What is a writer? The immediate definition which springs to my mind is that a writer is someone who is used to being rejected. The only people who are constantly rejected as in, ‘Thank you but no thank you, not this time,’ are writers.
Stella Whitelaw in her book How to Write Short-Short Stories (Allison & Busby Writers’ Guides 1996) says, ‘How the heart falls with each rejection. That thud on the mat, the echo of doom. It makes no difference how many stories you’ve had published or the books already on the library shelves, a rejection slip is still a small dagger in the heart.’
Ignoring the facts that most writers no longer ask for their manuscripts to be returned, that library books on shelves might not be our dream and, most pertinent of all, that most of us have not had the happy experience of having ‘many stories’ published, I suggest that we can agree with Stella that the heart falls with each rejection.
My first exploration into the world of being a writer and, maybe, being published was when I wrote a short letter to The Times aimed at that bottom right hand corner of the letters page. And guess what? My letter was published. So far so good. My second foray into the wider world of publishing was to send a short, genre novel to Robert Hale. That book was published as a library book for grannies (no sex, please, we are too frail). A rising star, you might assume. If only. I won’t trail you through my long, despondent list of blockbuster novels, Catherine Cookson look-alikes, Aga saga Joanne Trollop style novels, and traveller-through-Europe-with-the-odd-sexual-encounter-on-the-side non-fiction books as they were all rejected.
What has this to do with short stories, you ask? Nothing, except that it was with one short story that I was, eventually, accepted. Not a great deal: a horror story, for want of a more specific description, accepted by a small publisher. Aha! My CV can now display the words ‘Published’ with the title of the publication and a date. Like a real writer.
By this time I also had a collection of ‘not to be thrown away’ rejection letters. My favourite is from the BBC (yes, her aunty-ship herself) saying that it was great that my short story was shortlisted among 60 other stories but, hey! that was from a long list of over 600 and so sorry they didn’t want my story in the end but as they were only broadcasting 3, yes 3! it was hardly surprising mine hadn’t made it. Please send in again, we would be pleased …
You get the picture. Always look on the bright side.
I have a Mslexia diary. One of the features of this diary is a couple of (four actually) pages entitled ‘Submissions’. Here is a column for the title of the piece, for the competition or periodical submitted to, the date submitted and the response. Here is where I write, in the same pen, in the same way, rejected, rejected, rejected. A recipe for suicide perhaps?
But no. Because I am a writer, because to be a writer I must be both demented and ever optimistic, because I own that ego which drives me on even when common sense tells me to give up, every rejection is a challenge. Never mind I say. Just as well I have that story back because now I can send it to that other competition next month. Never mind, that was not the ideal place for that story, anyway. If I send it to so-and-so and if I win…
And so it goes on.
Now I am about to submit my dissertation for my MA in Creative Writing. When I have finished it, that is. As I write this blog, the deadline is looming and I am still buying books on Amazon in the hope they will provide me with quotes to support my approach to my writing. This time, I cannot be rejected. I have paid my fees and therefore I must be read, appraised and rewarded with letters after my name.
And what then? There is no other way but to finish my novel, to send it out, to be rejected. In the meanwhile, I will revert to my short story writing, to sending out my manuscripts and being rejected. The upside of short story writing is that it is short. And it can be easily rewritten to be submitted again. And that there exists a long list of competitions which are eager to receive stories. (If you do not have such a list, email me. In a moment of sheer despondency, when all writing energy had abandoned me, I compiled one.)
There is no conclusion to this personal history of rejection, only that it seems to be the writer’s lot. It goes with the job; you get used to it. Until that wonderful day when you receive a letter which says, ‘We would like to publish…’ or ‘Your short story has won …’
Until that day, dream on – for it is of dreams that stories are made.