Monday 2 February 2015

A Kick In The Teeth

Rejection. It’s the one thing you can be sure of in this job. It just comes with the territory. It’s part of the learning curve. It makes you a better writer in the long run. You just have to get used to it. That’s what everyone says.

And they’re right. Still, fifteen years into my writing career and it’s really not getting any easier. Every ‘no’ is still a hefty kick in the stomach. So, perhaps what we really learn from rejection is how to cover up how painful and demoralising a rejection can be. I’m not saying that’s a bad thing. It’s a coping mechanism. And if we wailed and gnashed our teeth every time we got a ‘thanks, but no thanks’ then we’d have no teeth left.
We’re all so good at putting on our brave faces, but I want to let mine slip just for a few minutes. I want to acknowledge how it feels to have something you’ve worked so hard on put in the round file.

It starts with the phone call or the email. Your heart leaps when the phone rings or the inbox pings. This is the news you’ve been waiting for, even though you’ve been pretending otherwise. You’ve played it cool, tried get on with other things, tried not to get your hopes up. But, no news is good news, right? Wrong. You know it’s not good news from the opening sentence, the tone of voice, the opening apology. “Sorry it’s not better news”. 

Often there is an explanation, a few cursory notes about tone, timing or depth. A phrase that is used a lot is “We just couldn’t see it”. The thing is, I could. I could see it glorious Technicolor, breathtaking Cinemascope and Stereophonic sound. But, obviously, I couldn’t get you to see it.
So, the first feeling that floods over you after you put the phone down is a sting of shame. Yes, shame.

I love being a writer but I can’t shake the feeling that it’s a slightly ludicrous occupation. Partly because it is a bit crazy to spend your days getting imaginary people to talk to each other for a living. And partly because I can’t help feeling that waking up one morning and declaring myself a writer was an act of vainglorious self-delusion. Who the fuck did I think I was? And from the moment that you make that declaration you’re waiting to be found out. You’re waiting for someone to tap you on the shoulder and tell you to stop making such a damn fool of yourself and get a proper bloody job.
And that’s what every rejection feels like. Someone telling you to grow up and stop kidding yourself.

And then you have to compound the shame by telling other people about the rejection; your agent, your friends, your parents. You instantly regret telling them about having something in development. You wish you hadn’t told them that you ‘had a good feeling about this one’. Of course, you played it down and told everyone that the odds of getting it away were slim, but still… And they all smiled and did that little mime, the crossed fingers. And then they told you that it was ‘your turn’ and ‘about time’; except you know that it just does not work like that.
Still, after the shame comes the anger. Why can’t those bloody idiots see what’s under their noses? Don’t they know how much work you put into this? You listened to their notes, you did what they asked and it still wasn’t enough. That’s when you start coming up with the conspiracy theories.

 “They ruined my beautiful idea with their crap notes.” If they were so crap you should have said so. "They’re scared of my uncompromising tone and controversial subject matter.” Hmm, probably not. “They like the idea, they’re just going steal it and get someone else to write it.” Don’t be so bloody stupid. So, if you can’t blame the commissioners and development execs, who do you blame? Look in the mirror.
The truth is that it doesn’t just feel like your idea has been rejected, it’s feels like you’ve been rejected. My most recent knockback was a doozy. It unfortunately coincided with me attending a conference where lots of writers sat on panels talking about their big, successful shows. Usually, I find that sort of thing invigorating. Mostly writers love to hear about other writer’s successes. It means it’s possible. Every commissioning story is proof that if you build it, they will come.

But this time, it’s not how I felt. I looked at my colleagues and I felt jealous. Not the good, motivating kind of jealousy; the twisting, bitter kind. I started to list the things that were wrong with me. I was too fat to be taken seriously. I wear the wrong clothes. My haircut is wrong. My accent is too Northern, too coarse. I shoot my mouth off too easily.
By the time I went back to my hotel I had resolved to delete my blog. I was going to get liposuction, elocution lessons and a wig. I wanted to throw my jeans and baseball boots away and replace them with one of those great little black dresses that Nicola Shindler wears so well. I wanted sparkly, kick-ass boots like Hilary Martin was wearing.

I wanted to be someone else.
It’s not the first time I’ve felt that way, but it’s the first time that writing has made me feel that way. So, how did I get myself out of this shame spiral? I did what I should have done in the first place. I wrote my damn way out of it. I wrote this blog. I finished a pitch document that I’d been buggering about with for weeks and sent it off. I went to talk to a friend about us making a short film.

I cannot change who I am. And who I am is my writing. The moment I try to be something I am not, is the moment I should pack it in and call it a day.
And so, here I am coming out the other side. Like we all do, all the time. It’s fucking hard work. It knocks a bit of your stuffing out every time it happens. And I just wanted to acknowledge how hard it is for all of us. I missed out the most important stage of the rejection process, but it’s the most important one; telling other writers that you’ve had a knockback. Because other writers will be hurt for you, angry for you, they’ll tell you not to give up and they’ll mean every damn word. I know I do.