On Lack of Success, Taboo, & Transparency

This post has been brewing for a while and, in that time, some other people have touched on similar points. Linked here you will find a post by Kelly McCaughrain (which references a thread by Claire Hennessy) which talks about rejection.

Rejection is something everyone faces, but ‘creatives’ most of all. The more art you make, the more you put yourself out there, and the more you’ll experience the full spectrum of reactions, from awe to apathy to the aforementioned rejection.

Statistically speaking, the apathy and rejections will far outway acceptance and adoration. As Kelly and Claire point out, that goes for published writers just as much as those who have never been in print. It’s something you will need to make your peace with if you’re to carry on submitting.

We all have wobbles – days where we doubt ourselves and our work – but, personally, I’ve made my peace best I can. To do this, I have two things in my arsenal: regular pep talks and a philosophy:

Lack of success does not necessarily equal failure.

What I mean by this, is that for every publication and showcase and competition and whatever else, there are a finite number of winners. There are also, almost always, an infinite number of entries.

It is literally impossible for everyone to be accepted and, therefore, when your piece inevitably isn’t accepted, it means just that: it hasn’t been accepted. What it does not mean is that you and your work have been actively rejected.

Yes, that’s a semantic difference, but it makes sense to me and – most importantly – it keeps me sane.

When I don’t win the thing I’ve entered, don’t get shortlisted, or even longlisted, I am sad. Of course I am. But I know deep down it’s not the end of the world. I really recommend forging a similar attitude and/or coping mechanism for yourself, if you can. (Yes, it’s one of those horrible ‘easier said than done’ things.)

I also have a slightly more daring suggestion: be honest when you’re struggling. Talk about your lack of success. Insecurities thrive in the dark, so drag them into public kicking and screaming. We’d probably all be better for it.

If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, you may have noticed I regularly tag posts with ‘Honest Blogging.’ Those posts are the ones where I get real about whatever is going on with me and the matter at hand (be it writing, health, whatever).

This is very subjective, but I think those posts are probably my best.

It’s tricky to try and get a balance between breaking nonsensical taboos and oversharing. The line between them probably lies in a different place for everyone but, for me, I’m wondering if I’ve gone far enough with my honest blogging. I want to push the boundary further.

I’ve said it before a thousand times, but I love statistics. I find them invaluable. Numbers are concrete things you can measure against, not thoughts and feelings which can (and do) change when the wind blows.

From my perspective, I think it would be really helpful to see – in black a white – how many rejections other writers get. And, for context, how many submissions they make.

Most of us know that being successful and earning boatloads of money is not the same thing, but income can be a really great indicator of how your business/career is going. This is another thing I’d love to see more people opening up about, not to be nosey but to calibrate our expectations.

Going forward, I’m planning to put my money where my mouth is (pardon the pun) and lay all my stats bare. I’m not exactly sure what the best way to do this is – maybe a running thread on Twitter or monthly round-up post here – but I’ll figure it out. In the meantime, I’d love to hear from other people if they’d be interested in the realities of my life as a writer: how much I write, how many opportunities I put myself forward for, how many I get turned down for, and (the biggy) how much I make at it all.

Please comment below with your thoughts, or questions, if you have any. Is there something else you’d like me to open up about that I haven’t mentioned here? Let me know!

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