If you peruse a writer’s website – like this one – one thing strikes you. It is all about achievement. Writer’s websites – like this one – will detail the things that have been published, the successful pitches, the commissioned pieces.
Very rarely do they talk about the failures.
When I first decided to not to return to my former career as a health researcher I spoke to a friend who was already a successful writer. She passed on some sage advice to me.
The first was that rejections are not face to face. I had commented that I wasn’t sure I could make it as a writer as I was relatively thin-skinned and the constant rejections could be wearing. She agreed that rejections always stung, but unlike the traditional workplace, you could experience your failures in private, sitting at the computer at home, or in front of the letter box as you tear open yet another rejection letter.
The second was that even the most experienced and published writers get rejected. And while it never got any easier in that moment you realised you were being told ‘no’ and not ‘yes’, over time it was easier to move on and submit the piece somewhere else.
As a new writer it can sometimes be dispiriting to regularly read about the success of others. By that I do not mean that I don’t want others to succeed, but it can be a misrepresentation to assume that between those successes there were not failures as well.
So in the interest of openness, I wish to talk about some of my failures.
For example, a few months ago I attended a workshop run by the Perth food critic Rob Broadfield. It was advertised as an opportunity to learn about food writing but more tantalisingly it was also a chance to submit a piece of work with the possibility of being selected as a food writer for the next edition of the Perth Good Food Guide.
I thought to myself: I write food reviews all the time, hundreds of them. Award winning reviews! I’m a shoe-in, I thought confidently.
Probably every person in the room, 150 of us, thought the same.
Two weeks later, and no congratulatory phone call had come. I was genuinely surprised to miss out.
One way of looking at this is that I am confident. What would be the point of putting myself out there if I did not have a firm belief in what I was doing. Another is that I am a bit cocky, and there is a world of difference between writing for a website where there is minimal editorial input, and a published guide which must stand alongside equivalent national and international books.
Another recent failure was a picture book which I submitted to a local publisher. Again, I thought that this was a certainty. In 2010 I wrote a short story which won first prize in a writing competition.
I rewrote it into a picture book, creating clues in the illustrations which could be followed to show an observant child that the climax of the story would be Christmas. Awesome! I even engaged the help of a professional editor and writer to help me get it to a point where I thought it would be of a publishable standard.
When the rejection letter arrived in the mail I was disappointed, but not as crushed as I feared I might be. I have edited it some more and today I will post it to another publisher. I keep telling myself J.K Rowling was rejected by 14 publishers before Harry Potter was finally picked up by Bloomsbury.
I have a lot more than two rejection stories. A lot more. I have a database where I keep a record of all my submissions: articles, picture books, competitions, job ads. Next to the vast majority of them I have written ‘unsuccessful’.
The things on this website – my piece in My Child, the dental practice articles, my shortlisted stories – are the things that have a ‘successful’ written next to them. At this point in my career, they may be in the minority, but all those ‘unsuccessfuls’ have the bonus of teaching me one very valuable lesson, a lesson which is essential if I want to continue on in this field:
It turns out I am more resilient than I thought.