Monday 10 March 2008

WRITING TIPS: Rejection Blues

What is it about rejection that freezes the creative brain? Sylvia Plath says that the greatest enemy of creativity is self-doubt. She knew what she was talking about! In the wake of multiple rejections for my first mainstream novel, written as part of a Masters degree in English Studies (Creative Writing), I find myself deep in rejection blues.

Strangely, the rejections from literary agents and publishers (ranging from encouraging to friendly to polite to uninterested) have not affected me. It comes with the territory of wanting to be a published author in an industry that is notoriously difficult to break into. Multiple rejections from agents and publishers are simply an obstacle that one can overcome if one has determination and a willingness to work at perfecting one's craft until that transcendant moment when one matches the right manuscript with the right agent at the right time and - viola -Houston, we have a breakthrough!

What has frozen any burgeoning creative talent I may have was the ruthless exercise in subjective criticism and literary elitism reflected in the examiners' reports. Although I passed the Masters degree, there appears to have been no acknowledgement that not all aspiring authors need, or even want, to be literary geniuses. That not all authors are at the same point in their creative journey as, say, a J M Coetzee or a Margaret Atwood. What gives an examiner - who in this case stands as a critic - the right to judge what does or does not constitute “good literature”? Judgment, after all, is simply another word for personal taste and can only be subjective. This is something that literary agents and publishers have recognised; even the blandest of my rejection letters made some mention of the decision being one based on a personal opinion.

So where does that leave me?

Deep in the blues, I want to give up any attempt to write another novel because, right now, I find it virtually impossible to reach for even one creative idea, let alone enough to complete a full manuscript. The magic flow of words from brain to to pencil to paper has dried up. And so it'll be easy enough to give up. I have a hundred ready reasons, all of them valid. All of them ways to avoid the pain of remembering that, according to the examiner/critic "she does not have the talent to write a good novel". Then I read the encouraging words of some of the literary agents and of other readers. "You write well," said one agent, "but...". Could it be that it's more a case of only this novel being bad? Can I, dare I, wonder if the next novel I write will be better? But I find the grip of acerbic criticism has too strong a hold, and the words remain trapped inside. I am silent.

Can I unfreeze the many fears locking my joy of writing into a prison of self-doubt? How do I get over my rejection blues and do what I'm meant to be doing...letting my creativity flow through me as I write and write and write? Will the prison door, built by fear and sealed by critics, ever open again?

To be continued next week in "5 Ways to Overcome Rejection Blues" where we will examine the following:

1. Seek Emotional Detachment
2. Believe in Yourself
3. Take Positive Action
4. Write, Write, Write
Avoid Comparisons


Fiction Junky said...

I think the only answer to this question of yours is: "write for yourself"! I am constantly amazed at the range of reactions a single book can evoke (as you know, I surf message boards like mad). There is never going to be something you write that will not bring out the vitriol in someone.

Sadly I think this says much about our society. We live in an era where it has become okay to attack people who like different things than we do. And I'm afraid the advent of "anonomous" feedback on masters degrees or the relative anonimity of the internet is feeding the beast: it is so much easier to write scathing criticism to someone we don't have to see across the table!

Hang in there. The muse is only hiding (and recharching her batteries.)

Ann Victor said...

Wise words, Fiction Junky. And, yes, it is a sad indictment of today's world that the marvellous technology of the 21st century encourages people to be their worst (rude, hurtful or cruel criticism) rather than their best (constructive, intelligent and objective criticism. Now I.m off to find where my muse is hiding...!!

Writer, Rejected said...

In the meantime, come on over to and shed some blues by laughing and crying with us. Maybe if you post your rejections, you will be free of them. Free enough to get back to it. We are your people. We understand.

Ann Victor said...

Thanks, writer rejected. Your blog has some great inspiration!