In June 2016 Kim Liao posted a blog on Literary Hub explaining why you should aim for 100 rejections a year: http://lithub.com/why-you-should-aim-for-100-rejections-a-year/#
Go and read it. I’ll wait.
You’re back? Okay.
Kim was so right, and while I’ve seen plenty of sites discussing this and acting a lot like it was their idea, I don’t think Kim Liao gets the credit she deserves, so I want to talk a little bit about how Kim Liao changed my life. [Don’t worry, Kim Liao, I’ll stop using your full name right now, as it has become creepy.]
January is a time for fresh starts and new beginnings. It’s at least slightly arbitrary, but if it helps one focus the mind, then so be it. In 2017 (remembering that I don’t celebrate birthdays or xmas or religious festivals or much else really) I now have a new anniversary to remember: September 30th 2016. The date on which I read the above article and started greedily gathering rejections. The date upon which I realised that actually if I backdate it to August, I’m doing pretty well already. I became smugly happy about being rejected. My new (re-appropriated) slogan became “One for the bank, thanks.+”
Between that time and this there were a few important commissioning rounds. I’d make five offers, one would be shortlisted. I am, as ever, delighted to be shortlisted. But now I’d have four whole rejections for the spike (see article)… that was pretty rewarding in itself. It worked! I read an internet article and you won’t believe what happened next except you will because I just told you. It actually worked.
Now, a lady never reveals her number, but I’m no lady so I’m here to tell you that at last count, I have already amassed twenty-five rejections and that’s just in the first quarter of Janine’s annual September rejection review (JAnnSeRR as we shall now call it). I decided to tabulate it thusly, because if there’s one thing we know about Janine (aka Vombo Spreadsheet), it’s that I bloody love a spreadsheet.
[For anyone who’s ever worked with me, this table should probably bring back memories, or multi-coloured flashbacks, nausea, perhaps a persistent headache or drilling noise, you’re welcome.]
I spoke at length about this 100 rejections technique on social media, in the Writer’s group I started and at speaking and teaching events, from Soho Theatre to Pontardawe Arts Centre (always giving credit to the writer of the article, I may add). I’ve had many responses of ooohs, aahs, and “maybe I’ll give that a go”s. I’ve had personal messages of thanks, from those of you who’ve fielded a blow by adding it to the pile and propelled yourself forward rather than dwelling and licking your wounds. I only take partial credit, but if it works for you I am very pleased.
But, as we all learn eventually, some rejections are more equal than others.
My 2017 appears to be a year of myriad possibilities and many opportunities and I am very thankful – to myself, for working so very hard to get myself into this position. There are definitely, alongside these hopes and dreams, a lot of challenges to face and many, *many* rejections to come. And while I can say I shall take them all in my stride, occasionally I will still get my hopes up, the big one, the prize that means more to me than the blurring words on the page “Unfortunately, this time…”
At some point a carrot will dangle tantalisingly close and, being a fanciful dreamer, I will catch myself in a whirlwind of what-ifs and maybes and the boundless possibilities suddenly appear to be a concrete reality. Could I really, finally spend that year as a nanny to a family of incredibly privileged kids and travel the globe? Okay, not all opportunities are for me. But I did visit an open day last year and on completing the satisfaction survey I won £50 worth of magic Am*zon beans. I don’t believe in giants like Am*zon, so I traded the beans for cash, but it was a hearty win. I’m actively collecting rejections and sure, I’m also taking the odd win in the balance, but I want to be rejected and hit that magic hundred. The reality is: there are some prizes too great; some accolades, opportunities, jobs or validations that we just want. Want.
Last night as I *** a ***** from **** and ******* [see new year’s resolution: thou shallt not talk about food, fat or weightloss] I received an email from a professional person, a thanks but no thanks, my script absolutely did not cut the *******. “One more rejection, to print out for the tray of shame.” I think I said, in what failed to be a chipper voice. I carried on ****** and then as the evening wore on I became sadder and sadder. Was it the tone that had upset me? It was a pretty blunt email, but “Will you read my script and validate me?” is actually a pretty blunt question. Some rejections just hurt more than others.
If you’re honest with yourself, really really honest, you have ask yourself – is this script ready? Is this the best I can do? If you always say no, as I did for years, you never send anything to anyone and never get rejections or acceptances. Other times, as I now do more frequently, you think “fuck it, send”++.
This script I sent slightly in haste. I read it quickly and felt incapable of viewing it more objectively without a second opinion. So I grabbed the opportunity to have a professional read my work and, even though I knew it to be imperfect, I sent it anyway. It was a timing thing. Having read it again since sending, it’s so far from perfect. It’s naïve and, actually, it’s a pretty novice effort. But I am a novice. I’ve written maybe a dozen scripts, spanning genres and different media and I’m still at the very beginning of learning my craft.
What’s hard to deal with is that rejections can feel like an attack. It can feel very personal, even when they’re devastatingly impersonal, automated replies. They attack who we are, what we do, not this one sample of a thing we’ve done.
Was this script okay? Sure. Was it great? Nope. Do I lecture people on how to accept rejection with grace and get over it? Sure. What did I feel when this person told me honestly it was not for them? That I was a terrible writer, who’d never done anything good and probably never would and shouldn’t try, because some people have talent and some people don’t and no matter how long or hard I work I’ll never get there. Not very graceful.
So the next day I printed the rejection and re-read it about 147 times. Then I had to send an email to an ex-colleague, thanking them for letting me read their script and apologising that it wasn’t for me, but wishing them every success with it. That’s the funny thing about me. Unlike a lot writers, I see both sides of the coin. But in this instance, when it happened to me, I still felt sucker-punched and sad. Sad sad sad.
Already this year I have had a long conversation with a brick wall type, one of those “Yes, but…” people. Every time I said something like “stop worrying about how other people are doing and hone your own craft” they would fire off a “yes, but…”. My relentless positivity for (at?) others is probably as exhausting for them as it is for me. I mentioned the 100 rejections concept (as I had the last time I met them) and I advocate it. But I think there’s also a big question of talent and pure ability.
Personally, I’m never going to say to you that you’re not good or that you shouldn’t write, even if there’s a part of me thinking that’s the case. That’s never my job. No reader or editor should tell you that. [That said, I have also dialled back on the amount of feedback I’m prepared to give for free, so you probably won’t get a free script editing service out of me when you ask me to read a script either.] We need to look at ourselves and our work. Don’t expect someone else to tell you, ask yourself and tell yourself – am I any good? Am I any good yet? Might I be good if I really try? Or, if I think I’m pretty good, could I be better?
How do I get 100 rejections in 2017? By sending more stuff out. How do I get more things accepted in 2017? Write some better stuff, that’s how. No, that script was not good enough. Do I wish this person had given me a load of bull about how it was good, but not right for them? Absolutely not. Should I have expected them to provide detailed feedback for free? Stroke my ego? Give me the rough with the smooth? I guess not. They were doing me a favour in reading my script. Any feedback on top is beyond that favour. Am I inspired to write more and write better? Yes, thanks, I get the message.
Already this year I have had two positive feedbacks, acceptance on a workshop, a positive set of notes, a re-write (oops), and a thanks, but it’s not my specialism. This is on day 9. Nice going, Janners. I am putting myself out there and rolling with the punches and gathering rejections. Some of these applications and competitions and submissions I want so badly I can no longer imagine my life if I *don’t* get them. But if I don’t, well, that’s just how the ****** crumbles.
+It absolutely didn’t but it might now.
++I believe that’s a registered trademark of Julian Simpson.