Saturday, February 16, 2013

Rejection and Other Pushy Moves

Tropical House - Auckland Wintergardens February 2013

O the hazards of a writerly life. Mountain climbers need safety equipment or a fall off a mighty crag could mean a jaggedy end, demolition-workers wear hard hats to stop dislodged bricks denting their skulls, lawyers surely play hard to forget their inner turmoil after defending or prosecuting some terrible types. But writers, what protections do we have for the injuries from rejection, envy, false hopes and plain everyday losing it?

Rejection, no one much seems to mention the disappointment. Dashed feelings and piles of redundant paper, all hope gone in an opened envelope, "Thanks etc., then - We regret to inform you this manuscript was not accepted for publication." No, we rarely tell anyone about those piles of rejection letters, although some authors have wallpapered a room with them. We'd usually rather rave about our latest publication in Lit with Wit Magazine, some surprise poetry prize, or the boggling stats for our blog now in the thousands, *smirk while attempting a humble look simultaneously*. Success appears at every turn, we hint, we insist, we attempt PR with positive spin.  

But those hard copy returned manuscripts mount up, if we let them. Piles of A4 paper. Drifts of pages. The novels, stories, poems, essays, tra la la la, all the lonely drafts abandoned, *singing* where dooo they aaall come from?

Writing such a joy, we could admit, (one of my students told me, 'Writing is better than chocolate.') But the business side of writing inevitably presents a foreign, new scenario. Creativity, adventuring into new realms of imagination, discovering what a character is really like, taking language apart and reassembling it.... none of those activities even approach what it's like to read a list of instructions for a Creative NZ Grant, assemble all necessary materials, CV, forms completed, referees contact details, budget, excerpt of work in progress, then post it sometimes at great expense; or to write a novel for four, five, ten, twenty years, edit it five or ten or fifteen or more times, pay to have it assessed, edit it again, read parts experimentally to associates, friends and family. (Please, wake up, it gets more interesting soon). Finally, pluck up the courage to spend your weekly petrol money on ink instead, (it costs more per litre than gasoline), and spend a half a day printing this magnum opus. At least one mess ruins the flow. A page caught in the sprockets, or printed on half a page at an angle, or one ink cartridge amongst many runs out. It may take two days to get the thing printed presentably. 

At last, a crisp black and white manuscript exists. It's named, dated, page numbered, it has a frontspiece. Now, find a post office. (Spend time crying in the car, or wailing at the bus stop, or walking furiously on steaming out your tears, when you realise all post offices have closed down within a radius of five kilometres from your house or office).

But yes, the book manuscript does get sent with a covering letter, and Stamped Addressed Envelope, (SAE for return of your m/s),  to the publisher you choose. This fine press you've researched for months. Certain this time, they'll be interested in this particular novel. O yes. This is the one. They printed another a little like it only a month ago, and that's now a best seller. Yours is the requisite original, exciting work however, with true literary allusions. They won't be able to say yours is like anyone else's but it does suit their audience. That target market you've also read about. THWACK, an arrow of determination hits the bulls'-eye.

On the way home, a magazine bought as a treat opens to a page showing some grinning woman or man. Their novel was accepted the first time it was sent to anyone. They just happened to choose a major publisher. They've never written a word before, now it's to be a TV series and then, maybe a film.

The empty feeling which eased into place just after printing your hundreds of pages has not dissipated. It's entirely likely you will never write another word again, maybe not even an email. This feels like someone just told you the world's ending and you've never eaten a vitamin, or a good meal in your life.

After maybe a week or a month, you look at the old file again in your computer or the notes in the book you typed it up from. The book's gone now but a lingering attachment remains. Maybe you want a little gloat at its excellence? Your finished novel, poetry collection, short story collection.... The start seems wrong. Why did you send it so early?

Somehow, usually with chocolate biscuits, strong drink, an insane flirtation or somesuch, you stop yourself from dwelling. It's a  divorce. The love affair with your characters is over, you left them, shunted them on. They've gone. Acceptance feels like a hollow, hungry feeling and yet, you could not eat a thing.

Time passes, it does, we invented time so we'd have something to watch when waiting, but really there's little consolation in it when what you want is a delightful result. Wondrous news appears unlikely to happen but nevertheless you spend a few happy hours here and there imagining success. Prize-winning book, in only a week your fabulous tome is on every best-seller list. Now an acclaimed author, you're filmed always from below like a hero. Old friends email and call - invitations to lunch arrive daily, fancy boutiques want to give you their designs for nothing. Be seen, be the scene, see and believe yourself in this role. Self-help books emphasise the power of self fulfilling prophesies.

There's a day after another day, sun shining or rain, perhaps cloud, even a storm. Postie pops something in the box. It's the acceptance letter.

You foolishly hope it is, although it looked like the rewards voucher from the supermarket. They put bright ads on their envelopes.

It is.

Giant Begonias with Colleus Wintergardens 2013

Sooner or later or in between, home one day with armfuls of groceries, or a swag of jumble for a charity you support, or just swinging your handbag or briefcase, you're thinking it's a good day to get started on that new story. At the door in a courier bag that looks familiar, is a thick parcel. It's the SAE you sent to the best possible publisher the month before or the year before or the four months before or.... You leave it on the step, open the door and go inside. Eventually, you return in a bit of a slump and grump to the step and fetch the package. It takes moments to cut the plastic open with the kitchen scissors. Heart heavy or thumping or alternating, you read the enclosed letter.

Many sentences, at least three usually appear on thick, expensive paper with a letterhead. Your eyes scan fast for the particular sentence with the word, 'regret' or the words 'we are sorry' or similar. Thanks, but no thanks.

Sometimes there's an email only.

Other-times after a year and nothing's been said, you email or write to ask the publisher what they think. No reply. You ask again. No reply once more. You accept their silence means, No thank-you even if it is extremely rude.


Too many of those rejections now to count have arrived with returned poems, stories, novels, non-fiction, plays, essays and article applications, plus the countless arts council grant applications, residencies and so on I've also not gained. I send work away all the time, at least one thing a month, a poem or two, a story, sometimes a whole manuscript. Some of it is accepted. I've got my 14th book or 15th or something like that, (Staples - Recipes, Hints, Poetry All Everybody Needs ) about to be launched on my birthday. Last year was another book launch, Family of Artists with a CD, recorded with Transistor Davis Jnr.

I also see many rejection letters. 

Seemed about time to make it clear not every single thing I write is accepted or published, or even seen by others.

It crossed my mind, when I tell people that I wrote five or six novels before I even sent one away to be considered, in the 1990s, that they may not hear me. I rejected myself a few times too in other words. I did so many times. Good practise.

In my Creative Writing Workshops and so on I at times explain to people that a writer writes to learn something, usually. Also, if you really just want your name on a book cover, then the vanity press industry could assist anyone with that ambition. In our failure to be published nevertheless we may also learn a great deal. I've learnt that feelings of loss, of frustration and anger do not last. Also, I've gathered it's best to let it go, not to mind, business is just that and a publisher needs to think they will make as much money as possible from your work. 

This release of fury, screaming teary disappointment and tangled confusion takes time, but it does happen. 

Then, re-editing the manuscript is a wise move. Lots of time has passed. A wonderful distance exists between the old manuscript and me. Plus, it's rejected, turned down, so easy to take to it like a butcher approaches an carcass, a trained expert who wants to feed their own starving self, and family.

The manuscript rejected makes fine fuel for the fire too. I never throw away paper if it can be burnt or fashioned into something else. The exception is a lot of junk mail, because it is impossible to recycle all that coloured ink, and also, I suspect burning it creates toxic ash. So ashes I put on my garden I protect from junk mail. And it's a fine idea not to allow your writing to float around some recycling plant for workers to chortle over, isn't it?

Many years ago and over many years, I read and re-read rejection letters for any clues to how I could rewrite with more success. (This kind commentary happened at times. I'm eternally grateful to those fine publishing people for their comments, or recommendations about what to read). Rejection letters without any assistance I burnt immediately. Any with a few hints I burnt later. This helped me to let go and forget it, to try again, to just get back up onto that mountain. 

Now, I keep the rejection letters. I feel attached to some, they're like old scars or something. Milestones perhaps. Proof I keep trying.

Thick skin also develops gradually.

Rejection in any case is a large part of my life and I feel the better for it. At least my writing improves with extra editing

All things pass. One day so shall I. Meanwhile, writing is my love and my life. Rejection a vital part of the whole process. 

Perhaps so much rejection of writing also means I do not mind if some people reject my friendship, or my romantic overtures, or my hopes for a new job? That's possible. Rarely now, in any case, do I rely on another to provide me with happiness. Such belief is a foolish one, giving away power to others always unwise. Although I can be a fool, that particular folly is more or less done with, lately.

Let us however wish for success, fine readers and great writing forever into the future from now, come what may. As always I thank you for reading my blog and please, comment at will.
Temperate House - Auckland Wintergardens 2013

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