>Catching lightning

>When I started this blog, I told myself I’d keep it positive. No whining. And I intend to keep it that way, but I’ve realised there’s something insidiously negative – not to mention unrealistic – about being too positive. This post is an attempt to redress that balance.

If the writing business is famous for one thing it’s the rejection letter. Now, I know this blog is read by a number of people who are aspiring writers, so I hope it provides some comfort to know that rejection really is just part of the business. I’ve known that for a long time, and continue to have work rejected on a regular basis. By my wife, who tells me this manuscript is lacking a certain sparkle, by my agent, who tells me this manuscript isn’t commercial enough for the current market, by editors who tell me that there’s no place for this manuscript in their list at the moment. I don’t like it any more than you do. In the past I’ve even been guilty of taking it personally. But it’s just the way the kitchen operates, and you know what they say if you can’t stand the heat …

Whenever this subject comes up I think about myfirst days at art college. There we were, fresh out of school, terribly precious with our pencils and convinced that every drawing we did had to be a fine and finished thing. To drum that out of us, the tutors spent the first few lessons mercilessly ripping us to pieces, tearing up work, throwing drawings on the floor and getting us to walk on them. Cruel? Maybe. But the only way to free us of the illusion that the act of the creation is all about the finished thing. Because it’s not. It’s about the process. Accepting artistic – and commercial – criticism is all part of the game. Accepting editorial advice is something we should all do gratefully, and gracefully.

Does that mean I’m not pissed off when what I thought was a pretty fine piece of work gets roundly trashed by everyone I show it to? Of course not. But it does mean that, after I’ve thrown things around the room and consumed a bottle or two of Cabernet Shiraz, I either set to work improving it or move on. Because there always is a next thing to move on to – you just have to seek it out.

So my message to all you struggling writers is simply this: the struggle isn’t ever going to go away. I’ve had moderate success over some years, with eight published novels and two more under contract, plus a handful of short stories some of which have enjoyed some critical success. But I’ve also got trunk novels that have never seen the light of day, a heap of equally unloved short stories and any number of pitches for books that may or may not find a home. More rejections than you can shake a stick at, in other words, the most recent of which came thudding into my inbox just last week.

Is this a negative post, then? Not at all. It’s a call to arms. Because the next project beckons. It always does. I’m waiting for some feedback on my latest pitch and who knows, maybe this will be the one that catches the lightning in the bottle. But right now, I’ve a new short story to finish. And as for you … haven’t you got something to be getting on with too? It won’t write itself, you know.

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