A Rejection Can Only Hit So Hard
Ever had a rejection that simply won’t quit?
At some point in time I’d like to consider myself a professional. I thought I did, until I had a rejection that soured me and I realised I wasn’t taking my own advice—or I couldn’t take it.
It wasn’t a submission and it wasn’t necessarily a critique of my work as a writer, and that’s probably why it stung so much.
A decade ago, I began my career as an illustrator. My fledgling steps were taken in the lecture halls and studio space of a renowned university. At the time, it was heralded as one of the best art universities in the country, and the best illustration course I could do. That meant I took every single piece of advice given as gospel.
You see, at the time, we didn’t have anything near the level of networking that we have now. Or, if we did, we weren’t taught it. Our mentors and tutors were old-school illustrators. They would lecture us on how to sell our art by physically taking a huge portfolio of work throughout London (and other cities which they sometimes mentioned) to introduce ourselves to companies. Being autistic, this was terrifying, and I knew from day one I’d probably remain a hobbyist.
Now? Well, now it is an entirely different playing field. I can send my art, undisputed, across the world for anyone willing to see, for free. Sure, I may not be getting paid for these sketches, but the exposure dwarfs the odd picture up in a café. It has resulted in my work being exhibited and noticed by groups and charities that would never have seen it otherwise.
There are challenges now, online, for artists to enter and learn from each other, to liaise and build communities that they wouldn’t have had years ago. Every year I attempt and fail the Inktober challenge and fall in love with all the art I’m offered from across the globe. Back at university, I was introduced to my peers as my competition. I had to learn to be a critic in a way that simply doesn’t come naturally to me. There are art groups on social media sites that I use where I honestly believe the thought of competition had never crossed a critic’s mind—and it is uplifting. It is rewarding.
So, what does this have to do with writing? Well, some of these experiences run parallel with the writing world. For example, one of my favourite activities is playing writing games on Twitter with other writers. They’re great for weeding out tangles in my plots and testing voice in easily digestible bite-sized pieces.
Social media has allowed writing to evolve yet again, and be explored and experimented with in real time, in public, with the membrane of privacy that once separated audience and author now dissolved. This can be a blessing as well as a curse.
Writing groups, while wonderful in their own right, risk asking too much of their writers. In order to bring people together, in order to provide equal feedback for all in the group, it means writers have to double up as beta readers, editors, and critics—and not everyone is capable of wearing these different hats, at least not when they first start going to a group.
Being a writer does not necessarily make you cut out to be an editor, and vice versa. Some people will openly admit that they have no idea what to say about a piece of work, and often never will, and that isn’t their fault. I’ve also been adamant about providing valuable advice, but this has exhausted me.
I’m dyslexic. It takes me longer to read and write than most people I know, and often times it is because I am re-reading sentences over and over, completely unable to tell whether they make sense or not. I’m not a line editor and I never will be. One of the ‘superpowers’ of autism fails me here. Where I’d normally be good at picking up patterns and following writing rules, I am completely at a loss when it comes to words on a page. I’ve gotten better at writing, but reading is still something of a mystery (and I’m aware that doesn’t make sense).
The rejection that hit me was to join an online writers’ group. I had my doubts and hesitations before I applied, but since moving away from Thanet—and the local groups I could attend on a whim—I felt adrift writing-wise. This rejection was something I predicted, and yet, when I received it, I felt uncomfortable in a way that seemed to stretch out endlessly into my future. I felt I’d never be good enough. I’d never have what they need, and what other writers need, so what is was my purpose to them? Would I only have been attending sessions like a leech?
The spiral was slow. I put the thoughts to the back of my mind, hoping they’d fizzle out like a candle’s flame. I’ve struggled to justify interacting with people online, reading books, writing, yet I’m principally aware of the fact that we’re in a new era—the wants and needs of authors and audiences are evolving too. Some writers are still capable of catapulting themselves into audiences, while others have to collect each member one by one—some publishers won’t bat an eye in your direction unless you have the numbers.
This feeling grew from my inferiority complex regarding my dyslexia and autism. For those unaware, autism isn’t exactly big on socialising. I caught myself wincing at the thought of people replying to me, of how I came across and whether I will ever be ‘good enough,’ charismatic enough…
But I’m not an editor. I’ll never be an editor. I can give it a go, but not as a career. I don’t trust my mind’s eye enough—that doesn’t make me a bad writer, everybody acknowledges that. So why did this label that I never wanted start to weigh down on my dreams? How could I fix this mindset?
Firstly, I needed to forgive myself from getting into this bear trap of a thought process. Social media is notorious for equating attention with validation, and not everyone has the fortitude (to start off with) to resist it.
Secondly, I needed to strip myself of the teachings of my illustration tutors.
Thirdly, I needed to remember the writing games are just games. Just like games in real life, or video games, people need a break, so I need to prepare to take one if I find myself being taxed mentally.
Fourthly, I needed to recognise that while may not be a line-editor, I’m a blinking good proof-reader, albeit a slow one. I can be your biggest fan if you’ll let me. I can also do a lot of what an editor does, like spot plot holes and unnecessary information, from a mile off. I’m not competition, I am a cheerleader and I love it.
Fifthly, I needed to be reminded that I have experience and skills that I can bring to the table that others can’t. I’ve been a sensitivity reader and helped authors grow as a result.
Sixthly, I needed to tell myself that I’ve been published, and my self-esteem can’t undo that. I was chosen because someone else thought I was good. If social media treats attention as validation, surely being accepted to have your work in print along with others out of however-many-submissions is better?
Seventhly, I needed to praise myself for putting myself out there and not retreating. It would be so easy to do that. It would be too easy to self-destruct and spite myself, but I haven’t, and I know I won’t.
And eighthly, finally, I needed to remember that I, like the world of writing, am still evolving. My skin will grow thicker and brighter from this experience, and I hope sharing it will help others too, who have experienced something similar—or have felt nothing but the void calling back when trying to network online (or even in person).
Writers now are in this space between the traditional and the new. Just as some illustrators are still presenting themselves in person to companies, with a big folder of prints, so a lot of writers are still sticking to the tried and tested route of and to traditional publishing, ignoring the new opportunities and pathways. Yet, this isn’t the only avenue anymore, and what is expected of us is often an unknown until it blindsides us.
This is my hobby, my lifelong love, my passion and, hopefully, my career, as it will be for many people who read this.
And, like me, I doubt any of this will put them off either.
© 2020 Lannah Marshall
Available under the Thanet Writers Education Policy
Sometimes she writes. Sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing.