This was retweeted into my timeline the other day:
The secret to a successful creative life is to care deeply while simultaneously not giving a fuck.
— Brian Wecht (@bwecht) August 22, 2017
And damn if I didn’t relate to that more than anything in the world, right at that particular moment.
(Don’t ask me about the next moment. This is Twitter we’re talking about. Meaning is transient and ethereal and forgotten about by the next day, and in the world of social media, epiphanies can happen every half-hour or so.)
But I’d just sent out a handful of writing submissions the day or two before, a couple of short stories to magazines, a novelette to a competition. That’s nothing new, I shoot stuff out on a semi-regular basis, not as often as I should perhaps, but often enough it’s got its own chapter in the SOP life-manual in my head.
Enough to be able to shrug off the rejections as part of life and just get on with the next market and the next submission and the next story, in other words.
Which is what you need to be able to do in this writing game. Rejections are part of the job. Acceptances are delightful, but if you can’t handle rejection then you’re not going to get anywhere as a writer, at least not a writer who seeks publication.
Hence my relating to this tweet, because if you’re going to create anything, you must care deeply about it. You must be emotionally invested in it with everything you’ve got. It’s a part of you, it’s your artistic, creative baby. You’ve got to care for this work with all your soul.
And once you send it out into the world, you’ve somehow got to be able to forget about it and not give a fuck.
Yeah, easy as, right?
But it’s true. Once you’ve sent it out, there’s nothing you can do. It’s beyond your control. And if somebody doesn’t like it, you’ve got to try and not give a fuck. Even though you’ve put heart and soul and blood and sweat and tears and your very DNA into this little creative baby of yours.
Welcome to the wonderful world of being a writer. Or artist. Or creator of any kind. Got a thanks-but-no-thanks publication rejection? Shrug and submit to the next market on your list. Got a go-back-to-the-day-job review? Deal with it and move on. Not everyone’s going to like your stuff. And even if someone likes it, that’s no guarantee they’ll publish it. It’s not always going to fit the editorial vision, or the publication requirements, or the publisher’s marketing plan, regardless of how fine the writing.
All this is playing on my mind a bit at the moment, because while I’m an old hand at the short story rejections these days, I’m about to do something new in my world. I’m about to start submitting a full-length novel manuscript for the first time.
And that’s all a bit terrifying, really.
I’ve been working on this novel for around five years. That has encompassed seven (or is it eight? nine?) major redrafts, with a million minor drafts in between. Some chapters have been redrafted dozens upon dozens of times. Some only four or five. But because I’m someone who knocks out bad first drafts very quickly, the hard work for me is in the editing, the rewriting. It took me around 6 weeks to write the original Draft Zero of this manuscript. Followed by 5 years of rewriting, because that’s where my time gets spent. In turning that bad first draft into something readable by other people. Into something publishable, in other words.
I think I’ve achieved this. I’m happy with this manuscript. I’m proud of it. I’ve sourced feedback from just about anybody who’ll give it to me, and then I engaged a professional editor to read and assess and provide expert feedback. I’m confident this manuscript is of publication standard. It’s good. I know it’s good.
But that’s still no guarantee it’ll achieve publication and history says I’m up for a round of rejections before I can even hope to find a publishing home for this creative baby of mine.
It’s one thing to work on a short story for a handful of weeks and care deeply in that time, then shoot it off and switch to Don’t Give A Fuck mode. That’s not easy, but I’ve learnt how to do it in the last few years of sending out short fiction. But with the full-length novel manuscript, it’s not just 5 or so weeks – it’s five years invested here. Five years scrounging for writing time between having two human babies and raising them into little children (my first human baby starts primary school next year!), finish studying my Prof Writing & Editing qualifications, working part-time, then working full-time, and writing short fiction as much as I can to try and get that published in the meantime.
So this novel, this manuscript, it has been my baby for a long time now. And I’m about to send it out into the world. I’m about to wave it on it’s way and then I have to try and pretend that I Don’t Give A Fuck.
As if that’s even possible.