I love a good stock photo. Look at this guy, he has evidently been turned down by the Arts Council for the seventh time and now has to find a way to fund the project he’s been planning for a year. Or perhaps he’s just had the manuscript he’s spent six years writing turned down by the publisher he felt it was a perfect fit for. Or maybe the poems he thought were his best, his absolute best, the best thing he’s ever written, have been turned down and returned to him with generic rejection in which they got his name wrong and called him Farty rather than Marty.
Oh, the pain.
I have now been rejected more times than I can shake a stick at, and readers, I can really shake a stick.
People will tell you that rejection is just part and parcel of being a writer and it definitely is, but saying it’s ‘just’ anything is a way of dismissing the natural emotional reaction to it. Yes, it happens all the time, more than you can imagine, and yes, it hurts every time, to a lesser or greater amount.
Four Things to Remember When You Get the Inevitable Rejection
- It’s normal, natural and absolutely necessary to feel disappointed. It’s how our complex human brains sort stuff out – this is how the brain compartmentalises stuff that happens to us, allowing us to deal with things and move on, it’s a process- It’s ok to feel crap, it’s completely natural to feel upset. You have already imagined winning/being accepted and, especially if you are a professional writer, you will have planned your future life/work around the potentially positive news. The trick is not to fight it, accept that you’re going to be upset and make plans to manage that: take a few days off social media, pour your heart out in a private facebook group where you know that others will have experienced the same, write it all out, including all the jealousy, anger and resentment, the anger at yourself, the fears of never getting anywhere, in your journal. Have a duvet day, ice cream, pizza. Allow yourself the little grief that comes with someone telling you that, essentially, they thought someone else was better. Allocate a day or two of down time, and then get back onto the horse. That’s the important bit. I will say this, it is harder to do this at the beginning of your career when you haven’t had many successes. But you will have successes. You will use them as the journey markers that let you know that you are on a journey, and where you are going. There are more pressures, different pressures, the further you advance in your career, but when I think back to my very first reactions, I recognise how important those tiny successes were: a long listing in a comp, an acceptance to an online magazine, a bit of feedback from a publisher telling me they saw something in my work – they helped to keep me putting myself forward.
- YOU are not being rejected, your work is. Focus on having an open mind when it comes to your own work. Recognise that the personal opinion of the judge/editor/funding body counts for quite a lot, but also don’t be afraid to ask for any feedback that can be offered. It might be that you got very very close to your goal, but you’ll never know if you don’t ask. They might have advice that you can use to improve. Be open to it, no one is perfect. Obviously there will be times when the person who has made the judgement just doesn’t have the time to offer feedback, don’t bug them for it, accept it, it’s just the way it is. Recognise that, even though your words might well be very personal, might be about personal issues, the rejection is not personal and is much more likely to be about budget, space or theme.
- Do not judge your entire life by the rejection. I need to remember this one. Similarly, do not judge your entire body of work by one rejection. With any project you will find that you become absorbed in it, and it becomes much bigger to you than it actually is in real life. So when the rejection comes, it feels like everything you see and know, everything about YOU is being rejected. It isn’t, you need to step back and do something else until the perspective resets itself. Stop writing for a bit, down tools, take up painting, go walking. Then come back to it with fresh eyes.
- Every single writer has been rejected at some point. Every single one, even the ones doing the judging. You are not alone.
Last week I was rejected for the scholarship I needed to be able to accept my place at the University of York to do my PhD. I’d been working on the application to both the university and the scholarship board for roughly six months. I’d put such a lot of work into it, and when the rejection came, unexpectedly early, I was quite crushed. It was a big one. I took my own advice and went and hid from the world for a couple of days. Then I forced myself to seek any feedback they had to offer. This was particularly hard as I felt skinless, like I had no armour to deal with more bad news, or someone telling me, confirming to me the underlying suspicion that I am not good enough, that I’m not the right fit, not clever enough, too working class, not likeable, that I will never really belong.
It turned out they had thought very highly of me as a candidate and of my project, but were very limited by the budget. Other people had been more successful than me, but I hadn’t, after all, had my project chucked in the bin with a snigger. It changed how I felt about it. They asked me to reapply next year, which I will do. And I’ll not forget the lesson learned here, which is to not rely solely on the voice in my head which constantly tells me the most awful stuff about myself. On the flip side, last week I had an acceptance. The rehearsed reading of my play To Be Undone is to be supported by the Arts Council England which pleases me so much. If you’ve followed my blog you’ll know how many times I have applied. It’s a tiny grant, enough for me to do some promotion and to actually travel down to Huddersfield to be involved with the rehearsals, but it has made a huge difference to me, and means I can focus solely on being a writer for a few days. Look out for more information in the new shiny newsletter, which you can sig up for here. The new newsletter will be going out twice a month and includes information on courses I’m running, general news, a few bits of resources and what not and also a free writing prompt to get you writing!
That’s all for now, except to let you know that if you’re near Scarborough you can come and see me read poems about Scarborough at this fantastic event: Rotunda Nights. It’s going to be a lovely, warm friendly gathering with WINE and nibbles.
Thanks for reading!