Rejected

It's been a while since I blogged, mainly because writing has been going pretty well for me over the last few months. My major work, which is my novel, has been first-drafted, sat on, re-read and annotated with a fine-tooth comb in preparation for a major re-edit. There were times in the last twelve months that I didn't expect to be able to say anything other than "I'm writing a book", so to have one should be excellent news.

But it isn't any more. Because I've had another piece of work rejected.

You may recall in my podcast and from an earlier blog post that my and my friend Tom, who runs the Thank Book For initiative, wrote a spec script of a sitcom years ago. Well, BBC Writersroom had open submissions for sitcoms back in April, so we spruced it up, crossed our fingers, and waited. And waited. And now, after four months of our work being 'in progress', it's dead in the water. No matter how much we told ourselves it would never get picked, that we both had other projects to focus on, to get the news that it's a non-starter is hugely disappointing. 

For those that have never suffered rejection of a creative project before, let me explain something to you. It's nothing like being rejected while pulling. You don't just pull your socks up and say there are plenty more fish in the sea. For a start, you don't spend evenings and weekends locked in the spare room finessing your chat-up lines into things of shining beauty. It's not like you can dash in and out of commissioning editors' offices like you can pubs and clubs. Striking out from a submission is like you've spent six months deciding what shirt goes with what pair of jeans and getting turned down because the friends of your object of affection may not like you. Only instead of there being half a dozen people who won't like your fart jokes, there are about three million.

The email which informed us it was a 'thanks but no thanks' was the industry standard apology I've come to expect over the last decade. You're never informed what swung the decision and how close you ultimately were. Ours was one of 2000 submissions, the vast majority of which will go no further. After four months, you begin to think that it's been passed through many hands, but we must also face the grim probability that there was nothing one person found funny in the opening few pages. I can't blame them. Think about how many stories and articles you close before you reach the third paragraph.


His owner leaving him outside the store was bad enough, but it was the reviews of Men In Black 3 which really depressed Frank

But still, it hurts more than I expected it would. This is not because I had gambled my future on Shelf Life being optioned by the BBC, but because a rejection always makes you feel like you are starting from square one again. But how can this be the case if I have a full novel - my main focus - still being worked on?

Rejection is insidious. It dyes everything you do for a while with a horrible, sludgy grey, like a black sock in with your delicate whites. An unread work, one that means the world to you, is a precious thing. It must be nurtured and cultured, like a rare flower. If it's worth your time, it'll be entirely unique. This is the work that's going to make all the shitty similies you've ever written, the hours you've spent snipping leaden prose and flabby middles away, worth it. You'll get an agent, a publisher, a multi-book deal. You'll get to write the screenplay and attend the Oscars (trademarked, natch).

Then you get the failure. The one that tells you something else you've written can't hack it. It tells you nothing other than they disliked your work. And that's terrifying, because maybe this beautiful mixture you're concocting in front of a laptop while everyone else is enjoying the garden or watching the football isn't worth the time and effort. Maybe it will be a failure. Maybe everything you write will fail.

That's ultimately what people don't understand goes through the writer's mind when they receive the dreaded 'no' letter. It's not that they think everything they do is fantastic - most writers I know or follow on social media are brutal about their own work - it's because this is what they want to do with their lives. Every time somebody rejects a work, however nicely, it tells the writer that they're less secure in the hope they will make it. You can't train, get interviewed for a promotion, or pass a course which will get you on the career ladder. All you have is your ideas, and the way you tell them, and if one of them is rejected, it makes no difference if you've been writing for ten minutes or ten years. You're the pits, artistically speaking.

Of course, this feeling passes, and you carry on writing, because you have no other choice. You write because you have to, because to spend fifty years doing a job you tolerate (because you'll never love anything as much as seeing people reading your work) is too much to contemplate. You resolve to learn, and be better, and not get jaded. But I guarantee you'll never forget it.

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