Saturday, 27 February 2010

Excuse me if I hate your work...

A recurring theme on writers' boards is the issue of rejection. It's accepted as a given that every writer goes through a baptism of fire before finally being accepted, and freelance writers are routinely rejected throughout their career. So it pays to get a tough skin as soon as possible.

I wish I'd known that many years ago when I submitted a piece for a well known satirical magazine. This was back in the days when I didn't feel the need to research things like submissions policies and just shoved stuff into an A4 envelope, scribbled the address on it and Bob's Your Uncle. I was quietly pleased with my effort which closely resembled a regular item they published. At the very least I expected a word or two of praise to come back in the post. But no such luck. My piece sprang back so quick I doubt anyone had even bothered to glance at it, with the words NO THANKS scrawled on it.

Charming. The reason it has stuck in my mind after all these years was the sting I felt at what seemed a comprehensive and damning rejection of not only my wonderful piece but myself as a writer and a person. Not only had no one bothered to explain to me what was so wrong with it, they hadn't even taken the trouble to write a proper note. Clearly I was beneath contempt, unworthy of any professional courtesy. My uninitiated and tender heart quickly consigned my work and myself to the municipal dump of ignominy.

If I could go back in time and say anything to my younger self it would be this: Never let someone else's opinion crush you. A rejection means one thing: your piece isn't right for them. Nothing else. It doesn't mean you can't write for toffee. It doesn't mean you are a low and worthless person. And an offhand dismissal probably means they are very busy and haven't time to sugar coat it. Shrug it off and move on.

Would I have believed it? Hard to say. We tend to wallow in negative feedback, don't we? We dismiss praise as someone "just trying to be nice". Years on it's that stinging rejection that remains in my memory. Of course there's potential for learning in rejection, and we should take it. But never to the extent it undermines our confidence and makes us give up the fight. At the end of the day, it's only one person's opinion.

And if you want to see how wide ranging people are in their opinions, go and look up the Amazon reviews of any bestseller. You're guaranteed to find plenty of one star reviews amongst the good ones, and pretty scathing they are too. Reading them you wonder how that writer can even get out of bed in the morning when someone hates their work with such passion! But they keep writing and selling books because enough people DO like their work.

It's a lesson for all of us.


Sophie Playle said...

Very insightful. I totally agree.

Kate said...

Thanks, Sandra. I needed that.

Joanne Fox said...

You're right about how much reviews vary Sandra. Occasionally I've put a review on Amazon about something I've loved (or hated - though not so often), only for someone else to post a completely opposite opinion. I've wondered how on earth they can think what they do, but clearly their tastes aren't the same as mine. Reading is very subjective isn't it. We shouldn't take a rejection personally, but I guess most of us have at least a little 'ouch' moment now and then. Keeping on with the writing is the main thing.

Sandra Patterson said...

Subjective is the right word, Joanne. But writing is such a personal activity it's hard to keep our feelings out of it.

Louise said...

Very insightful. Sometimes I'm blown away by people's negativity, and however much I tell myself I don't give a toss there's that little bit of doubt inside my head that wonders if they have a point.