Rejection and Self-doubt

Apparently I’m pretty terrible at sticking to this one-post-per-week thing! This time it’s more down to personal issues than general lack of discipline, but I guess discipline is something that should apply even when you’re feeling crap, so I clearly need to work on that.

Part of the reason for my recent lapse in productivity is that the last few weeks have been marked by several rejections, so I suppose I should write about that, since it’s pretty much been the only thing on my mind.

It was my birthday last week – I’m now decidedly in my mid- rather than early-thirties – and for the first time in my life the day brought with it a sense of falling behind rather than moving forward. I’m an optimist by nature, even when things aren’t going well, and I started this year feeling really positive, like ‘this is the year I’m going to make things happen and everything is going to fall into place’. Of course positive mental attitude is important if you want to achieve significant goals, but that becomes hard to sustain when you keep encountering road blocks, and it’s felt very much like the universe just keeps piling on the challenges over the last month or so, with no sign of any pay-off.

I know that every author has to deal with rejection at some point in their career (if one more person tells me about J K Rowling’s long list of rejections, I might just scream!), but knowing it and experiencing it are very different things.

Writing is usually my primary form of therapy, but the latest run of rejections has left me feeling pretty exhausted, emotionally and physically, and that’s definitely impacted my productivity. When the motivation’s not there, it’s very difficult to force yourself to sit down at a screen and be creative, and unfortunately when your self-esteem is linked so closely to your ability to generate material, it tends to lead to a downward spiral that’s constantly reinforcing itself.

I definitely have a tendency to focus too much on the negatives. I could achieve something really brilliant one day, but the next day I’ll be back to worrying about all the things I haven’t achieved and examining every ‘failure’ under a microscope to figure out where I went wrong.

In the last month I’ve had a story short-listed in an online competition and I’ve been accepted onto a master’s programme, both of which I’m really pleased about, but I also had another story rejected and quite harshly (although not unfairly) critiqued, was rejected as a candidate for a mentoring programme I’d applied for, and thought my novel (baby/ life’s work/ precious outpouring of my soul) had been rejected by a publisher, although it turned out that was down to a fault with the email system and it’s still under consideration – eeeek! (Never underestimate the importance of a follow-up query!)

Anyway, as of yesterday, when I began writing this post, I thought it had been rejected and was accordingly depressed. It wasn’t just a case of figuring out where I’d gone wrong, it was a full-blown existential crisis: maybe I’m just not good enough to be a published author. Maybe I’m kidding myself. Maybe I’ll never be exceptional at anything. Maybe all my hard work over the years has been a complete waste of time and I should start thinking about a different career plan. Maybe I should just crawl into a hole and stay there.

However, despite being crushed by the weight of my hopes and dreams collapsing around my ears, I still held firm to the belief that the main difference between success and failure is tenacity, and that giving up is the only real way to fail. So after flopping around pathetically for maybe an hour or so, I gave myself a stern talking-to, picked up my copy of the ‘Writers’ and Artists’ Yearbook’ and started red-inking agents to submit my work to. There’s always another way forward, and if you can’t see it then you need to look harder.

I’ve come to the conclusion that a certain level of masochism is essential if you want to be successful in any creative industry. You have to be willing and able to take the hits if you’re going to push through to a win, and if you can’t, I suggest you give up now. Getting published is not for the faint-hearted.

Having your work dismissed by people whose opinion really counts is soul-destroying, especially since any long-term creative endeavour requires you to pour your heart into it and expose your deepest vulnerabilities. It feels like your essential self has been rejected, not just ‘something you did’, and that’s a hell of a blow, but it’s vital to keep in mind that there are many, many factors involved in why one particular publisher or agent or competition judge didn’t consider your work up to scratch, and not all of them are that it wasn’t ‘good’. There are market pressures and conflicts of interest to consider, as well as personal tastes, current social trends, blah blah blah.

I do think it’s important to try and be objective about your own work and realistic in your expectations. The fact is, you might not be as good as you wish to be, and you have to take that into consideration if your work is constantly being rejected. In the words of Kipling: ‘If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you/ But make allowance for their doubting too’. But that doesn’t mean you should give up. Natural talent is often seen as the be-all and end-all of creativity, but in reality hard work counts for a lot; there are a huge number of super-talented people who will never get anywhere because they’re not prepared to put the work in, and conversely there are less-talented people with flourishing careers, who persisted and worked and developed the skills they needed to get where they wanted to go. That capacity shouldn’t be underestimated.

Anyway, that’s the latest update and partial explanation of why I haven’t been keeping up with the posts. I’m still planning to get part two of the structure post up, hopefully over the next few days, but in the meantime I thought I’d share some of this stuff because I know everyone struggles with rejection and sometimes it helps to know you’re not the only one.

Fingers crossed I’ll have some more positive news to share soon, but if not soon then hopefully in the future. I’m certainly not going to give up, no matter how much work it takes to get there.

If you want to share any of your experiences or thoughts on this subject, you’re welcome to post in the comments or follow me on Twitter @RoseJamesAuthor.