Notes from the rejection pile: fear of rejection VS inertia of creation
When I graduated with my MA in one hand and a pile of student debts looming behind me, I was still pretty confident: I had come out with some of the best grades not only in my class, but across my department. I knew how to write across a broad spectrum of genres not only creatively and academically, but commercially as well. Despite my overall lack of confidence as a person, when it came to writing, I thought: I got this.
I did (and still do) not ‘got this’. At all.
As I write this, it’s been about seven years since I graduated. Seven gone-in-a-flash years, where I’ve navigated the waves of writing-adjacent jobs I’ve loved and hated in equal proportions. I’ve done my stint (briefly) as an unpaid (don’t even get me started on this BS practice) and paid
But I’ve yet to have anything creative published outside of university projects and vanity work.
Sure, I’ve had bylines in a small national magazine, but the type of writing I’m really passionate about? Nada. You’ll hear a lot of authors say their rejections aren’t for a lack of trying. In my case?
It’s 100% from a lack of trying.
As a community, we talk a lot about writer’s block. For every success story and book deal out there, I’d bet there are a dozen ‘writers’ who ‘have a book in them’ or are ‘working on an idea’ that won’t see the light of day. I’m one of them.
At some point, between the whirlwind of trying to find my feet with a ‘proper adult career’, clear down student loans, and etch out my own happy little corner in life, I let The Fear take over. At some point, without even realising it, I allowed the fear of getting it wrong – making a fool of myself – of being rejected – of not being good enough – to stay my hand, stall my thoughts, and stop me from writing.
I recognise now that a large part of my inertia born of fear comes from the lack of feedback in the real world. In university and creative writing courses, there’s no end of constructive criticism and positive feedback. Though the quality and quantity of that feedback can vary greatly depending on where you go, there is still a response of some kind.
When it comes to writing competitions, submitting to publishers and agents, it can feel like you’re shouting into the void. Is anyone even hearing what you have to say? If not, does that make your words worthless?
In 2018, on the back of a rather heartbreaking and stressful fall-through of a creative project I had been working on the year prior, I realised that I had let the few knockbacks I had experienced push me off of the writing bandwagon altogether. Unless it was something non-fiction I could get the instant gratification of social media likes or the odd byline for, I just wasn’t even taking the time to explore it and give it room to breathe and grow naturally, much less dedicating my time to turn it into something worth pursuing (for myself or a publisher).
I decided to enter a writing competition. I shelled out my (surprisingly steep) entry fee; I checked the guidelines for genre and prompt; read up on past winners; I noted that there would be no feedback, just news if you got through to the next round or fell at the first hurdle.
It’s easy to let our fear of rejection rule us. No-one wants to feel inadequate or as though they have failed. The thing is, we aren’t failures – we’re just works in progress. It’s only when we allow our fear to win over us, to stay our hands, to allow that overwhelming anxiety to claw and consume us, that we truly fail.
Looking back on my entry that didn’t even make it past the first round, I can say with objective eyes that it wasn’t great. The idea was there, but the finish was sorely lacking. I tried to fit too much into a tight wordcount; I let the emphasis remain on the ‘big reveal’, rather than building characters that readers could connect with. Re-reading now, even I don’t care about the fate of my characters as we draw closer to the conclusion (and that, to me, says more than enough about it as a piece of fiction).
Through this mini-series of blog posts, I plan to share further rejections and advice I pick up along the way. We’re almost a month into the new year, and I’ve already sent off one piece of poetry, and three non-fiction article pitches to various magazines and editors. It’s not quite the big fiction push I’d hoped for, but it’s a start.
You can check out the sister blog: Pieces from the rejection pile – Congratulations to check out the rejected submission talked about in this blog post. Any comments, critiques, or feedback are (as always) greatly appreciated, and will be reciprocated where possible.