Rejection of your writing is the the best thing that can happen. It says you’re doing something correct. Something right. When people reject something they are afraid of it. They don’t know what it is, they don’t understand what it’s about, and they don’t have the courage to follow through and find out. The majority of publishers/agents want a sure thing. They want something perfect, relevant to the current market, something that will sell, has been unseen and has come from a compliant, malleable writer. They want to make money. They’d like to see your book stacked alongside thousands of bookshelves in bookshops all over the country – and know they are getting 40 percent of each copy sold. Sleeping well in their beds in the sure knowledge that they will never break new ground, never write an original line, never have a reader sit on the edge of their seat or be devastated with fictional heartbreak. They know, deep down, that they are not creative people but have something else – they have the audacity to exploit those that do create. Somewhere along the line it became acceptable for writers to be regarded as quirky, anti-profit, scatterbrained losers that are looking for somebody organised and trustworthy to come and do all the business for them. Writers then began to buy into this idea and became dependent on the publishing industry to dictate their success or lack of it. We now have a situation where the status quo of traditional publishers is to be a bouncer at the creative door where only the mundane is let in – because that’s what sells. We can’t have the pubic confused. We can’t have the public excited. We must tell them what they already know. Add credence to the reality that already exists. There is no room for new boundaries, to bend language or test genre. No, that doesn’t sell, they say. It won’t sell, they say. It’s not the business we’re in, they say. And you are rejected because you are different, and you have something to say, and somebody ought to be hearing it. But you think the only way forward is blocked and their opinion has shot your confidence down and now the world is an artistically poorer place. Because you were rejected. But what you don’t realise is that rejection is acceptance. You are pushing the boundaries and they don’t know what to do. How to respond. What to say. They can’t handle you and they’re worried about their forty percent. If it wasn’t books they’re selling it would be something else – cars, food, computers. Doesn’t matter because they don’t care. It’s all a sale to them. A profit and a loss. That’s why they are confounded now. You are an unknown quantity. What will the bookshops say? The reviewers? The printers? Oh no, no thanks. But you are not for sale. You are not malleable. And you don’t have a choice. You are a vessel to the truth the world needs to hear.
It’s over. It’s done. No more writing. Time to delete all the files, all the words, all the articles and the half finished novels and badly baked stories. Take down the blogs. Remove all the links and pictures. Burn all the reviews. Put the laptop in the microwave and swing the microwave to full power. When you’re sure the hard drive is toasted and burnt you take the microwave and all and throw it in the skip downstairs. And now it’s done. No more anxiety about what to write, who to write about, where to start. No more fear that the world is secretly laughing at you, talking in quiet circles about how you can’t write, shouldn’t write, wrote something terrible that makes everyone cringe. How they smile to your face and roll their eyes behind your back. It’s all a joke, a conspiracy, a waste of your life and time and social reputation and it’s time to grow up and stop dreaming. Get a job, a normal job, one that pays normally and you don’t have to beg for the crumbs off the Arts Council table or the publishers that don’t pay on time or the theatres that take 40% of the door when they had agreed 20% but hey, read the small print. Best of luck with the eviction.
But you are now free. The path is clear. The distant dream that has dominated your thoughts for years is gone and now you can sit back and enjoy your life without the unrealistic pressure of making it as an artist. And….well. What else? The next day you wake up and all you want to do is write. There’s that story you’d forgotten about. That song that’s looping in your head and you’re sure it’s original. It’s yours, it’s been fermenting for months and you finally have the tune. That line to finish that poem. That word you’d been waiting for turns up on the newspaper and you know it’s perfect. It’s the perfect ending to the verse of the Poetry that yesterday you regarded as pointless. The theatre isn’t that bad, it was just a clerical error and they call you to apologise. The publisher wants to know why your site is offline because people are trying to buy your books. An e-mail comes from a random stranger to say they’ve enjoyed your work and it touched them in a way that was unique and made an important difference to their lives. And here’s that idea for a film. The soundtrack, the themes, the script, all coming together in a flood of inspiration like water and your head’s like a submarine that’s about to burst with the pressure. Time to go back down to the skip and rescue the laptop but the skip is gone. Still, deep down you know you’ve saved everything on an external hard drive and you needed a new laptop anyway so time to head to the computer shop and ask for Flexi finance. After, you put back all the links, find all the reviews, put the website back online. Find them half baked stories and discover they’re not that bad. Maybe that novel’s closer than you think. Here’s the royalty payment in the post. Rent paid for another month. You confidence is back. Time to get writing.
Gerry says he’s retiring soon and he’s going to write a book. It’s going to be a bestseller and maybe I’ll read it and give him some notes when it’s finished? I tell Gerry yeah, no problem, send it on to me. And when are you retiring?
‘About three years from now.’ He says. ‘But I have all the ideas in my head, and the story plotted out, and the characters are already developed in my mind. I just need to sit down and write it. When I retire. In three years.’
Thing being, a lot can happen in three years. There’s health, the economy, financial circumstances. Maybe your hand gets stuck in a blender on your last day of work and now you can’t write anything. I don’t tell this to Gerry because he’s happy in the dream that he’s going to write a bestseller someday and sometimes that’s all people want. A place to go when life is hard. A secret dream that can turn it all around. The lottery, a publishing deal, a new house, it’s all aspiration that makes reality easier every day. But when it comes to art, and writing, the actual act of writing, aspiration is not enough. It doesn’t feature at all. But there’s a perception out there that it’s all you need. E.g. :…Never give up on your dreams.”
But if we actually analyse that sentence for what it is we see a sting in the tail. A scorpion of a phrase. Never is a long time. Give up inhabits a sense of failure, vulnerability and character weakness. Your dreams are exactly that. Your dreams. This sentence is telling you to chase an unrealistic ideal that exists in your imagination and if you don’t succeed it’s your fault for being a failure. And ultimately, the road to breaking through is to persevere along this unrealistic route until….something happens. But that something is never defined. It’s the stuff of dreams. A random call from an agent. A chance meeting with a film actress that suggests you’re great for a role. A stranger finds your work in a rubbish bin and decides it’s a work of genius.
The problem is that it may happen. You may get a call from an agent, or meet a publisher in a lift, stumble into a theatre some day who just so happen to be looking for the type of writer you are. But they are all going to ask the same question. What can you show me? Where’s the script? Can I see the novel? If it’s a bestseller, by all means let’s take a read. And what are you going to say?
“Can I get back to you in three years? Would that be ok?”
So maybe it’s time for Gerry to give up on his dreams for three years from now and start writing today.