On Friday I woke up with every intention of writing a blog about rejection. I’d had five short stories rejected in ten days which, even by my prolific standards of rejection, was really breaking new ground in getting knocked back. On Friday morning I found an email in my inbox confirming publication of a short story in an upcoming journal. Not only was this a story I’ve been schlepping around for at least four years, (possibly seven), i was going to be paid for its publication. (Prior to this I’d earned the princely sum of $3 from my short story writing; a sum so massive I decided to frame the cheque over my writing desk rather than pay the £2.50 fee to get it cashed in Stirling). On Friday I was coasting high on the thrill of acceptance and decided to enjoy this rare feeling rather than focus on rejection. It’s Sunday now and I’ve already had one rejection over the weekend so I feel fully entitled to write, honestly and somewhat rawly, about just how comfortable I’ve become with rejection.
On an average week I send off 4 to 7 stories to journals and writing competitions. I get anywhere between 3 and 5 rejections back. I keep an Excel spreadsheet to track my stories. There are about 150 completed stories in circulation and as each one comes back rejected I give it a little affirming pat on the shoulder and send it straight back into the world to face the next round of naysayers. I reckon, (though it’s safe to say maths has never been my strongpoint), that one out of every 25 stories submitted finds a home, though some of them had to be sent out as many as 15 times before they were accepted. In my early days as a writer I used to find this process horrifically trying. Lately I have become very comfortable with rejection and I’ve learnt an awful lot in the process of arriving at this point.
On Sunday of last week Belfast-based writer Glenn Patterson was nominated for a screenplay writing BAFTA for his work on the film Good Vibrations. On Sunday of last week Glenn Patterson travelled to London and did not win a BAFTA. On Thursday evening he launched his new novel, The Rest Just Follows, (which looks like a great read), at the Ulster Museum. As he stepped up to begin his round of thanks Glenn said, “I’m not a man to waste anything,” and made as if to read his never-to-be-used BAFTA acceptance speech. I loved this. It was atypical Glenn Patterson humour but also gave us all a great lesson in how to laugh in the face of rejection.
It’s so important as a writer not to take yourself too seriously. The minute you take yourself more seriously than the rest of the world does, you’re going to feel every rejection like a punch in the gut. Even on the worst weeks, when the rejection rate is closer to 5 than 3, you need to retain some semblance of confidence in what you write. If you’re swayed by every opinion, (and this is not to say that wise critique isn’t extremely useful in its place), you’ll end up writing to pander to other people’s tastes rather than your own ideas and vision. Gather yourself a group of people whose opinions you trust and value and listen to their critique above and beyond the harried junior editors and over-worked readers who make the cuts for literary journals. Rejection will never be the easiest thing to stomach but I’ve learnt the hard way that you’ve got to become discerning enough to take on board the right kind of criticism and then just keep ploughing on. It’s a numbers game for everyone, unglamorous as it sounds, publishing success may well be down to sheer volume and a side of talent, of course. Keep submitting folks. It’s worth it for the 4% of stories which find their way home.