I was chatting with a young girl – a complete stranger standing next in line in a supermarket queue – who confessed that what was stopping her writing was fear of failure. ‘It seems to me that everyone is writing,’ she said. ‘And quite frankly, I don’t think I could handle the rejections.’
As the line crawled forward, she started to tell me about her idea for a book. Even in the dubious forum of the frenzied store it sounded rather exciting and I tried to encourage her by taking the scare factor out of ‘rejection’ by telling her that it was something that pretty much every writer experienced and, with persistence, could be overcome. I told her that something I’d read early on in my own career went along the lines of ‘until you can paper the surface of a coffee table with rejection slips, you can’t call yourself a writer’. Indeed, one of my father’s sayings was ‘the race is not won at the beginning’. But there’s no getting away from it – part of a writer’s territory rejections may be – but however used to them you like to think you are, some still sneak into your psyche on a not-so-good day and hurt like you’ve been sideswiped by a cricket bat.
There’s a salutary post by one of my LinkedIn connections Brigette Hyacinth – see Leadership Lesson: the Wisdom of Failure – well worth reading for her thoughts on failure and success and in which she writes of the death of American novelist John Kennedy Toole whose inability to ‘handle rejection’ resulted in suicide – tragic enough, but made even sadder in that, posthumously, he won the Pulitzer Prize.
And there’s the rub, I guess. If you don’t try, you’ll never know, but for some people the price is too high. It takes a gutful of determination to learn to accept the lessons of failure. And it takes practice to quieten your stymieing inner critic. It took me ages to use social media and I’m still not entirely comfortable with ‘putting myself out there’.
An early book of mine – For Women Who Grieve – started life as a one-page submission for the ‘opinion page’ one of the glossy magazines of the day. My delight when it was accepted was equalled by my distress when it was rejected by the same editor six months later. It was several issues afterwards that this article – bumped up into a feature article with interviews – appeared in that same magazine under someone else’s byline. I was too gutted to make a fuss and the piece ended up in the bottom drawer. But as it happened, shortly after that I learned a new type of meditation and right at the centre of that period of quiet, came the thought: If 800 words can become a feature, why not a book? So I took my old laptop along to UWA library and within a month I had tapped out 20,000 words. Within the year, Lothian Books (Melbourne) had accepted the manuscript on the proviso I add another 20,000 words and they went on from there to sell the US rights.
But I have to say that my own gremlins were awakened this Christmas. I love this season and all that goes with it, but this year it sashayed in so rapidly – right on the heels of the release of my second novel and the start of another absorbing writing project – that for the first time I rather resented the interruption.
I suspect this over-anxious shielding of my writing time harbours another fear. That I have all these stories still to write and not enough time in which to write them. Perhaps the resolution I need to make this year is to acknowledge and move on from this new monster. Join with me in making 2015 the year we break free from our bogeymen to follow our dreams, to write through or past or beyond rejection.
I’d love to hear about your own experiences of rejection, or whether you agree or disagree with some of the points I’ve made here and in the meantime I wish you all a safe, healthy, gremlin-free 2015.
Photo: IPGGutenbergUKLtd from the iStock archive