Monday, 9 July 2012

A little heresy before bedtime


Maybe you're just a number two.

Another momentous Wimbledon has come and gone - a tale of heroism, endeavour, victory and defeat. Basically it's been like watching a writing tournament, only with tennis racquets. Hang on, I hear you shout, we don't have writing tournaments unless you mean competitions. No, I mean the whole experience of being a writer.

You train (just go with me on this), you perfect your skills and you try not to drop the ball. Some will triumph and some will fall, but sooner or later every writer - and I mean every one - will have a defining moment that gives them clarity about their approach and their ability.

It could be that short story competition where you failed to win a prize by just two judges' points. Perhaps it's that first novel rejection - in every sense - where you either cry into your beer and give up, or cry into your beer and vow to prove them wrong.*

I put it to you that it's our failures that define us. We can't all be Booker winners and from now on none of us will be Orange Fiction Pize winners. I think I can also say, with some confidence, that most of us won't get agents or bank-busting three-book deals.

So why go through the submissions mill? Why aim for the stars?

Think back, those of you who've had your work rejected in the past. If you're still writing, I'd be willing to wager that you learned important things from a good rejection - one where you learned something about your work. I guarantee that by the time you finished your next complete edit you cringed at the very idea you'd submitted the previous version. I know I have - several times!

One of my defining moments was when our writing group used to meet at Susie's. We were bemoaning the carousel of submissions, waiting and disappointment. The subject of revisions came up and Kath said that it was about producing the best work possible. That's when it came to me. I knew that I only wanted to do the minimum number of edits necessary. Not because I'm a lazy sod. Well, not exactly.

I want to enjoy the process of writing and I accept that it's a learning curve. But there comes a point where, after 'x' number of edits (and it varies according to each novel I've written), I would rather stop before I tear the heart out of the piece. I'd rather learn the lessons, set it aside and pour my passion into something new. I'm not entirely sure whether that's a victory or a failure.

What have your writing rejections and failures taught you?

* Let me say for the record that I don't much care for beer or crying. 

8 comments:

Joanna said...

Thank you for a really enjoyable post.

I keep sending work out after a rejection. I look hard until I find the cringeworthy parts, then tweak, cut and try again. Some stories have succeeded at the fourth attempt. One man's trash is another man's treasure.

I stop after five or six attempts and concede that the story may yet appeal to someone, but not to someone I have the time to find. And I keep on writing.

JO said...

Some years ago (when I was 50!) I tried to climb Kilimanjaro. There was a dreadful half hour when I snivelled and had to accept that there are just some mountains I can't climb.

And when I got down I thought of all the things I could have done differently - eaten differently, taken different medication - then had to remind myself how ill I had felt at altitude.

There are moments, when I'm writing, that I have to accept that this piece just isn't working. And others when a spit and polish will make all the difference. But it's much harder to tell the difference with writing than it is with mountains.

Derek said...

Thanks for your comments, Joanna and Jo. So often, I think, we build up expectations from a variety of sources that are at odds with who we are as writers (and people).

It can be painful to accept that we're not going to do everything, but it's better in the long run to try and see things as they are. For one thing, a clear understanding of our current position makes it easier to determine the next step. Which, in my case, is another edit!

Gillian McDade said...

When I read my very first completed book (Under The Bed publications, circa 2006), I wince with pain. There are the common errors, including six points of view in one paragraph!

Derek said...

Gillian, you forgot to include a link for that book. And speaking of, erm, stylistic idiosyncrasies, check out The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman!

Gillian McDade said...

Derek, it's www in the recycled bin.com.

Kath said...

Ha Derek, I remember that meeting well. And as one who went on and on and on and on until she did in fact edit the life out of her first manuscript, I have come further around to your way of thinking! A lot of that time would have been better used getting on with something new. But we live and learn.
:)

Derek said...

Gillian - nothing's ever wasted if it's recycled!

Kath - hello there! You may be right, but I've found that leaving a novel behind works best when I'm moving towards something rather than moving away from something. It's a tough one. And, just to really muddy the waters, having too many novel ideas is a great way of not getting any one novel the attention it requires. But enough talk about me!