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On rejection and the comfort of Nietzsche

Described as ‘real life opera’, a beautiful young woman is jilted and throws herself off a balcony in her wedding dress. Blessedly, she is saved. I find myself hoping she doesn’t become a writer and betroth herself to art, because in this culture, cruel (or polite) rejection is all part of the courting process and jilting par for the course.

What doesn’t kills us, makes us stronger.

Perhaps Nietzsche meant it, but sometimes what doesn’t kill us grinds us down until we wish we were dead. Sometimes every inspirational story of the painfully large numbers of rejections traditionally received by well-loved authors/books feels like another great boulder to cart around, McGonagall-like.

 

I’m not that strong. I need an income (desperately). I’m too old. I’m delusional. Nothing good anyone has ever said about my writing and editing is true. The world just doesn’t understand me. Damn it, the world doesn’t know what it’s missing out on! No, no, I’m small-fry suffering delusions of grandeur, too exhausted and broke to go on, past it, etc. Well, I over-dramatise, but I’m managing my latest rejection in the Bernard Black tradition.

 

According to the internet, phenomenally prolific and successful writer Judy Blume once said:

I would go to sleep at night feeling that I’d never be published. But I’d wake up in the morning convinced I would be. Each time I sent a story or book off to a publisher, I would sit down and begin something new. I was learning more with each effort. I was determined. Determination and hard work are as important as talent.

Determination? Hard work? Gah! Really?

But, hang on. I am determined and, though some who know me well may not believe it, capable of hard work. Look how hard I’ve worked at whinging about being an emerging writer! I mean: here I am, nose to the grindstone. As for talent, I’m coming to the conclusion that this is a verdict I am not qualified to judge.

So what’s the alternative? I’ve been a dispatch clerk, receptionist, secretary, waitress, check-out ‘chick’, cleaner, shop assistant, barista … and at this stage in the game, a non-wordy, non-creative, non-arty job seems like a recipe for mental health issues. Seriously. And, as Nietzche said:

Art is the proper task of life.

So there is no choice but to persevere? To chop up more furniture to feed the fire? To continue to rob Peter to pay Paul in the hope that Paul (or Peter) will never foreclose? Ach! If only I didn’t have an anti-capitalist/western-poverty mindset and could attract the endless wealth floating invisibly just inches above my head.

 

At least then I could afford to self-publish my children’s book … my poems … my fairytales, even while I cling to my hopes that a real publisher will publish my novels.

So, I wonder: is this about money? It’s a rare bird who makes their fortune out of creative writing. Why kid myself? It’s about recognition, validation … isn’t it? After all, as Mr Neitzsche said …

Egoism is the very essence of a noble soul.

Well…I’m pretty sure my egoism is in healthy shape, so when I rise in nobility and finally get my great awards, I can only hope I have the grace and humour to accept them with the humility of a Spike Milligan:

Oh, but wait! First I’ll have to contribute a brilliant, memorable body-of-work to the world? Bloody hell. Well, Mr Neitzche? What words of wisdom for this dilemma?

Character is determined more by the lack of certain experiences than by those one has had.

Well, thank you, Friedrich.

Overland is a not-for-profit magazine with a proud history of supporting writers, and publishing ideas and voices often excluded from other places.

If you like this piece, or support Overland’s work in general, please subscribe or donate.

Clare Strahan is a Melbourne writer and author of Cracked. She is also a drama tutor, a graduate of RMIT’s Professional Writing & Editing, a writer of fiction and poetry and is a contributing editor. at Overland. She is a freelance editor, creator of the Literary Rats cartoon, and flutters about the twittersphere as @9fragments.

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Comments

  1. Thanks for your words. Ah, the ego-bruising and constant self-doubt involved in trying to live more than a 9 to 5 life, but not being sure whether you’re up to it…

  2. Clare,
    Thanks for the words. How wonderful it is when you read your fears and feelings expressed with such eloquence. Thanks also for the hilarious links. Gambatte kudasai (Japanese:please endure).

    • Lovely, Bernadette – thank you. The clips much cheered me, I must say. I never tire of Spike’s award acceptance: brilliant.

  3. I am a mature age student and as I finsih my studies I am getting ready to enter the field of ‘trial by rejection’. I would like to score a goal or two, but my first best biggest hope is to get thrown the ball in the first place.:):)

    The thought that keeps me interested is that a number of our great writers too have been involved in a really rugged game of on a wet and sloppy field.

    Keep trying!!!!

    Olga from http://revedoa@blogspot.com

  4. Went to bed last night and wrote a gratitude list, inspired by my hot water bottle (and the clean tap water I filled it with) … also included Overland Journal and Shakespeare. I cease to complain and prescribe to this maxim from Mr Neitzche:

    “When we are tired, we are attacked by ideas we conquered long ago.”

  5. But I wish to float above the field, elegantly, swathed in chiffon … no? Into the mud with me then.

    Best wishes Olga

    (haha! reCAPTCHA is making me type ‘Romance’

  6. Clare, what a gorgeous opening to your reflection on what it is to emerge like a blossom in springtime only to fall sodden to the earth because the environmental conditions aren’t all that favourable.

    There’s that wonderful feeling when you hit send or drop your submission into the letterbox that all things are possible: an editor will ring you breathless after reading your prose, the metaphor you worked so long and hard on will inspire a publishing house to offer you a 3-book contract (there might even be a bidding war), your insights were such that you are offered a weekly column opining about whatever takes your fancy. And you will be paid a $1 a word.

    A few days later you have another read of your submission to find it is littered with all manner of errors. You know it could have been much better if you’d had another year or so to work on it. Your worst fears are confirmed when the call or email doesn’t come.

    You eventually pick yourself up, usually after you have an idea for something you must write and that you are sure no-one has ever thought of before. And you try again.

    I once read somewhere that the difference between a writer who succeeds and one who doesn’t is perseverance – so much more encouraging than only those who are brilliant rise to the top.

    Beautiful writing, Clare.

    • Ah, you warm me, Trish. Thanks. And yes, errors: ach! Bad enough when you’re submitting your masterpiece but even worse when you’re applying for an editor-type gig: mortifying.

  7. For real comfort, one must read the biography of Nietzsche’s friend, Lou Andreas-Salome (what a woman). One must understand Woolf. One must understand that a manuscript does not a book make.

    It took me 20 years to learn that, and still suffer the Woolf heeby-jeebies when I submit. Nothing ever takes that away. All I’ve gained from nine published books and almost two dozen prizes and commendations, and over 80 accepted small pieces since 1985, is a flattening learning curve. All I’ve understood is that one is born with a gift, but one has to turn that into talent oneself… and the work never gets any easier. You are only as successful as your most successful book – hah! What useless words, I fully commiserate, to someone still plugging their first MS. Throw it out, I say – ditch it. Work on your fifth and sixth and see how much harder it gets. My second never went anywhere. No place.

    Perseverance might seem like the only choice, but it has to be accompanied by a mind open to learning, to understanding the changes in the industry (a double-edged sword), and with willingness to shift one’s writing out of the obscure into the commonplace. What?!

    Just think of the purchasing public, because that is what publishers consider. Nothing becomes ‘art’ or ‘literature’ unless and until acceptance makes it so, by a larger number than an audience of six. Nietzsche knew this. He said his sayings with his tongue firmly in his cheek. He also knew about context, the sly so-and-so.

    It is NOT SO that manuscripts find their audience if only publishers would let them past into the light of day. We are seeing this proven under our own digital noses – there are almost 8 million books on Amazon, a large proportion of which are put there by their own authors who thought exactly that – and the large proportion of those remain unsold. Only a few surface to startle and surprise. And we wonder why?

    This is a brilliant article, which made me smile more than once with its humour and realistic view of certain aspects of publishing, and the harsh realities of being a writer. Let me tell you I agree with Clare Strahan that the Milliganesque struggle never ends, the Woolfish insanity never goes away, and the Nietzschian cynicism is ever-present in an author who writes and writes wondering if there is anything significant left to say, and whether it might not be a better idea to publish a volume of one-liners.

  8. What a great comment: thanks so much, Rosanne.

    Love this: “Nothing becomes ‘art’ or ‘literature’ unless and until acceptance makes it so, by a larger number than an audience of six. Nietzsche knew this. He said his sayings with his tongue firmly in his cheek. He also knew about context, the sly so-and-so.”

    Hey, Bob Hope published his autobiography as a series of one-liners. It’s called ‘My Life in Jokes’.

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