Saturday, April 02, 2005

Can't take this rejection

You get born. You get rejected. You die. Which hurts most? Well, the middle one is the only one you remember, and mull over, and relive, and dream about. No wonder writers and would-be writers obsess about it. But the condition is more general than that. Everyone is rejected in love and work almost all the time: it only takes a few exceptions to make all the difference. But if it's so common, why are we so bad at dealing with it? Some people aren't bothered by it. They say that successful people aren't successful all the time- they just don't dwell on their failures: they learn the lessons and move on.

Hard to do, though, especially with something as personal as writing. While it is possible to shrug off criticism of one's clothes or hairstyle or car as just some fool's view, the same cannot be done about criticism of one's writing. After all, the writing self is the core self, so how can you take someone's placing a low value on it lightly? Especially if you yourself are convinced that it is perfect, or nearly so, or getting there. So although I can shrug off many other rejections, it's the writing rejections that hurt.

There's a website dedicated to Rejection, including postings of people's worst rejection letters. It's not as much fun as its sounds, because rejection letters only really sound terrible to the recipient. Anyone else will pick it up and read out "It says they liked some of it" as if this were any compensation at all for not saying "We'll print this and anything else you ever write and pay you a thousand pounds per word".

There is an interesting debate to be had about styles of rejection. Is it worse to hear nothing for weeks or months, or to hear "no" straight away? Is it worse to get a reply which shows that they never even read your submission, or one which takes the trouble to find fault with every line? Is it worse to get a photocopied rejection slip or a chatty personal note which says the same thing in a different way?

The BBC, which has to cope with thousands of unsolicited submissions (including mine), has addressed this head-on. Their Writer's Room FAQ is quite good, covering such concerns as "Will my idea get stolen?" and "Will they actually read my manuscript?" (to which the refreshingly-honest answer is that they'll read the first 10 pages of anything and read on to the end if they think it's worth it). And their rejection letters are good, too (including mine): they are clear in saying they don't want it, but also make a comment which demonstrates familiarity with its contents.

And there's also something final about it. If the BBC don't want it, no-one will. Get over it. Put it on the shelf (or on your blog), rip off the best bits for future re-use, and move on. Poetry magazines are different. There's always one more to try, one whose editor you know, or whose poetry you think is similar to yours, or at least shares a sensibility. To be fair, many editors are kind. They don't keep you hanging around daydreaming of acceptance - no, they make sure you are disillusioned by return of post. It is a sort of consolation to realise that even biographies of good, famous writers contain lengthy accounts of frustration and rejection; it is sobering to think that actors have it even worse: no matter how many Oscars they've won, they're still on the audition treadmill.

Not all bloggers are would-be writers. But many are; the best are. (Established writers don't bother - they're too busy selling their work, or doing their work). And one of the beauties of blogging is the lack of mediation. I can put anything I want here, without having anyone agreeing that it's good. I don't even have to believe it's good. All I need to believe is that someone lese might appreciate it.. And one of the other beauties of blogging is getting reader's views. The web counter goes up. People come; some stay. Some return. This is validation: much more so than the wearying task of trying to find someone in the world who has: a. heard of the magazine your poem is in; and b. read the relevant issue; and c. read your poem; and d. remembers it. So hi out there, and thanks for reading. And commenting, if you want to.

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