Tag Archives: rejection

A Writer’s Need For Validation

Validation


Every writer needs validation. If I’m wrong, and there’s one somewhere who doesn’t, we’ve never heard of him and he’s never shown his work to anyone. 

I’m not criticising this need. I am a writer, after all, and therefore I, too, need validation. I’m not ashamed to admit it. Writing is a solitary business, and it’s a hard and lonely business to bleed one’s soul all over the page in a room on one’s own. Social media has remedied this to some degree, giving writers the comfort and support of a network of like-minded souls who ‘get it’, but it’s not a complete salve. 

Writing is, at its heart, an act of creation. In that sense it is akin to pregnancy and birth. 

I was once remonstrated for saying my pregnancy was so hellish it seriously made me reconsider wanting more children. Apparently this meant I somehow didn’t appreciate my daughter. I replied no, the only thing worse than having gone through my pregnancy to get a baby would have been going through it to get nothing.

Similarly, how soul-destroying is it to go through the painful process of writing fiction and have nothing at the end of it?

Sure, you always have the completed work, but that’s not enough, is it? We don’t just want to stick it in a drawer and let it gather dust. We want people to know we wrote it, we want them to read it, and most of all, we want them to like it.

Writers who seek traditional publishing want their validation in the form of approval by a publisher – someone thought my work was good enough to invest their money in and take a chance on it! You can’t deny the ego stroke in that. 

Why do these writers need someone else to say their work is good enough? Why can’t they just look at it and know it’s good? I’m one of these writers, and I would hazard a guess it’s because we have all, at some point, looked upon a work of ours that we once thought was fantastic and wanted to burn it so no one else would ever read our shame. ‘Good’ is subjective. We can only assess if a work is good as against our current standard. What was our best work ‘at the time’, will in the future, when we improve, become merely ‘OK’ or even ‘bad’. We crave someone else’s approval because we can’t trust our own judgement. 

There’s a quote that says something to the effect of the stupid have boundless self-confidence, while the intelligent or talented are riddled with self-doubt. I suspect that’s because the intelligent or talented know enough to recognise their own shortcomings, and so question themselves constantly. This probably circles back to the four stages of learning, and I suspect it’s why a good writer (of any publishing stripe) so desperately needs validation. 

I’ve heard it said in self-publishing circles that self-published authors don’t need validation; but they do. It doesn’t arrive in the same form as for traditionally published authors, but self-published authors still crave it and need it. Validation in the self-publishing industry comes in the form of book sales, five star reviews, and industry recognition. For the lucky few, it might come in the form of invitations to speak at conferences, or even an offer of a publishing contract. Make no mistake, a publishing contract is the ultimate validation for a self-published author, even if they don’t accept. The author is then in the position to say ‘I’m good enough that you wanted me, but I made it this far on my own, and I don’t need you.’

We’re all the same, at our heart, no matter which way we choose to publish. We have fragile egos, and we spend so much of ourselves in our work we often no longer have the defences necessary to protect ourselves from a cold, harsh reality. We fear rejection, and no publishing path is free of rejection, it’s only the form of rejection that changes. 

We need each other, for support, for encouragement, to keep us going and motivated until we get the validation we need.
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What I Learned From Rejection… And A Fortuitous Workshop!

Rejection

As many of you know, last year HarperCollins Australia requested a partial of my book Deathhawk’s Betrayal. Alas, they have now declined to see the full manuscript. Given the ratio of acceptances, that’s unsurprising, but one can always hope. In fact, we should hope, because hope takes us many places. The editor was too busy to give me detailed feedback, but what she did say was she didn’t connect emotionally with the characters. 

Ouch!

I won’t say I went immediately to panic stations, but I was concerned. None of my previous test readers had indicated this as one of the many problems I had fixed (or attempted to fix…). Was there a problem with the writing or was this simply a case of one personal preference in a subjective world? One cannot, after all, please everyone. Not even editors. That’s why published authors often get many rejections before an acceptance.
 
A number of writers I know encouraged me not to leap into anything on this basis. One opinion is not enough to justify wholesale changes. And I agree.

So I sought out some beta readers who are part of my target audience and I’ve generously had a half dozen or more offers of assistance, for which I am very grateful. I am also grateful to Twitter, which has given me access to these amazing and wonderful people, something I didn’t have on the last round of critiques I received on Deathhawk’s Betrayal.

And then, satisfied with my day’s work, I went off to read Lesson 2 of the online workshop I am currently doing, Hunting the Elusive Hook. The lesson happened to be on the first chapter of your novel and how to hook the reader, including the most important elements of that chapter.

Oh. My. God.

I had a total epiphany. I looked at my first chapter and thought ‘This sucks!’.

OK, maybe not that extreme. All the right elements were there, but they were in the wrong places. In all fairness, I did write this in 2008 and I have studied the craft of writing a lot since then so it’s reasonable to assume my skills have improved. I had edited it since, but I seem to have some difficulty editing what’s there into something better without completely ditching it and starting afresh. It’s like my creativity is chained by the words already written. The moment of potential has passed, what could be has become what is, and I can’t take it back.  

So I decided to rewrite my opening chapter from scratch.

Because an editor said she didn’t connect emotionally with my characters? No, I don’t think so, that just happened to occur on the same day I read this lesson. The rejection may have just put me in the frame of mind where I was open to the notion that there was something not quite right with my opening chapter.

And when I say rewrote, I mean rewrote. I started from scratch, using the same key concepts, and rewrote that chapter with a completely different aspect. I referred to the original only occasionally to keep a key line here or there or to make sure I covered off all the important points. Otherwise, it is completely unrecognisable.

My husband, who is not a writer, also questioned my motives in rewriting the first chapter. In a quick test, I gave him the first page of the old version and the new version and told him to tell me which was more interesting. Grudgingly, then with increasing enthusiasm, he conceded the new version was much better. The old version he described as ‘cluttered’, which translated to writer speak would mean, I think, the pace was too slow and there was too much peripheral content.

So where to from here? I’m still going to send it out to my happy beta volunteers. I’ll even give them the old chapter one to compare to the new version. Who knows, they might get a laugh out of it. As a writer, I am here to entertain… right?

After that… it will depend on the feedback I get. There may be more revisions to make.

Then let the querying begin…

“He who cannot change the very fabric of his thought will never be able to change reality.”
 Anwar Sadat

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them.”
Albert Einstein

This Sunday I’ll be sharing the new first sentences of Deathhawk’s Betrayal as part of Six Sentence Sunday so be sure to stop by and let me know if you’d keep reading!


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The Writer’s Long Road

I made a comment this week that newbie writers are not ready to publish.
So we’re clear, when I said ‘newbie’, I meant they have literally just picked up a pen for the first time to write a novel. This may not have been clear on Twitter, where 140 characters doesn’t allow room for such caveats and disclaimers, but I was surprised when someone tweeted me about the comment.

This person found my statement so disheartening they felt they should stop writing altogether. I must confess, I was taken aback by this sweeping statement. Why should someone be disheartened by such a comment? Don’t people already know this?
Apparently, people don’t know this. Which is perhaps a reason for me to say it more often.
But we should know it. We none of us expect to ride a bicycle perfectly the first time – that’s why we have training wheels. My first day at law school, I was not ready to be a lawyer. Hell, my first day in my current job, I was not ready to be a lawyer, and yet, eight years later, I am a senior lawyer. These things take time. Is there anything that anyone can expect to do well the very first time they do it?

If a writer expects to succeed immediately, I would suggest they need to think again. The very act of writing is a lengthy process, even if you can devote your full attention to it, and most of us need to have day jobs as well. I have been working on my current WIP since January 2008. Granted, there was a long time in there when I did nothing, but if we break it down into actual active time it looks something like this:

• Four months to write a first draft and revise;
• Three to six months receiving feedback from critique group;
• Six months revising and editing (three times).
Now that’s very nearly eighteen months, and I haven’t even finished the last set of revisions, nevermind written a synopsis or query letter. Even if I was to land an agent, it would take time to find a publisher, and then it’s something like two years for the book to land on the shelf. We’re talking four years minimum from go to whoa. It can easily be more.
Granted, it’s much quicker if you self-publish. But just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. But you can see my earlier post on indie publishing for that particular rant.
The reality is a writer’s first ever manuscript is unlikely to be publishable without significant revisions. I won’t even try to rewrite my first manuscript. Or my second. Maybe – maybe – my third. The fourth I will.
Even well-known and best-selling authors were rejected multiple times before being published. Here are a few of the ones I know:
  • John Grisham’s ‘A Time To Kill’ – rejected 45 times;
  • Dr. Seuss – rejected 46 times;
  • Tom Clancy’s ‘The Hunt For Red October’ – rejected 12 times;
  • Patricia Cornwell’s ‘Postmortem’ – rejected 7 times;
  • Mary Higgins Clark’s ‘First Story’ – rejected 40 times;
  • William Stevenson’s 80’s bestselling thriller, ‘A Man Called Intrepid’ – rejected 109 times; and
  • James Lee Burke’s ‘The Lost Get-Back Bookie’ – rejected 111 times over a period of nine years, and upon publication was nominated for a Pulitzer Prize and won the Edgar.
If it took these authors this long and this many rejections to be published, then why should anyone expect to pick up a pen and immediately be worthy?
  
I’m not trying to be pessimistic. I suggest writers be positive, which I distinguish from optimistic. Optimism is believing the best will always happen. I’m sorry, it won’t. Being positive is believing you can make the best happen, with hard work if necessary. Optimism allows no room for realism, being positive does.
Realism is important, because if you aren’t realistic, you will only be disappointed when the things you expect don’t happen.
Writers, the hard, real facts are, if you want to be a writer, you must be in it for the long haul.
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