Wallowing in yet another rejection today, I realized that writers are either bat-shit-crazy or masochists.
Almost every writer who has made it (and lots who haven’t) will explain the need for thick skin.
GET USED TO REJECTON, they say, pulling up their sleeves and revealing all the wounds and welts from the last decade as if these scars were a simple rite of passage.
But that’s not you. You are young. You have talent – your English teacher told you so. You’re always making stuff up; it’s just what you do. For you, fiction is a daily reality. See, you’re clever with words.
And here’s the thing: you’ve spent months dating your laptop, taking it to coffee shops, parks, restaurants, even on holiday. Your characters have become friends. You can describe every location in the story like you’re the living embodiment of Goggle Earth. Hell, you are CityMapper.
So when that rejection letter comes winding its way towards you, it hurts. This is what you learn: the marriage to your Macbook is a sham, your characters are two-dimensional squiggles, and your settings are saturated with purple prose.
BUT THE DREAM!
So you reconfirm the vows, you unfriend and unfollow the characters that weren’t having a positive impact on your life, and you actually visit Scotland to feel the rain falling from the skies. Cos, you know, authenticity. You look at the fresh scar on your arm and you feel a sense of pride; it is a symbol of struggle and knowledge gained.
Time passes. You’ve learnt so much in recent months. The last attempt was okay – you’ll give yourself that – but okay Isn’t. Good. Enough. You know that now. You’ve worked hard. Blood, sweat, and tears. You’re ready. It is ready. You send your work for another appraisal.
Later, you look at all the unblemished boys and girls, flouting pocket notebooks, chewing the ends of pens like they can write bestsellers in their sleep. They’ll learn, as you did. It makes you smile. You also look at the greyer, grislier old-timers and you are certain things won’t take that long. Not for you. You’re a quick learner, see. Got a degree; you read, learn, listen. You’ll make it.
Your eighth rejection letter floats towards you. It draws blood.
You believe in the story you’ve told. It’s important, significant – only in the smallest of ways, perhaps. But it’s enough. How can they not see it? You console yourself with thoughts of all those successful writers and their advice. Those knowing looks. THICK SKIN, you repeat to yourself.
And then some fourteen-year-old from YouTube who can’t speak in whole sentences without editing and cutting their content comes along and writes a bestseller. You try to tell yourself it’s okay. They’re not creating art. Bu you accept the industry is more money than marvel and you know you’ll learn to compromise. That’s the mature thing to do, right?
Meanwhile, your old laptop has filed for divorce and you’ve had to find another one. You’ve migrated to America to get a little perspective (it’s what James Joyce and folks did, no?) and not because you’re goddamned tired of all the raised eyebrows and the rising inflections that ask if you’re STILL writing the book.
More time. It’s a Saturday evening and you’re at a dinner party and some New Yorker tells you they don’t read. What’s the point, they say, when there’s Netflix? You resist the urge to plunge your fork through his eye-socket. You’re English, remember. Stiff upper-lip.
A girl with long brunet hair leaps to your defence. She’s bold, fun. She tells you that she’s a published author. Oh yes, you say, interested and a little envious. With whom, you ask.
Amazon, she replies.
She then laughs at your use of ‘whom’. So… English.
Her novel is eighty pages long and is available from Kindle for ninety-nine pence. It’s called HER DARK SECRET and has a picture of a semi-naked man with boulder-biceps around a woman with eyes too big for her head, wrapped in just a towel. A very small towel. In fact, it’s more like a tea towel. You look at your new American companion. Lovely, you say.
That evening you contemplate murder. The fire is lit, the manuscript is in your hands (kind of a Byronic moment, you think). You could do it, put an end to it.
BUT THE DREAM!
You put the manuscript down, defeated. Besides, it’s the twenty-first century. No one actually burns their manuscripts anymore. In your mind’s eye you can see your technocrat friends guffaw. It’s called sodding symbolism, you shout at no one in particular, enjoying the sibilance. You open a bottle of wine. You are going to get drunk (like Hemingway did, you think) and tomorrow will bring a new dawn.
The next day you sit at the kitchen table munching through toast and swigging orange juice. You have at last accepted that you’re mad, that you’re a masochist, and an addict. But that’s okay, because in your hand is another letter, and that letter tells you something you’ve always believed: it says that you’re A WRITER. You’re going to be published.
So long, folks.
Rupert Dastur is a writer, reviewer, and editor. He studied English at Emmanuel College, Cambridge, where he specialised in Modernism and the Short Story. After Cambridge he founded TSS with the aim of furthering discussion, interest, and development of the form. He is published in a range of places, has supported several short story projects and anthologies, is the Head of Development at Khona Productions, and is currently drafting his second novel while the first one hibernates in a cupboard.