Tuesday, 20 September 2016

Writing for Beginners (20)

Rejection is Just the Beginning

(Taken from my book 'Write On! - the Writer's Help Book' - Accent Press - p/b and ebook)

During a creative writing class I led once, a student bravely confided that she had received her very first rejection (of a short story submitted to a magazine). It was especially brave because another student had just announced her first sale. Bearing in mind that rejection can be a traumatic disappointment to any writer, she was quite flummoxed when everyone clapped and offered their congratulations!

They weren’t being unkind. In fact, most of her student colleagues were expressing justifiable admiration, because she had done what many of them had not: she had actually submitted a story for publication.

This comes back to one of the great - often unconsidered - hurdles for new writers: if you never submit anything, you will never know whether you have written something worthwhile. Instead, all you will have is the judgement of well-meaning friends or family, who either (a) pull their punches because they wish to be kind or (b) kick your legs out from under you because they wish to be ‘honest’.

As has been covered here before, talking about being a writer is fine; thinking about it is good. But to be a writer, there’s no substitute for simply getting down and doing it. It’s no different to any other line of endeavour, such as saying ‘I’d love to be a high diver'. Unless you walk along the board and jump off the end, all you're doing is fantasising about it.

In the same way, wanting to write and sell your work is never going to become a reality until you send your stories or articles out into the world to be considered by a professional.

So what are the reasons for this common dilemma?

Confidence. You may feel that you’ve written an absolute blinder of a story, with all the required buttons and bells, lots of beautifully drawn characters and a sizzling plot. But you just don’t have that final surge of confidence required to boot the thing off the end of the branch and allow someone else to see whether it has merit. Well, you’re not alone, believe me. Plenty of people find this a real struggle, and spend their days writing stories which go nowhere.

Remember this: you are sending your work out anonymously (or as good as), because the editor doesn’t know you from a hole in the hedge, your name is just that – a name – and he/she will judge your writing on its merits rather than who you are, where you live or what you call yourself.

Quality. This is linked to confidence, but comes down more often to specific feelings of doubt about whether your story is good enough. This is something only you can answer, but don’t forget that all successful writers had to start somewhere. And every writer under the sun has been rejected at some stage.

Another point about being judged: some editors can spot a good story the moment they see it, but may still reject it for various reasons (got one like it already; wrong time of year; not a current topic; needs polishing, etc). If it’s close enough, some editors will make a comment rather than simply sending it back. If so, take heed and take advantage of the fact that someone has noticed your work. And if they make a positive comment, they are opening the door for you to try again!

Competition. This means, quite simply, that you subconsciously feel there must be lots of better writers out there whose work will blow yours out of the water and show it up for what it is.Actually, not true. Yes, there are many talented writers around. But your envelope will fit through the same letterbox as theirs, will open just like theirs and will look the same on the page. In other words, you start on the same line as everyone else.

Focus. Are you unsure about who you are aiming at? If so, check your target market again and make an honest assessment about whether your work fits that market or should be sent somewhere more appropriate to the content. If it really doesn’t fit, don’t waste your time or theirs; look for another target.

Parameters. Are you sub-consciously aware that you have been a little ‘elastic’ with word count, content, characters or genre? It’s easy to do when you’re in the white heat of creating a story, and you may hate cutting something which you consider fundamental to the story. But the first thing to do is become absolutely comfortable and familiar with your target magazine’s guidelines, so that when your story goes into the post, you are confident that it will meet their most basic requirements, rather than falling at the first fence.

If it still comes back, even though you’ve followed all the guidelines, take the opportunity to re-read the story and make an honest judgement about what might have caused the rejection. If you really cannot see anything wrong, send it somewhere else!

TOP TIPS
·        Get it finished, get it right for the market and send it out.
·        A ‘no’ from one editor isn’t a rejection by the entire industry.
·        Take rejection as an opportunity to re-read your story.
·        Challenge yourself. Be daring and submit your work.
·        You have an absolute right to try. Don’t waste it.
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Monday, 5 September 2016

Book Review

The Rules of Backyard Cricket

My latest book review in SHOTS Magazine is of Jock Serong's 'The Rules of Backyard Cricket'.

Don't be put off by the title; you don't have to understand the rules of this game to enjoy this book. (If you're a baseball fan, think baseball - it's a similar theme).


You can read the full review by clicking on the Shots link above.

As I mention in the review, although being English, I've never been a cricket fan, so approached the book with mixed feelings. Was it going to be a ball-by-ball replay, full of arcane rules and insider terminology I wouldn't - or couldn't be bothered to - understand? There was only one way to find out, so I piled in.

And I'm glad I did. As I indicated above, you don't have to know the game, because this is essentially about two boys growing up in Melbourne, Australia, and on reaching adulthood, achieving the highest levels of their national sport. (For any other country, insert your national or favoured sport and you'll be fine).

Jock Serong won the Ned Kelly Award for his book 'Quota', and his latest work explains why. He writes about tension, passion, corruption and sibling rivalry, set against the sleazy side of international competition, and brings off a thoroughly good read in the process.

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