I've just had a bit of an epiphany.
Yesterday I took out my Submissions File. I haven't looked at it for a long, long time because I haven't submitted for months. Yet its contents have cast a pall over my thinking - and my attitude to writing - for even longer. In it, I've carefully listed every agent, every publisher I've submitted my novel to, together with all the agents I intend to submit to in future. Each agent has been researched through The Writers' And Artists' Yearbook and - if they have one - through their website, with a note of what kind of submission each prefers. Beside each agent I've submitted to, a tick - which later becomes a cross as the novel is rejected.
Then there are the letters. Form letters: Dear (BLANK), with my name inserted. Letters addressed to me (and to my novel) by name. One where the agent has scribbled a brief note: 'I just didn't love it enough to take it on. Sorry.'
Next, the competitions. Just a record of having entered, since unless you're shortlisted, you don't usually hear anything. The Daily Mail First Novel Competition (for which each entrant - and presumably there were thousands - had to submit their entire manuscript); The Yeovil Prize; The Harry Bowling Prize (I did follow this one up and was told that I'd come 'close' to being shortlisted, which was a bonus).
I'd opened the file in order to transcribe a precious email comment from an agent, who I'd been introduced to through the generosity of a published writer. A rejection of my partial, but 'you write really well and the characters are convincing'.
I didn't expect to gain anything from opening the file. I feared that it would just slam home (again) the fact that I was unsuccessful, unpublished, unwanted.
Well, it wasn't like that at all.
I read it through from beginning to end. And I felt - surprisingly - quite cheery and upbeat when I'd finished. Why? Because I realised that I've achieved a lot. Not in the eyes of the world, but in my own esteem. Not only have I spent 18 months writing and revising the novel, but I have sent it out there and will do so again. These rejections are my badges of courage, of resilience and of hope. They also represent my membership of an elite club of writers who try, try and try again. Only from their ranks do published authors emerge. I realised each time I send my novel out, I do in a symbol of loyalty to my work and to myself as a writer. Each submission is a symbol of self-belief. Every time I submit, I demonstrate the tenacity that any writer needs to develop in order to win through.
Which is why I'm starting the next round of submissions. Not with any expectation of a positive response, but as an exercise in persistence and determination, two qualities which need strengthening and practising. And yes, I'll feel crushed each time that manila envelope slaps onto my mat. But as Joy Harjo, the Native American poet, says:
'You can use rejection to put you in a funk and stop you from writing, or you can crumple it up and use it to build your fire in the evening when you write.'
I know which I'd rather do.