Earlier this week, I returned home from a blissful couple of days in the countryside. After having spent a couple of days reading, shopping and eating as well as enjoying countryside air and hospitality, I returned home determined that I would complete my novel ‘Fix Me Up’. I was excited to open up my laptop and start writing after a couple of months of concentrating on academic writing. I remained blissed out until I opened my email account. Sitting there in my inbox was a rejection email. And there ended my buzz.
I had entered a short story competition a couple of months ago, paid the rather stiff entry fee and what did I get in response? A metaphorical kick in the nuts and a generic email identifying what many applicants did wrong – nothing specific to my submission. I understand that these prizes have hundreds, perhaps thousands, of applicants but to charge a not unsubstantial entry fee means even the “losers” expect a little bit of feedback.
What followed over the next couple of days was misery, self-doubt, dramatic pronouncements that my writing career may well be over and a fair bit of self-flagellation (metaphorically, obviously). Below are a few of the internal arguments I’ve had with myself this week:
You’ve got an MA in Creative Writing. Fluff.
People write good reviews of your work on Amazon. They’re just being kind.
You won that Story Tyne award. Dumb luck/not many entries.
People say they love your Creative Writing sessions. They feel sorry for me.
After writing a despairing Facebook post a couple of days ago, I realised that what I was suffering from is an affliction suffered by many of those thoughtful souls who write. When you spend all day chained to your desk, with only Tweets and Facebook messages to connect you to the outside world, it’s easy to feel lonely. That loneliness can lend itself to negative thoughts which can quickly turn into writers block, or worse. I wonder how many people throw their writing in the bottom of a drawer during one of these episodes, convinced that their writing is bad. How many potentially successful authors, playwrights, poets or screenwriters have dropped out because the demon convinces them their work is no good?
How many of us have suffered from what a friend of mine calls “impostor syndrome”? Have you ever stood in front of an audience, ready to read your work, waiting for someone to shout “(S)He shouldn’t be here, they’re not really a writer!”? Have you ever received so many rejections from agents, publishers, production companies or competitions that you think that must be a sign? It’s not. You just haven’t found the right fit yet.
My friend Andrea Anastasiou wrote an article about using mindfulness techniques to live in the present. You may wonder what that has to do with neurotic writers’ syndrome but some of the techniques she talks about can help you keep the negativity at bay.
I know how it feels to be rejected – it’s likely most of the people you know who inhabit this writing world know that feeling too. It doesn’t mean you should give up.