Rejection is a badge of honour

“I seriously considered giving your money back so I wouldn’t have to read on… I was on the verge of tears”, says the woman I paid to read my novel draft 

Rosette, badge of honour, Laura Eades 2014

Rejection, harsh criticism, hard-to-handle-yet-earned-criticism… Put it on the wall where you can look at it askance. Wear it with pride. Laura Eades 2014

Whoa! Visceral reactions don’t come more potent than the one I got from my reader

“Let me begin by saying how few novels I have assessed have caused me as much frustration as this one”… begins the woman I paid (probably not enough) to give my draft novel a read.

At least she has a sense of humour. She must have, to have made it through my novel. But she’s a professional. Dealing with drafts is what she does.

Her irritation is understandable, though: I’ve written it in a weird vernacular that impedes comprehension. I’d found the style playful. But it gets in the way far more, it seems, than I’d realised:  “Reading and trying to figure out what each sentence meant gave me no pleasure at all,” she says. Her response is heartfelt.

What can I do? ZZzzip! What was that? Oh, just me stepping into my thick skin…

Wear it with pride; frame it; advertise it

When I read those quotes to my husband last night, he said: “Don’t put that one on Facebook”. But I think the opposite.

Rejection is the sole subject of chapter 6 of The Essential Guide to Getting Your Novel Published, by Henry David Sterry and Arielle Eckstut, which I’m grateful to have already read. They recommend making a paper collage from your rejection letters. Or burning them on a fire. Framing them. Advertising them.

The ingenious thing about this approach, is that of course rejection and criticism and failure and bellyflopping bring up so many feelings of shame and humiliation. So taking a decision to take pride in your flops is empowering.

Of course, some criticism is actually a gift, not a grenade

I won’t be stoking up the BBQ with this criticism – it’s not moronic enough. It’s not even a rejection, technically:- my reader wasn’t asked to ‘accept it’ or take it on in any way, just read it and respond. And her response is detailed and precise: It’s too thoughtful, and too valuable, to just trash. I consider it a privilege to receive it. But it’s tough talk. So I’m putting it here, in my hall of fame.

And hell, why would I burn it? I worked too damn hard to earn it!

Credit to my reader: You must have to be very brave to read first drafts!

And very honest by nature. I’m not sure I’d have the strength to deliver such messages, were I a reader. I’d fudge it to avoid the scalding honesty.

In some ways, her response is deeply shocking. In other ways, such as her assessment of how the various plots don’t add up, she echoes my own doubts about the novel – which is something I’d absolutely paid her for, and may in the long term be liberating. Otherwise, how would I know what was the self-doubt that comes with having worked on something so long you have lost all objectivity, and what is genuine intuition about my own work?

She has a couple of good things to say about it. I don’t think she’s taking sadistic pleasure in being so frank. I think she’s taking her responsibility to be frank with utmost seriousness. Deluding me is not what she’s being paid for. And she’s really read, and really thought about, the huge wodge of text I gave her. She’s given me plenty to think about and is not vague or capricious. And she has been careful to tell me that she does not think that I can’t write.

It’s all, after all, an experiment

Writing a novel is an experiment. I’ve never done it before. How do you ever write something like a sex scene or a key moment of drama if you’re not willing to wade in and write a cringey version? How will your first plots NOT be naively tangental; your style overwritten, your experiments interesting flops? And in it all, you’re learning about your creative process, and trying to find one that doesn’t ruin mine and my family’s life. It’s all absolutely worth trying out.

Perhaps it’s all worth learning to let go of too. I’m not sure yet. Let’s see…

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Got any experience of rejection? Of harsh criticism? Of handling the knocks? Putting yourself on the line? Got a thick skin and want to share how you grew it? I’d love to hear from you.

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