Rejections are my hubris-humbling chums – but that’s enough now

I must have read it a thousand times: “You’re a writer if you write.”

For the most part, it’s true, if a little self-serving. Yes, we writers belong to a little club, whose only membership requirement is that you jot your vacuous thoughts down in word form. But there’s something missing, isn’t there? The other half of the writer’s symbiotic relationship.

A writer needs readers.

Suddenly the statement “You’re a writer if you write” seeks to obfuscate the fact you’ve failed to get published. Now there’s a worthy milestone.

I told myself in January that 2016 would be the year I got something published, so that I could say, with some semblance of conviction, “Yeah, I’m a writer. Only been fucking published an’t I?”

Jeepers, that’ll be a super day.

To that end, I started sending out short stories, in retrospect woefully unpolished. Rejections returned like carrier pigeons bearing shit news. Sure, I was grateful to have the pigeon back, but their messages made me miserable.

“At least,” I mused, “I’ve something to write about in that there blog of mine.”

Field of dreams

Still, the goal remained, gaping for my football of fiction. What I needed was a winger to assist, to cross it in from the corner flag for me to head home. So I passed the story to Scribophile, where teammates booted it around a bit UNTIL IT BURST.

“Fine,” I squealed, in an inglorious tantrum, scooping the flattened, shabby remnants of my once proud tale, cradling it in my mud-smeared arms. “I’m not playing any more!”

So I took my ball home and stitched it up to make it hole again. For those of you lost by this fabulous analogy, I rewrote the bastard thing using the comments I’d received in critiques.

Again, I let loose the pigeons of publishing, and again, they returned clasping merciless rejections in their little, wrinkly claws.

Stupid fucking pigeons.

The problem is, I know very well why these stories aren’t being accepted by pro-paying journals and fiction magazines. It’s actually rather simple: it’s because they’re SHIT.

Yup – uncompromisingly awful, adverb-strewn puddles of dross. The pages seep with the pus of poorly thought-out plots, like burst blisters of banality. Maybe, you’re thinking, I didn’t use enough alliteration?

No, that’s not it. It’s because my stories were written on a whim, without an idea of why I was writing them, or what I was trying to say. They were the writer’s equivalent of your mate down the pub, who saw this great thing on telly – dead funny it were – and he tries to explain it in all its glory, but he didn’t really understand (at the time) why it was funny, specifically, just that he rather liked it, because there was this pigeon in it, or something, and the main character, like, bludgeoned it to death with a coat hanger, or something? I’m sorry, what was I chatting about?

Fly my pretties

I’ve three stories out there, in editors’ inboxes, awaiting their respective reckoning, and I know what’s wrong with every single one of them.

There’s The Family Suite, which attempts to convey the crushing atmosphere of a failing marriage upon the malleable minds of children. It fails because the pacing resembles a sin curve – impossibly slow for the most part, only to abruptly escalate to its woeful, cathartically void ending.

Or, The Tourist, a Conan Doyle-style epistolary horror analogous of the destructive force of western tourism upon less affluent communities. But that one’s BOLLOCKS because the twist, though foreshadowed, is utterly out of step with the rest of the piece.

Lastly, in my Definite-Article Trilogy, there’s The Pumice Stone, a smutty horror about envy, adultery and sadistic retribution. Guess what? It’s WORD PUKE. Why? Because the climax is totally disproportionate and thematically incongruous to the crime. There’s no relation between cause and effect.

The problem is, you can use critiques to micro-edit, but if there are fundamental problems with the story itself, it cannot be resolved without rewriting from start to finish. But that, dear reader, is loads of bloody work.

(To any editors who find themselves looking me up, the stories I mention above are also unique, genre-bending masterpieces that deserve to be set in ink for the rest of time. Thanks for reading.)

Deal with it, sucker

Rejections are bastards. That much is obvious. But they’re good too. They’re a reminder that you’re not ready yet. They bring you down to earth when your wife keeps telling you how bloody great you are and your mates tell you they couldn’t write anything nearly as good, what a talent, you’re so brill!

But I’m not brill. Certainly not yet. I’m learning, still studying the craft, searching for my elusive voice and a tale worth telling. My ambition remains, unperturbed by each “Sorry, but we don’t think your story is a great fit for our publication” or “Thanks, but we have to pass this time” or “You know this is shit, right? Stop wasting our time”.

I’m not giving up, though, just because I’m awful. Beethoven couldn’t play the piano when he was nine (probably?); Shakespeare had to learn how to spell before he could write Romeo & Juliet; and Michelangelo was drawing shitty stickmen before he ever imagined sketching out the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.

Bloody hell, that sounds pretentious. I don’t consider myself among these creative geniuses, by any stretch of the imagination. I’m just trying to say even the greatest artists got rejected.

I wonder how many architects saw Michelangelo’s plans and said, “Dear sir, apologies, but your ideas don’t really fit with the theme of our building. All the best in finding your drawings a home. PS. For future reference, we prefer correspondence by letter. Your pigeon’s excrement has made a mockery of my mahogany desk.”

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17 thoughts on “Rejections are my hubris-humbling chums – but that’s enough now”

  1. I love reading your blog posts because: (a) you’re not always boring me to death in promoting your latest novel; (b) your honesty and (c) because they are inappropriate (in a lovely Brit way).

    Thank you for saying it like it is. I’m nearing the end of my first novel and I know it’s mainly crap, tinged with gems. I’m not sure how I feel about wading through crap to unearth them (messy) so the drafting and editing may be put on hold for a while.

    I’ve started writing short stories. The husband and friends love them but I’m wondering if it’s because I’m a scary bitch when criticised. I haven’t got the balls (or lady equivalent) to ask actual proper writers to critique them. But I’m going to have to ‘woman up’ soon and do it.

    I hope can learn how to deal with rejection like you have been doing. You’re being constructive and learning from it. I’ll probably just shut myself in the cleaning cupboard and fight the urge to down the bleach.

    Keep doing what you’re doing.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Cheers Lisa! I expect I’d be boring you to death promoting my novel if I had one published, ha.

      (How do you mean by inappropriate, by the way? All the swearing?)

      As for critiques – stick something on Scrib! The sooner you find out how awful you are, the sooner you can start trying to improve. The stuff I’m writing now is already much improved on what I was churning out two months ago.

      Good luck with it!

      Like

      1. Inappropriate is as inappropriate does. I mean the swearing but also saying it like it is, which for some delicate flowers is considered inappropriate. I consider it truth.

        I may bite the bullet and put a story on Scrib. I may also need to put a note on the cleaning cupboard door for the husband though, just in case…

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Mmm the last short I put on Scrib came out with about five different ways to completely rewrite it, and me deciding sod it, it’ll do, because I was fed up of it by then. Time to start fresh 😀

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    1. Yes, that is the trouble with Scrib. The hardest part is deciding which critique is the most useful and ignoring the others, else you begin to write by committee and then you end up with a soulless mess.

      Speaking to a writer friend last night gave me the best advice I’ve had, because he doesn’t focus so much on the craft, rather on the macro story level. A tweak of perspective here, an adjustment to the theme there, that sort of thing.

      Invaluable.

      Like

  3. I confuse to laughing out loud at the last part about the pigeon.

    I bet most people in any form of artistic endeavor gets rejected at some point. Even if they turn out famous, I’m sure someone somewhere told them to give it up and their piece of art would never fly.

    I think that’s why it’s so important to write what you enjoy. At least that way you’re happy. 😀 Readers are nice though!

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  4. I feel ya. And although I have broken the slump and my first novel is being published, the feeling of sucking doesn’t go away. I always thought if I just finished a novel, I could die happy. That wasn’t the case. I also wanted to get it published. So I told myself that was all that I needed. If I could just get it published I wouldn’t feel like a failure. Now that it is getting published, I realized I also want it to be read. So now the real hard part comes, finding readers. And then, guess what? Time to start all over again. And the self-doubt is always there. But you keep going.

    Liked by 1 person

      1. Ah yes, the Costa Rica surf book. That’s great mate, well done. (Thinking of going to Costa Rica in August, actually. Any tips? – I assume you’ve been!)

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  5. Lovely piece. Love your writing style. And I’m sure that your stories are genre-bending masterpieces. But the world of editors and publishers is CRUEL, to say the least. We’re the poor fishes in their goddamn pond!

    Keeping at it is the only key. You’ll nail it, today or tomorrow, but you will.

    Have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

  6. Your post made me laugh. A lot. I totally understand what you’re saying, and I love that you’re saying it in a humorous way (that last bit with the pigeon is hilarious.)

    Amusement aside, I can certainly sympathize with your current plight. However, the fact that you can see the issues with your writing, and are determined to keep moving forward and creating new work, is both inspiring for those reading this post, and an important aspect of your character–after all, not every writer will sit down and say, “Okay, I’m writing crap. How can I write better?” Kudos to you for that and good luck with your future writings and submissions!

    Liked by 1 person

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