Tag Archives: virginia woolf

A thousand ways to say no


ANYONE who has ever done anything out of the ordinary, against the very will of societies and economies (like writing a book, crazy you!), invariably meets with the head-shaking, heartbreaking moment of dashed dreams which occurs in the wake of the average rejection.

In a sense, if you’ve put yourself in rejection’s path, you’ve already done more than most people. Trouble is, rejection rarely feels that way.

I have little time for those writers who try to mollify emerging creatives with cries of: ‘get used to it’ and ‘we’ve all been there’. To leave it at that is to ignore the genuine pain that rejection inflicts, and the possibility of finding ways through the hurt to a place of understanding.

So, for the rejected, here is my best advice, from one who stands with you.

J.K. Rowling had it good

The latest in a long line of success stories that gets trawled-out to give hope to the rejected is that of the author of the Harry Potter series, but don’t be fooled. Yes, Joanne Rowling’s first Harry Potter book was resoundingly rejected by multiple publishers, but she was signed with a literary agent at the time, and the rejection process came to an end after around twelve months. That is not an abject state of rejection. During her short rejection ‘purgatory’, Rowling had a sounding board, a guide, and a mentor in her agent, something most writers never encounter, so don’t feel too sorry for her.

Rejectors like to keep it interesting

These days, publishers and agents rarely engage in reasons why they reject your work. It’s likely you’ll never even receive a reply. If (and it’s a big if) you get feedback, don’t believe it immediately. “An irresponsible holiday story that will never sell,” went the rejection of Kenneth Grahame’s The Wind In The Willows, a book which went on to sell 25 million copies. “Too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling”; “You have no business being a writer and should give up”; “We feel that we don’t know the central character well enough”, and “I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years” all featured in rejections of some of the bestsellers in publishing history. Check out some more at this great site.

Publishers have rejection shame of their own

I once worked for one of the many publishing houses who rejected Dick King-Smith’s bestselling childrens’ book The Sheep-Pig, the story which was so successfully adapted for the screen as Babe. I can assure you the company still carried a certain amount of shame about its decision a decade later. Think of the hand-wringing and guilt-tripping amongst those publishers who rejected J.K. Rowling!

Be ready for rejection

There are only two ways to endure rejection. The first and perhaps the hardest is to be a megalomanic who has absolutely no shred of self-doubt. The other is to know the true value of your work; to have spent time and energy making your manuscript the best it can be within your skill level at this time of your life. When it gets rejected, you’ll be able to send it to another publisher straight away if you know it’s the best work you can do right now. If you don’t know this for sure, you’re possibly sending your work out too early.

Keep faith with your stories

The greatest damage rejection can wreak is if the writer gives up, leaving the characters they have worked on unread, unloved, and, in a way, unborn. Not every manuscript in history gets published, but every character needs to be loved by at least their creator. Even when all seems useless, revisit your own creation, laugh and cry at your characters’ highs and lows, keep them alive through your own faith. Think about self publishing if you’ve tried every avenue, like Virginia Woolf and Beatrix Potter did. Accept your own work. If you don’t, it’s possible no-one else ever will.

True criticism will fill you with power

If you ever get truly constructive feedback from an agent or a publisher, it will resonate with you on a very deep level and you’ll know immediately how to fix your manuscript. Nothing on earth will be able to hold you back from making the changes. If the feedback doesn’t move you on this level, question everything about it.

Keep some rejections to yourself

Loved ones, who always think what we write is Booker Prize material, believing mirrors that they are, need a break from our rejections sometimes. Don’t register every ‘no’ with blood-letting. Find other writers to share the pain with.

WRITE REGARDLESSSend it out again

I try my best to have a few balls in the air at one time. It provides a sense of potential, so that when a rejection lands, there is still hope on its way from some other source. For many writers, even just a tiny bit of hope is all it takes to keep going.

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.

An extract from Write, Regardless!

Rewriting rites

CRITICAL EYE Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) edited and published her novels independently (Photo: George Charels Beresford).
CRITICAL EYE Virginia Woolf (1882-1941) edited and published novels independently (Photo: George Charles Beresford).

ONCE I finish the first draft of a book, and I’ve left it alone for at least a month or two while spending time reminding myself what makes a great plot, there’s no more excuses: it’s time for me to read my own work for the first time.

I take great comfort and inspiration from writers like Virginia Woolf, who edited and published most of her idiosyncratic and enduring novels independently.

Embarking on the first edit of a manuscript could be seen as an insurmountable problem, or it could be seen as an inspiring fact-finding mission.

Read your manuscript like a reader would

I sit and read my work as though it was created by someone else. If I’m bored with the writing, I’ll acknowledge it, and find out why. This is crucial in the first twenty pages or so. If I’m engaged, I’ll analyse what sparked my interest.

Don’t over-read just yet

I’m going to be working on this manuscript for months to come, so I don’t want to get bored with it too soon. I’ll leave some of the alterations until another edit and just enjoy the fruits of my labour. I’ll also seek to understand the structure of my work before I decide anything needs fundamental alteration.

Keep tabs on your characters

Have I been consistent? Did I just use inserted names, like “A Policeman” when I didn’t want to upset my writing flow by looking-up the name I’d given this character earlier in the book? Have my characters evolved across my first draft so that certain things need to be altered? I jot these issues down in another place for addressing later, or adjust them as I read through.

How is the plotting?

This is the big one at this early stage. Usually, I’m afraid to embark on my first edit because I am worried I may have either stuck too closely to ‘the rules’ or lost touch with them altogether. What I am looking for is whether I’ve got a decent exposition that will benefit from some cutting down the track, several serviceable and intriguing rising actions, a great climax, and a battle between my protagonist and antagonist. I also looking to see if I’ve bent the plotting ‘rules’ in ways that stand to make my work different to others.

Rewrite when it’s easy to do so

I resist getting bogged down in major structural changes – I don’t know my work well enough yet to make those kinds of calls. However, when something quick and obvious comes up, such as a small set of paragraphs that can successfully bridge a missing plot point, I just write them in and will polish during another draft.

Check the blows are landing

When things happen to my characters, do they express the impact to other characters, or to me, the reader? This is a big one for scriptwriting especially. The blows must land, be felt, and registered, otherwise it’s like nothing’s really happening.

The final act is the hardest to get right

Just about every piece of writing advice I have come across maintains that most writers can write great set-ups and climaxes, but our plotting often falls over in the third act. I recognise this and will always read my dénouement anyway, right through, before I decide if I’ve got it wrong.

Practice good housekeeping

WRITE REGARDLESSI never delete original work, or rewrite over my original computer files. Sometimes things need only be moved, not cut. Design yourself a filing system for all your subsequent drafts, archive them, and back them up onto a memory stick. I’ve done this ever since I wrote an entire film script and accidentally deleted the only copy!

An extract from Write, Regardless!

© Michael Burge, all rights reserved.