Two weeks into blogging and I’m already talking about giving up? No not really. In early April, the Guardian online published the opinion article What I’m really thinking: the failed novelist. An anonymous writer bemoans the fact that her two novels were rejected by various editors. Since then, she’s ‘given up’, can’t bring herself to read any new modern fiction and ends the article by saying:
You’re writing a novel yourself? Good for you. Now please shut up about it.
When I first read it, I was a little disheartened. I’d say that most of us write with the secret hope that we’ll one day be recognised. To see the shattered dreams of a ‘failed novelist’ laid bare was a pretty tough read.
But then I looked at it again. A few things bothered me. Anonymous describes her second manuscript as her ‘masterpiece’. It struck me as a little self-indulgent. I’m addicted to author interviews and I’ve never seen any serious or successful writer describe their work as ‘a masterpiece’. At least, not without a hint of irony.
Writing is a journey which will span your entire life. I’m not a brilliant writer, but I’m a better writer than I was yesterday. And a whole load better than I was a year ago. Calling something your masterpiece suggests it’s your very best. Oddly, it seems both defeatist and arrogant.
It also baffles me how she can ‘give up’. I know I’m not alone in the belief that some people are born to write. I truly believe that if I didn’t, I’d go nuts. Whether it’s purely for myself or manifests in interminably long emails to friends and family, I have to write. Giving up isn’t an option. You know that friend who always has a pen or six? That’s me.
Obviously, Anonymous writer had a very clear goal in her life. She wanted her novel to be an immediate success. Her masterpiece loved and praised by all who read it, to be in print and on the bestseller list post haste. If you set out to be the next Stephen King or J. K. Rowling, you’re going to be horribly disappointed. It doesn’t just happen overnight, if it happens at all.
It should probably be pointed out that:
Lord of the Flies by William Golding – rejected 20 times
Gone with the Wind by Margaret Mitchell – rejected 38 times
Anne Frank’s The Diary of a Young Girl – rejected 15 times
Carrie by Stephen King – rejected 30 times
Dune by Frank Herbert – rejected 23 times
Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone – rejected 12 times
Dubliners by James Joyce – rejected 22 times
Lastly, and perhaps it’s petty on my part, I couldn’t help roll my eyes at Anyonomous (who’d had managed to land an agent, a monumental feat in itself) was writing an article lamenting her failed dreams… in the Guardian. A newspaper with global readership. Hell of a platform to air your grievances from.
I don’t want to trivialise the writer’s emotions. As I’ve started sending my work out, the pain of rejection is all too real. It’s quickly becoming aparent this is not a trial for someone who thinks they’ve already achieved the height of their writing talent. Thinking like that simply leaves you nowhere to go and so makes rejection all too final. If you view every rejection as a chance to grow, you’ll never fail. If you’re already at the top of the mountain, there’s no where to go but down.
Four days later, the article was followed up with a response by David Barnett entitled Do two unpublished books make you a failed author? No, you’re a quitter. Barnett, who wrote Calling Major Tom, likely has some insight into the world of rejection.
If Anonymous’s article gave me a moment of doubt, then Barnett’s inspired me. He wrote:
It is no one’s “destiny” to be a published author. That implies a path laid out for us, an unshakeable future that is planned and unchangeable. And it is entitled. Writing is art, but it is also a job, and one that you have to do to the satisfaction of the people you expect to chuck wads of money at you, so their investment in you makes sense.
I’ve been working on a steampunk/fantasy novel for around four years. It’s been a pretty tortuous experience, but I am going to finish it and I’m going to try and get it published.
Will it be my masterpiece? I hope not! Because after that there will be another novel. And after that, an even better novel. The only obstacle between you and getting published is your stamina. No matter how many times you get rejected, keep writing.
What do you think of anonymous struggles? Have you ever felt so low you wanted to give up? What got you through it? Share your thoughts!