Friday, 4 February 2011

Don't Give Up!

I have talked a lot about rejections with fellow writers and most of us seem to agree on many things. What I haven’t done for a while is talk in any depth to someone as yet unpublished about them.

So now I have and I learnt a few home truths. I have always said that we’re all in the same boat and rejections hurt no matter how many times you’ve been published, but I’ve had a rethink on the subject.

We can have a bit of a laugh about the big brown envelopes thudding on the mat and say how it gets you down but you have to pick yourself back up and start again.

But what I haven’t been doing is going back to when I first started. Until you are published there is always that voice at the back of your mind asking, “Am I wasting my time here?” It’s still there when you have been published, but you can usually shut it up by slapping it round the gob with an acceptance letter.

But before that first acceptance, it is very hard to keep going. And a standard rejection letter really can feel like the end of the world – or rather the end of your writing career which amounts to the same thing. It is worse when you’re unpublished and it is wrong to pretend otherwise. So I apologise to anyone who is still striving for their first acceptance in the face of a seemingly never ending stream of rejections for saying it still hurts. It does, but not as much when you haven't had an acceptance to cushion the blow.

Someone arrived on this blog by searching for “how many rejections did it take before someone accepted you?” I was going to answer this, but I can’t find my submissions records from before 1985. I know it was a lot!

I know some writers who had their very first story submission accepted only for it to be followed by a string of rejections. I know others who wrote dozens before their first success.

I do remember the despair if I let myself. I remember the gut-wrenching sight of my own brown envelope coming back through the letter box. I still feel it, but time and experience do make it easier to handle.

I remember tearing stories to shreds and vowing never to write another thing. I remember my eyes throbbing - yes they actually burned and throbbed - with disappointment as I fought not to cry. There have been occasions in recent years where I have been reduced to tears, but those times have been exceptions.

All I can say to those of you out there who are still trying, still battling a seemingly never ending stream of rejection slips is don’t give up. If you want to write, if your gut insists on it and you can’t live without it, then keep doing it. Don’t Give Up!

And finally I found a picture of me taken a few years ago at my desk at the end of the living room. This is the view my family saw of me every day. Looking back and having them all suddenly grown up and producing children of their own, I wish I’d turned round more often.


  1. Thanks Teresa for such an inspiring post! The repetative rejection letters can get every writer down and I think it can make you question writing as a whole but sometimes just knowing every writers seems to go through this can be reassuring.

    Like you, I second the mantra 'Don't give up'.

  2. Thanks for this post Teresa. I've been reading your stories for years, it's nice to see the person behind the family stories, even if your family story was going on behind you. You were there for them, better than being stuck in a factory. Also, it's comforting to know that someone as well published as you occasionaly has work back as well.

  3. My first short story acceptance was after only 3 rejections, then I had another 22 before the next acceptance. I think those 22 - especially the later ones! - were the worst, because for the first three I had no expectations of being published and so I wasn't surprised at all when they came back. After the first acceptance however I had that wonderful and dreadful thing - hope! - and when the rejections continued to flood in I was convinced that my single acceptance was a flash in the pan. Fortunately I was wrong, although still, when I have large swathes when everything seems to come back unloved, it remains hard not to doubt, despite the acceptances to fall back on.
    The way rejections feel does change over time but you have to just find a way to bear it (note that I don't expect anyone to grin!) and get on with the next thing as you never know what's around the corner.

  4. Bless you Theresa, I am one of those writers who often wonders whether I am wasting my time when the rejection letters thump through the letter box. A very comforting post Thank you :O)

  5. A lovely post, Teresa. I especially liked the poignant last paragraph! But may I add another point? For many people, and for me certainly, it's the travelling (the actual writing) that gives the writer the most pleasure, rather than the arrival. The creative process, the way characters begin to speak for themselves, that moment when the writing just takes off - it's just wonderful, isn't it? And if no-one buys it, you've stil had that experience. No-one can take it away from you.

    So to anyone who hasn't had anything published, I would say, please let yourself enjoy the actual writing process. Don't let worries about whether or not it will sell get in the way of the pleasure of writing, because, published or not (and I don't underate the disppointments; I've had a fair few, and they're just as agonising every time!), there's nothing to beat it. And if you've got the writing bug - well, you're a writer, and no rejection can take that away from you.

  6. One of the things that helps writers to cope with rejection is a post like this, which comes from the heart. It is such a relief to discover that the disappointment, tearfulness and loss of self-belief is felt by us all.

    I often torture myself with extremes of emotion. At first I can feel angry. Why didn't they like it when I believed in it so much? Then I swing the other way and tell myself how foolish I was to be hopeful and weren't there really lots of things wrong with that story? And shouldn't I have tweaked it a dozen more times before unleashing it on that long-suffering editor?

    I think the length of time I experience these emotional swings has lessened a little. It hurts, but I can live with it more calmly and matter-of-factly now. After a couple of minutes, I get excited about where I can send it next or how I can improve it. It can actually feel like a challenge, a writing class for myself.

    I agree that if you want to write, you should write. Don't ever stop. It's what you love. And therefore you are a writer.

    Your last paragraph brought a huge lump to my throat. I am certain that your family were happy just to have you there. That's all they need. To know you are with them in the home. My mother was never at home when I came back from school. I was a latch-key-kid! And while I was happy just watching TV or reading my Mandy comic, I would have given anything just to feel her presence in the house. Nothing more.

  7. This is a great post, Teresa. Thank you.

    I was very lucky and sold two stories very quickly, but then faced years (about 20) of nothing but rejections. You're so right that being published does make those Rs sting a little less. I always have my file of published work to cheer me up when rejection gets too much. If I hadn't had that stroke of luck at the begining, I'd probably still write, but would have given up submitting years ago.

    Hugs for your children growing up so quickly. I can't believe how time flies. There were so many things I'd planned to do with my daughter, but one minute she was a tiny baby, then I blinked and years had gone by - and now it's too late.

    I know you feel you've missed out - I think many mothers feel the same way once their children have grown - but you were able to spend time with them while you worked. And seeing you at work is a very good example to have set them.


  8. A big thanks for this post, Teresa. I need a boost like this every now and then to keep me going. Whenever I hear of someone who has been accepted with their very first effort I feel like the Oscar nominee who tries to put on a brave face when one of the others gets it. I'm pleased for them but I don't mind admitting I'm also as jealous as hell.
    PS Like the hairdo.

  9. Oh Teresa - between you and Joanna you've brought tears to my eyes!

    I can feel differently about every rejection, depending if it's a story that's already been around a bit without success, or if it's a brand new one that I just feel I've put my heart and soul into.

    Frances makes a very good point, that we must not forget about the sense of discovery that we often enjoy while writing. It's easy to lose sight of that because our desire for publication can become so overwhelming.

  10. As a yet unpublished writer who keeps try, try and trying again, I would like to thank you, Teresa, for this inspiring and comforting blog.

  11. Thank you, Emma. They particularly get you down when they arrive mob-handed, but on the other hand it gets it all out of the way in one go – a bit like pulling a plaster off!

    Thanks, Suzie. They used to get up to all sorts behind me I’m sure and I’d be oblivious.

    Good point, Bernadette. And your last sentence you never know what’s around the corner – that is so true.

    Time spent writing is never wasted, Madeleine. You’re learning all the time and every sentence written is experience.

    Thank you, Frances – that’s a great point. I hope visitors are reading these comments. There is such treasure to be found in them.

    Joanna, that’s lovely, thank you. They used to talk to me and I’d be so lost in my own world I wouldn’t hear them (and I haven't changed really). Bless them, they don’t seem to hold it against me – in fact one of my offspring on reading this said, “Hah, you weren’t writing – you were playing Wolfenstein!”

    I’m very glad you didn’t give up submitting, Suzanne! I was very lucky to be here with the kids, but they do grow up too fast. It feels as if I sat down to write a story while they played with their Lego and when I got up the house was full of grown ups!

    Ha ha Keith! I know what you mean. And you hear of people getting the first book they write accepted by return email and stuff like that while others wait years just to get someone to look at a manuscript!
    The hairdo – that was my “stuck my finger in an electric socket” look.

    Another good point, Joanne about feeling differently depending on the story. There's always sadness when you consign one to the shredder, but if it's one you can rewrite and send out elsewhere, it softens the blow.

  12. Oops - sorry Sue, your comment came in while I was writing the above. Thank you for coming by - I hope you and anyone who hasn't been published yet will stop by and leave a comment when you get that first acceptance :-) I'd really love to hear from you.

  13. I'm glad I stumbled across this post. Thanks for managing to say what I've always found so hard to admit to myself and others. It hurts - it REALLY does.

  14. Thanks for this post, Teresa - I so identify with what you say about rejections! But, as ever, you're right and you hit the nail on the head when you say don't give up. (I'm still sore from all my rejections - ouch!) But it helps to talk to fellow writers who share that pain.

    Julie xx

  15. Thanks for this reassuring post Teresa. I promise I'll let you know when I get that first acceptance.

  16. Fantastic post and comments :o) I so agree about the looking round and seeing the children have grown up and feeling kind of bad, for being in another world half the time.

    My early rejections would put me off so much it would take me AGES to write another story and sent it out, and then I read about a writer who would have twenty or thirty out there at any one time, so even if a rejection came in there were still plenty of possibilities out there. That really changed my mind-set and I started writing a lot more and consequently my writing got better!

    Rejections still sting, but I try and think 'oh well, I've still got a few out there so you never know.'

  17. Debs, I used to try putting a brave face on but I don't bother now. When I'm upset everone knows about it :-)

    It certainly does help, Julie. I'm so glad the internet put me in touch with so many other writers.

    Yes please do, Carol :-)

    Karen that is exactly what I did - I would be put off from writing anything else, then I realised as long as I had something out there, I had hope. That definitely helps.

  18. Ah Mother - you did look around often! Yes I remember you sitting tapping away ferociously at your poor typewriter and later computer keyboard, but you did lots with us as well, and the writing always fit round us, not the other way round. You were and are a great Mum and we wouldn't change you one little bit!

  19. Lol, I was a bit ferocious wasn't I Lizzieoaks :-) And I don't remember anyone ever complaining when I was drowning the telly out with my tapping. My abiding memory is of when my desk was at the bottom of the stairs and you were taking turns coming to ask me when tea would be as bedtime approached, poor hungry little children. I don't know where I'd be without you xxx

  20. Oh Teresa,

    This is a wonderful, inspiring and well-timed blog for me to read.I've been frozen by self doubt and lack of confidence for last few weeks. Thank you for lifting my spirits.

    You hit me between the eyes with the bit about,'If you want to write, if your gut insists on it and you can’t live without it, then keep doing it...' - That is EXACTLY how I feel. I thought I must be mad to think those exact thoughts and didn't appreciate anyone else would get it, so I've never said it to a soul.

    And the other was the photo. That could be me, without the hair ;) I beat myself up about not giving the family enough time and shall endeavour to turn off the pc when they come in from school in future. I know it's 'wrong' but again, I can't stop myself (just another paragraph, I must just finish this story...etc...) I HAVE to write sometimes.


  21. Bluestocking Mum - I hope you've become unfrozen! And you probably are mad, most writers are ;-)
    On reflection and having spoken to my kids, I don't think they suffered - I'm the one feeling sorry for myself at missing out. I'm very good at feeling sorry for myself ;-)

  22. Rejections do still hurt, but you're right - they don't hurt as much as they used to. For me, the most painful ones weren't the first few dozen as I'd always expected to start of with rejections. The worst were the ones I got just after my first acceptances. I had a couple of acceptances close together and thought I'd made it. Now I know it doesn't work like that, but the rejections that taught me the truth weren't any fun at all.

  23. Nice post! You are a wonderful blogger. Keep blogging!

  24. And there are those that come back by return of post, Patsy - I had one of those yesterday - ouch!

    Thank you hosted BES! That's very kind!