It was coming. There shouldn’t be any surprise at all, on reflection, and (quite usefully) this latest piece of news was learnt after I’d done the incredibly mentally draining ‘thing’ for the day and therefore, it couldn’t make anything worse. Nobody wants to be told they’re not good enough, especially in the current climate. Rejection’s an inevitable part of the writing process, and people deal with that differently. For me, it is normally quite funny, especially if (as was the case this time) it is accompanied by a staggeringly generic ‘we’re sorry you didn’t win and we can’t tell you why but WELL DONE ANYWAY’ email.
Today however it made me quite angry.
Most contests are lotteries for one reason alone: the people you’re trying to impress. It’s not like you’re judged to a standard either: if we all had to write twelve haiku, three acrostics and only in dactyls, before doing it again in evening wear whilst solving world hunger, it might be different. Everybody’s got their own idea of what is ‘good’ with half an eye on the marketplace: knowing what will sell, what they can promote, who are the current on trend writers driving tastes.
It might be unpalatable to some, but this is business just like games and films and art, and if you get lucky and mesh with someone, it is no guarantee of instant or long term success. You could well spend your entire time entering contests or funding your own work and not one person will know who you are until you die and someone discovers your legacy. That happens, and knowing this is probably a huge influence on why any negative emotion is always short lived, then transformed into something far more useful.
I don’t get the satisfaction of fame after my demise. I’m here now, loving every moment whilst simultaneously railing at sanctimony that undoubtedly accompanies a lot of writers who feel they are somehow owed something for their struggle. Nobody owes you anything. This should not be about the commercial success you obtain from your effort. If you aren’t here to do this for enjoyment and satisfaction in the first instance, I have to say, you’re on a hiding to nothing, unless you are spectacularly lucky, and trust me when I say I know how unlikely that is ever going to be.
Sure you can make a living as a writer, and lots of people do, but not without a phenomenal amount of hard work, savings, second jobs, support from family, understanding friends and that’s even before luck gets introduced into the equation. For me, coming up for nearly two years of doing this properly, there’s the knowledge that success is not at all tied to someone else liking your work. You have to be learning, adapting and refining, constantly exercising brain and words together. It is like exercise, only without the lumpy bits and sweaty gym kit.
There will be WTF moments too: some are brilliant, others will test your diplomacy skills. However, there is but one thing to remember when in such situations: be kind. Nobody likes a smartarse, or someone overly full of their own importance. Just be polite, honest and think before you speak. This bit is like being on the Internet right now, and knowing that sometimes the best thing you can do for everybody is just let the stupid pass you by. With #MeToo very much on the radar, the lines that shouldn’t be crossed are even more defined.
Seriously, just be a decent human being about all of this. You fail, you lick your wounds, then up you get and start again. If writing matters enough, you move past the rejection and use it as fuel, propelling you forward.
When you do fail, remember you’re not alone.