Don’t let rejection get you down
My first attempt at writing a novel was not a success. Unsurprisingly. I had a kernel of a story but not much else beyond a desire to write something that encompassed every feeling there had ever been. There wasn’t a scene that wasn’t emotionally fraught. I cried a lot when I wrote it so I thought I was definitely onto something.
I’d always wanted to write a novel but I’d been busy juggling writing and teaching jobs in Tokyo and London. But now, I was living in the middle of the Italian countryside and suddenly there was time. I had two amazing babies but no job, no friends, a pending divorce and, once I’d bathed and put my children to bed, endless empty evenings stretching out before me. A writing project would bolster my sanity and assuage my loneliness, I decided.
I had my theme: FEELINGS! But I had no idea about structure and character development. I didn’t understand much about dialogue and imagery, or the need to vary pace and tone. (The only tone I had was overwrought.) What I did know, was that a novel needed to be long. And mine was long. By the time I’d I finished it I’d left Italy and was living in Malta. Soon my children would be in school and nursery and I’d be back at work. If I wanted to submit this novel, it had to be now.
Submitting was a much lengthier process back then. Every agent requested hard copies and if I wanted a response I had to get my hands on some international return postage slips which caused headaches at my local post office. I photocopied one hundred versions of my earnest script, bought one hundred padded envelopes and lugged my packages, in several trips, to the post office with a toddler in tow. I tried not to think about how much all this had cost.
I waited excitedly for a response. And waited some more. Months passed and I wondered if my manuscripts had even reached their destination. But then, a letter arrived. An actual letter from an actual agent in London.
They didn’t like my book. The ‘unfortunately’ in the second line of the letter jumped out at me. I was disappointed but I tucked it in a drawer because no one ever got their first novel published. But when I got a trickle of letters, some of them wishing me good luck, most of them using the word unfortunately, all of them saying no, I felt that it wasn’t just my novel that was being rejected, it was me. Those international return slips had been used to inform me that I was a huge failure. Thank goodness, I thought, I had never let any friends read my story.
My daughter started nursery and I focused on my career as a journalist writing factual things about real people’s lives and left fiction at that. Until I tried again, a few years later, impatient to tell a new story. My second novel was also big on emotions (I couldn’t help myself) but decidedly better. This time I let people read it, I used their feedback to improve it and I joined a writing group to keep myself motivated. When I was satisfied with it, I sent it out to agents - emailed submissions, this time.
I waited excitedly, hopefully, but once again the rejections arrived. Email after email. It still stung but not as much as the first time because by then I’d understood that rejection is a part of the process of writing. It happens to almost every writer. It doesn’t mean your story isn’t good. It doesn’t mean you can’t write. It’s to do with luck and the zeitgeist and trends and budgets. It’s the wrong person reading it at the wrong time. It’s someone not having ever experienced the world in the same way you do.
Rejection doesn’t mean you should stop writing. You should never stop writing and sharing your stories. Let people read your work. Gather feedback. Make improvements. Write the next one and the next. One day the publishing stars might align. One day you might realise that self-publishing is a great way of finding readers. One day you might enter a competition and win. One day, like me, you might decide to write something utterly different and receive not a letter of rejection, but a phone call saying YES. I was thrilled. I was giddily overwhelmed. I was going to be published.
A 'yes' won’t mean rejections will stop coming. There will always be rejections even after you’re published - from agents, editors and publishers. It’s simply a part of the process.
Don’t give up. Keep going until The End of the story. The wonderful one you’re writing right now and the many brilliant others you will write.
Painting: Henri Matisse, Interior with a Young Girl (Girl Reading).