Never Give Up! Never Surrender! How to keep writing in the face of rejection’
My first book ended up in the bin. Any glimmer of encouragement was absent as my snooping mother spurned my literary genius. I feigned surprise. Surely my descriptions in My Life Story were not that bad? How could she recognise herself in the ugly, dislikeable main character? I crossed my fingers. Too late. The scandalous recounts muddied with my fertile imagination had to be the final straw.
My first rejection. But all was not lost. There came infant school and my favourite lesson – stories. No mother to rip up my masterpiece here. Convincingly, I avoided cold, wet playtimes asking to ‘stay in and finish’. But I was a lost cause; sadly nothing pinned to the wall.
I scribbled away at Grammar School and by now – Eureka – a flock of avid listeners drew lots to sit alongside this budding author. Disregarding the French teacher and safely hidden in the back row, they lapped up the next instalment of something resembling a female Scarlet Pimpernel. Even then I sought gender equality. But these tomes sank to the bottom of boxes, gathering dust in the loft, only to be inauspiciously dumped by ‘her indoors’ when the house was sold.
A diary. I would write a diary of my children’s young years. But their father thwarted my efforts. Writing, along with reading, suffered more rejection, both activities labelled an unpromising past-time. Years passed inhabiting a world of terry towelling and Napisan, the only paper my shopping lists.
Teaching. Yes, at last, I had to write – on the board, on handouts, on marked work and composing assignments, much of the advice dismissed.
‘She’s written me a story,’ said one student stuffing the red-marked work, unread into her bag.
Eventually immersed in singleton bliss, I wrote – seriously now. Reams of drivel churned out at midnight, edited and retyped tirelessly on an Olympia portable typewriter. Hope arrived in the form of a talent-spotting new partner who bought me my first computer, a cumbersome piece of hard plastic with strange needs. Presented with an interested agent, I promised the finished novel by New Year thereby annihilating a romantic start to 1983.
January 2nd and we drive post haste into London with a large brown envelope. The optimistic agent sees me as ‘the next big thing’ only to be told two publishers later that my book ‘doesn’t work’. Her sudden loss of interest leaves a double loss – publishers and herself.
My next rejection came when cohabiting with new soulmate – ex-talent spotter -who, I discovered, too late, wanted my full attention. Struggling with the oddities of the publishing industry is enough without suffering a doleful partner. Also, my daughters, having read my earlier efforts with glee, now, in true teenage style, rolled their eyes and preferred me in the car providing lifts.
The next time I wielded a pen and hammered a computer keyboard was to write poetry, much published in anthologies I had to buy myself. My feathers briefly plumped up only to flop when told such accomplishment didn’t count. But I carried on. Somewhere deep inside I sensed glimmers of hope. Rather than sling it out, I would risk rebuffs from agents and publishers. If my lame verses made me laugh surely they might do the same for a wider readership.
But the anticipated stampede didn’t arrive. Few publishers, and even fewer agents, take poetry. W H Smith sports a mere half-a-dozen copies of poetry books, the authors Carol Ann Duffy or dead. Something tells me I’m backing the wrong horse.
Meanwhile I plodded on. A few years ago – it feels like twenty – a memoir bubbled and flowed from my pen and I threw words at the screen once more. Thousands of words full of memories, angst, naughty deeds and embarrassing experiences.
Suddenly I wasn’t such a dud after all. My efforts impressed a biographer at a Writers’ Conference who gave me his publisher’s card, saying he would ‘‘put in a word”. My feathers didn’t plump this time, they took flight. But a year later the delicate decline arrived with the now all-too-familiar ping by email. The publisher eventually couldn’t see a commercial route for my graft. I showed it elsewhere drawing blanks. But I was learning from the rejections, reworking my passion with undying enthusiasm. There is always a new phrase, a better word, a different structure, an interesting new character and …. hope.
Eureka! It is 2013. I sit before an agent and can’t believe I’m hearing those much craved words ‘send me more’. I tell a few people, my biggest mistake. I didn’t count on the end of my champion’s maternity cover and the return of the embedded agent who …. yes, you’ve guessed …. did not like my novel, if indeed it was a novel.
Now I have to solve the problem of my book bridging two genres before wasting another agent’s time. The clock is ticking and I have appointments. The tired thesaurus is covered in coffee stains, red wine and what resembles a salty blob. This is only for the synopsis but still to come is the struggle with back story and more tears. My study is piled with abandoned, awful drafts and many pages I thought were brilliant until the edit.
Of course, this ebb and flow is part of a writer’s life and no doubt more disappointments lurk around the corner. Meanwhile I suffer unhelpful oh-so-well-meaning acquaintances delivering the ultimate rejection saying ‘Fancy you, a writer?’ Do I, I want to ask, look daft? Worse still is ‘But when, my dear, will you be published?’ Another thud on the doormat or loud ping from Outlook and I might stand trial for murder for that one.
Even when I get there – as I will – in the adversity of my 1950s childhood, I was reared to persevere – I still have to stomach the eager line of readers snaking three times round Waterstones as they wait for a fellow book signer (I wish) while I sit head buried in his book, queueless, ignored and …………..
acting as if I couldn’t give a damn!