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Learning to be a duck

Nobody likes rejection. Throughout life there are many occasions when we feel its pain: not being included in friendship groups at school, being excluded from that party, not getting into the school you longed to attend. Not getting the grades you needed for your first-choice university, being dumped by your first boyfriend/girlfriend (and many more after that).

It hurts. Time after time we get knocked back, our self-esteem dips, our confidence wanes. Yet repeatedly we get back up, stand tall, gather ourselves and try again. We learn to say: “It’s not me, it’s them/you/him/her/the market.” Or: “It wasn’t to be, there will be other chances,” or just “Meh.” We become a bit of a duck, and let it all flow off our backs, as if we’re rejection-proof. Or we do if we can.

It’s all part of life’s learning process.

For a creative writer, learning to be a duck is particularly important. Is it more important than for any other job? Yes, I think it is, for a number of reasons.

First, when you set out to write anything that is creative, you put your soul on the paper. Even if it’s rubbish at first, you work hard at it, you bare your inner self, you invite people to read and review. And when they don’t like it, it’s a blow, even though you know in your heart not everybody is going to like your work. Even the most successful writers aren’t read and enjoyed by a hundred per cent of readers; that would be ridiculous.

Second, if you’re looking to be a published novelist, there are squillions of other writers out there looking for the same thing. If you go the traditional route, you need an agent. I heard today a statistic about this: literary agents accept about one in one thousand submissions. Yes, one in one whole thousand. So nine hundred and ninety-nine people out of one thousand experience rejection. Looking for an agent is only the starting point, but it’s a huge hurdle.

Then, if you’re lucky enough to be accepted by an agent – wait for it! – you have a massive mountain to climb to get a publisher. Agents, despite their years of experience, their contacts, their selling-in skills, only place two in three manuscripts with traditional publishers. So the rejection process starts all over again, and many would-be authors never see their novels published.

You have to be not a duck but a rhinoceros, not to feel the agony of rejection as an author. Your manuscript, which you’ve laboured over perhaps for years, is being scrutinised by the most exacting, experienced editors in the land, and they don’t like it. It’s very hard to take.

And finally, once your precious novel is out there – oh joy! – in the published world, there are the comments from readers and reviewers which leave you crushed. The one-star reviews on Amazon, the top blogger who really didn’t get into your story. More rejection - and there’s nothing you can do about it.

Yet, while writers are knocked down all the time, they get up again and again, and nothing stops them writing. If you accept that we’re not all masochists with something to prove, then it must follow that we love writing more than we hate rejection.

This is a massive simplification of the process we undergo to become published authors, but it’s true. As a writer, I’ve had to learn many things. Handling rejection must be one of the most important.

To all those writers out there still struggling to get their work out to readers – keep going, keep writing, get back up again. It is worth it.

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