Entrants for this year’s Feature Article competition, sponsored by The New Writer magazine, were asked to submit articles with the title ‘Never Give Up! Never Surrender! How to keep writing in the face of rejection’. We are delighted to publish the winning entry by Trudie Thomas, along with the judge’s comments.
I’ve been a writer, well, since I could write, but I’ve never been quite sure if I should refer to myself as a writer or an author.
‘You qualify as an author when you get yourself published,’ a writer friend told me, over a delicious mug of cinnamon cappuccino. The whole café seemed to smell of Christmas. ‘That means,’ he added, waving a froth-coated teaspoon at me, ‘that your words are out there for people to read, in any other form than sitting in a drawer or on top of one of your dusty old shelves.’
‘Ah.’ I squirmed. I’d forgotten my friend had seen my study. ‘Do you think you’ll ever get there?’ I asked.
‘Absolutely, no doubt about it.’ He sat back, taking his mug with him. ‘It’s just a matter of time.’ He gulped enthusiastically from his coffee, then reached for our plate of shared biscuits.
‘I wish I had your confidence,’ I said, wondering if I should tell him that he’d just coated his nose with the chocolate heart our waitress had skilfully crafted on our coffees today. ‘I just feel so miserable every time I receive another rejection letter. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve felt like giving up.’
‘You must never give up, never surrender.’ He laughed. ‘There’s always hope.’ He slid the plate towards me. ‘Help yourself, or I’ll eat them all. So, what happened with that agent who asked for some more chapters a little while back?’
‘Oh, I’d forgotten about him. Yes that was exciting whilst it lasted but ended with another rejection I’m afraid.’
‘Look,’ he said, ‘I don’t think I’ve been writing as long as you, but I’ve collected enough rejection slips to re-carpet my hall, stairs and landing.’ He took another sip and his chocolate nose cap increased in size.
‘Um, you’ve got a…’
‘No, no. Listen up. This is important. I’m going to share a little secret with you.’
‘I’m listening,’ I said, and I was.
‘Right. So you send out your manuscript and finally you get a response. You rip open your letter, and the first thing you do is to scan it for the positives; phrases like we’re pleased to tell you and we would be happy to read some more. Then you spot the negatives. There’s the classic, unfortunately it’s not for us and the delightful we wish you luck elsewhere. Those you can almost smell before you’ve opened the letter, am I right?’
‘Yes.’ I nodded. ‘Yes, you are.’
‘Okay, but sometimes there’s more.’ He took a biscuit and it disappeared whole. ‘Sometimes there’s a little gem of personalised encouragement, and I’m not talking the standard we read your manuscript with interest, blah blah, but an actual reference to your book. It might be a compliment about the plot or some advice about the title, but they’ve gone to the trouble of getting that information to you. Do you know what I’m saying?’
‘Yes,’ I confirmed. ‘It’s great when that happens. You realise they thought your book was worth that extra effort.’
‘Exactly, and remember that’s the important thing. They’re making the effort for the book, not for you personally, so when a rejection arrives, it’s not you personally being rejected; it’s your book.’
‘But,’ I hesitated, ‘you said there was a secret.’
‘I did. Yes. So the first thing I do when I get a response is to record the reply in my writing diary. Then I’ve also got my special notebook, well it’s more like a scrapbook really. If an agent has gone that extra mile with a hand-written PS for instance, I get a bright yellow marker and highlight all the good stuff, then that letter goes into my special book. Of course if they had given me some specific advice, I would certainly address that immediately. After all, they’re the experts, right?’ He drained his mug and sat back smiling.
He really did seem to have the process under control. ‘So how does this scrapbook help you?’ I asked keen to learn more. ‘Surely you still feel gutted when you get a rejection?’
‘I do, of course,’ he said nodding. ‘It’s just that as soon as I’ve read it, recorded it and then shredded it, I turn to my special book and read all the positives I’ve ever received. It’s the best medicine.’
I sat back and smiled. ‘It sounds a great idea. I like it.’ I broke the last cookie in half. ‘Here, let’s share this last one.’
My friend grinned. ‘Cheers.’
‘So do you have any other tips on how to keep writing?’
‘Well, I think it’s important to remember that writers are not the only people to suffer rejection.’
‘Really, I suppose I do feel it’s the Achilles heel of our profession, much the same as singers have sore throats, and builders get bad backs.’
‘Not true though. People in all walks of life get rejected every single day.’
‘How about, sorry you haven’t got the job, or sorry your mortgage application hasn’t been successful. Sorry we can’t give you planning permission for that conservatory you wanted; your neighbours have petitioned against it.’
I laughed. ‘I see what you’re saying.’
‘It happens to the best of us. How many people have their cards swallowed by a machine, do you think? What’s the bank done with their request for some cash? Rejected it! Not to mention verbal rejections. Every day, I’m certain of it.’
I frowned. ‘Like what?’
‘Like, sorry, Mum. I can’t make it home this weekend, or I’m sorry sir, you can’t park your car there.’
‘So – perspective, you’re saying.’
‘Precisely, scoop yourself a bucket load.’ He chuckled. ‘Don’t forget to keep the faith, and have the confidence to know the rejection slips are just part of the journey.’
‘Excellent,’ my friend said, using a damp finger to blot the crumbs on our empty plate. ‘Where are you off to now?’ he asked, as I stood up and shrugged my jacket on.
‘WH Smiths,’ I said, ‘to buy myself a scrapbook. Come on,’ I urged, passing him a clean serviette. ‘Wipe that chocolate off your nose, you’re coming with me.’
This entry stood out because the writer realised that all articles don’t need to be written in an ‘essay’ style. In a magazine that is aimed at the ‘how to’ writing market there needs to be a balance of articles and a range of styles. The winner approached the topic in a novel way and supplied an article which the readers of The New Writer would enjoy and also find useful.
I have to say I loved the approach that the writer has taken with this entry. Even though at first it appears that they provided a story rather than an article, and therefore have not met the brief, the approach provided solid information, answered the question and provided a very good list of ways in which a writer can carry on in the face of rejection.
The article also demonstrated that information can be disseminated in more ways than a straight forward ‘essay’ or didactic style.