(See my bento and die from food envy: mini omelette with chive tie, mini sausages, card suit couscous, carved card suit Babybel cheese, lemon drizzle cupcake, sweets and peanuts, home-made peanut brittle (lid snack) and kiwi and apple salad …)

When rejection creeps up on you and when you reject …

I’m going to share with you a story I’ve never told before. There was a boy I went to school with who was a heart-throb. I had never spoken to him, but, like almost every other girl, worshipped him from afar. He had a long sensitive face, grey-blue eyes and ash-blond hair and probably went on to look a bit like Ian McKellen (but straighter, one suspects, on the evidence) – and one day his best friend ran down the main drive of the school and said, a bit breathlessly, ‘Simon wants to go out with you.’

Did I swoon? Did I blush? No, I laughed in his face and walked by, and walked by Simon too, in his donkey jacket (very fashionable that year) standing in the middle of the assembly hall looking somewhat bewildered. In fact I never spoke to Simon.

Why did I act like such a heartless, witless, bitch? Well because I was at that age when I believed that anybody who might find me interesting or attractive must have some terrible deficiency in their intellect or some ghastly hidden secret that made them feel I was a kindred spirit. Like Groucho Marx, I wouldn’t join a club that would have me as a member, and my feelings for anybody who seemed to like me underwent an creeping change until I loathed that person and their puerile inability to see how loathsome I was.

Why am I troubling you with this particular bit of adolescent guff? Well because I notice that some writers still have it (I’ve outgrown mine, thank God, and now know that most people loathe something about themselves, it’s what makes them human, but it shouldn’t be allowed to dominate life) in relation to publication.
It manifests like this. ‘X has just said they’ll publish my short story about snails,’ says a writer.
‘Congratulations,’ I reply (sometimes through gritted teeth and envious tongue).
‘Well, that’s great, isn’t it? You’ve been trying to get into X for years,’ I continue.
‘Yes … but …’ and the writer sighs.

And there it is – X is suddenly not a good place to be published, precisely because X has accepted work from that writer.

Outright rejection is something writers have to learn to deal with fairly robustly if they are to have a reasonable quality of life. Insidious rejection is something else – the kind of rejection that creeps up on you because you don’t value yourself enough to trust other people’s estimation of you is one of the most dangerous creativity sappers because it leads to the leaping over hurdles to strain at skyscrapers syndrome where the only answer to the burgeoning self-hate would be publication in The New Yorker with a story that is then optioned by Steven Spielberg and also awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature. But even then, the self-loathing writer will find a way to undermine their success.

What’s the answer, dear reader?

Two things:

–Know that perfection is unattainable. Any creation is flawed. You can do better next time – so move on and don’t fret about what is past. If you are disappointed or uncertain, use that energy to create new work, not fiddle with what has already found a home.
–Don’t let writing be the whole of your life. Find a non-competitive hobby, an absorbing interest or a demanding sport and ensure that you cultivate it – spreading your spirit across activities deprives writing of the change to sap your vitality.

I wish I’d gone out with Simon (he was, by all accounts, a great kisser) but I’m glad I learned the lesson then, and that my bread-making, yoga practice, gardening and new hobby (bento!) feed my creative impulses so that writing, whether accepted or not, is just one thing in a life that I try to live pretty fully.


  1. Quillers
    6th June 2008

    Kay I nodded so much reading this post that my neck aches now . I think we’ve all done it when we’ve had work accepted. I know I have, and I’m terrible for underplaying (in my own head at least) any successes I get. I haven’t quite got away from the feeling that everytime my work is accepted it’s a fluke, or as you so perceptively put it, believed that market X can’t be as good as I thought because they’ve let me in.

    I wonder if it’s because we’re programmed from an early age that it doesn’t do to feel too pleased with ourselves. I was going to say that perhaps it’s a female thing but I rather think it’s a British thing.

  2. Gonna be a writer
    6th June 2008

    I wonder where Simon is now.

  3. Quillers
    7th June 2008

    He’s probably in counselling because the gorgeous Kay Sexton blew him off! LOL

  4. Kay Sexton
    7th June 2008

    Thanks for the ‘gorgeous’ Quillers!
    I think you may have a point about it being a British trait … fascinating to discover yet another cultural neurosis.

    And Gonna, I wonder too, but in a vague writerly way, not a creeper, Friends Reunited, stalker-femme way.

    But in the general sense, we grew up in a very strange place and time; he’s probably in counselling for sure, but nothing to do with me. And I do think that strangeness – whether innate or imposed – is one of the constituents that makes a writer.

  5. Quillers
    7th June 2008

    Yes, I agree about the strangeness. I grew up with a sense of being ‘outside’ of everything else and everyone else, even my own family (whom, I should stress, I love very much). I was always quite happy with my own thoughts and my own company, as I am now, though I do try to be a bit more sociable nowadays.

    It’s those private thoughts, I believe, that led me to become a writer. It seemed healthier to get them down on paper!

  6. The Writing Gardener
    10th June 2008

    Hadn’t heard of bento before I read this. It’s always good to aim for a balance of things in life. Interests other than writing help keep us grounded. It’s too easy for us introspective writers to think too much and dwell on our doubts about whether we’re ‘real’ writers. There is a temptation to think other writers are the ‘real’ ones and we are just playing at it. Find the joy in what you do, be it writing, bento, hang-gliding, whatever, and then the anxieties about whether we’re good enough become less important.


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