I realise the title of this post may sound a bit bondagey and discipliney, but it’s not about naughty stuff like that – oh no. I am talking about something that is much more painful than being strapped to a rotating table and whipped with a cat o’nine tails while an unmentionable thing happens on the floor beneath you with a blow torch.
Yes, writers. I am talking about submitting your work. I had another story accepted yesterday. It will be published in a collection of short stories that is coming out next year. Part of me is excited, but the other part is wondering what is going on. I am not used to not being rejected.
I have been rejected a lot. A LOT. Whenever I get a rejection slip or email or no response at all I fixate on it a bit – ripping the rejected story apart like it is a box full of tissue paper without a present – wondering why I wrote this bit or that bit and lapsing into jaded, self-critical mode until my hair almost falls out.
It is often very hard to ascertain why something is rejected. You could analyse your work to death and never come up with the answer. Often, it is to do with publishing schedules and the expectations of editors rather than the work itself. Your story or poem may be well written and may be of merit but it just doesn’t fit what the publisher needs at the time. That makes sense, of course, but when you have been rejected 45 times in a row it is hard to see anything about it that appears sensible.
There is an interesting link between the two stories that were accepted. Often there will be guidelines that have to be followed with submission. You might have to follow a theme or a prompt or write about a particular subject. These guidelines can both aid and impede the creative process. Another thing that can act as an aid or an impediment is reading about the magazine you are submitting to or in the case of a writing competition, reading previous winning entries. Doing that can sometimes place a format for writing in your head that you feel you must follow.
Both of my accepted stories followed the F*ck it format. I was reading all the guidelines, was in a bit of a bolshy mood and thought : Bollocks to that. I’m writing what I want. I followed the basic theme and just went for it. Usually, there is a small part of me that writes what I think the editors or publishers will want to hear and I can see how that might dilute the colour in my work. I wrote what I wanted. I was passionate about it. It meant something to me. And most of all I didn’t care if someone else liked it or not (at that moment.) I only cared that I liked it.
Have I discovered a formula that might lessen the grip that old crone Rejection has on my shoulders? I have no idea. All I know is that in writing what I really wanted, in the way I wanted, my voice became clearer.
So I want to say to you – Don’t be afraid to be yourself as a writer. Don’t be afraid to be passionate and to write with conviction. Don’t be afraid to write about what you want to write about. I cannot guarantee by doing that you will be accepted every time but I can guarantee you will feel better about what you have written and about yourself. And maybe, if Rejection still manages to steal into the room, her withered, abrasive fingers will sting a little less.
Be who you are.
And take the agony out of putting those stories and poems in envelopes and sending them out into the world.
I know you can do it.