happy with my life now. I refer to myself as a full-time writer but in fact, I think it's important for those of us who aren't MEGA successful (!) to have lots of other things in our lives as well as our writing, so that the disappointments don't feel like the end of the world.
And yes, I'll be telling the creative writing class that, too!

Here's one of the other lovely things in my life!


  1. Thanks, Olivia, for your generosity in sharing those experiences with us. I think our grandchildren are similar ages - they certainly put everything into perspective, don't they.

  2. I'm happy to share, Kath - hope it helps someone, somewhere! Our little Noah will be 6 months old this weekend - where has that time gone! Yes, family comes first, every time. x

  3. Hugs on the R - and thanks for sharing the pic. Noah's gorgeous. Six months old, already? Blimey! Did someone put the last six months on fast-forward?

  4. Thanks, Kate. x Yes, it's scary - Noah's babyhood seems to be going a lot faster than our three daughters' did!

  5. Oh he's a bonny lad is our Noah! Hasn't he grown though? I know bbies do grow but I wish they'd do it more slowly! I bet he takes the sting out of everyone of those rejection, Olivia.

    Sorry to hear about your serial but I know you'll find a home for it somewhere. Whatever we write it's never wasted.

    Rejections! Pah! I'm on about 40 + rejections and counting! You'd think I would've learned something by now wouldn't you!! Not stopped me from trying though, and now I've finally got some success with the articles I'll be hitting the short stories again so I can get another 40 rejections under my belt! ;0)

    I don't think writers should fear rejection; they should embrace it and, if they can, ;earn from it and improve their writing and move on.

    Hope your book goes well, and your talk - is your voice better?

    Julie xx

  6. I know, Julie: Noah seems to get bigger and bonnier every time I see him! And you're quite right about the rejections, and I've always admired your attitude to them. Normally I'm quite good at shrugging them off and resubmitting - this one just hurt a bit cos it was SUCH a lot of work, not as much as a novel of course but I found it harder! But I certainly have learned a lot in the course of writing it three times!! Thank you, my voice is completely better now so hopefully I won't have to whisper tomorrow! x

  7. Noah's gorgeous!

    Julie - don't count rejections, only count hits, that's the rule! I have no idea how many rejections I've had, and that's the way it'll stay.

    Yes rejections are just part of being a writer. They prove one thing only and that is that you are serious enough about writing to be sending stuff off. The only way to avoid them is to never submit anything, and that's pointless.

    To counteract that awful Graham Greene quote, tell yourself - there's a word for a writer who never gives up: Published.

  8. Thanks Womag! You're quite right, I have no idea how many rejections I've had (of either novels or short stories) - but it's a lot! -and in a funny sort of way, I'm proud of them, because I've carried on despite them - as you rightly say -and didn't give up. Thanks for that!

  9. Thanks for your honesty Olivia. I think that the peole that you'll be speaking to will appreciate it too. Personally I've never tried writing a serial but I did think about it once.
    That little fella gets more adorable by the day.

  10. Oh, Olivia! Very timely. Just about to write a post about the dreaded R subject myself, having just had one today about a piece I was quite optimistic about as it had been kind of commissioned. I don't count the beastly things either, I've had so many, but I always think I'm a big grown up writer girl: I should be used to the disappointment of them. Somehow though I never am. It always seems like just when I've had a run of success along comes another R just to remind me I'm not as clever as I think I am and just in case I was even beginning to think I was a "real" writer...
    Commiserations on the dreaded R for the serial. I find swearing and a large swig of chilled white wine helps!!

  11. Thank you Colette. Well, I think my talk went down quite well, everyone was very nice and no-one fell asleep or walked out - always a good sign! And I was given a lovely box of chocs so that helped!

    And so sorry to hear about YOUR R-word, Lydia. So disappointing, especially as you say, when something has been more or less commissioned. I don't think we actually ever get used to the disappointment: maybe we just learn to bounce back a little quicker most of the time ... so that when one particular 'R' hits a little harder than usual it comes as more of a surprise. I'm OK now! And yes, some medicinal glasses of wine did help a lot! xx