Some wisdom was handed down to via the Twitterstorm today. Less than twenty-four hours after I began admiring my short story "The Beginning", which had been published online, a tweet from a stranger randomly made its way into my feed:
I don't follow @beauty_jackson, but I do follow one of the 7.2K people who retweeted her sage advice, namely J.K. Rowling. The famed author not only retweeted the remark but commented on it as well:
Rowling followed with a thread of tweets in which she encouraged artists to reject rejection. The exchange was particularly timely, given the history of The Beginning, which had been accepted for publication by the fine folks at Fabula Argentea nearly ten years after the first sentence was written down.
I've written about rejection before but its a discussion that always bears repetition. Few of my pieces have struggled as much as The Beginning to find a home. The story is far from conventional: a literary fantasy about the wives of Cain and Abel and imagines what exactly happened between Genesis 4:2 and Genesis 4:3. I wrote the first draft of the story in 2007 and began sending it out to magazines in 2008. I had been fielding rejections ever since.
I reread my work all the time; I rewrite all the time too. There have been plenty of occasions when I've rewritten a story out of existence or stripped it for parts. But I never rewrote The Beginning and I left all of its parts intact. Each time I read it, I continued to be charmed by its conceit. It's a unique feeling to be charmed by your own work; and if I was dogged in pursuing publication, it's because I continued to believe, even all these years later, that I had written something that deserved to be read.
This is always the writer's arrogance, to be sure, but it is vital to success - however it might be defined. William Golding, Agatha Christie, and, yes, our lady Rowling all endured the scald of rejection. F. Scott Fitzgerald collected 122 rejection slips, which makes my own assortment of sorry-try-agains seem hardly worth a mention. Like the romantic who continues going on blind dates. all these writers continued submitting their work. The reason can only be that, like the romantic, they had the stubborn, unyielding conviction that they were worth being loved. They believed they had voices that deserved to be heard; silence was not an option.
Not everyone writes to be published, of course, but I don't think they are any less dogged in their conviction; I don't think they have any less arrogance about the value of their voice. Their audience is simply smaller: they are writing for an audience of one, namely themselves. This can be equally daunting. Getting rejected by a faceless publisher can hurt; getting a bad review by a faceless critic can sting. But getting rejected by yourself - judging your work, dismissing it, casting it aside because of self doubt - this can be the unkindest cut of all. It takes persistence to silence that inner voice; even when you're writing for yourself, you still have to convince yourself that the effort is worth the time.
Artists are like politicians: nobody ever thinks we need another one. But, of course, one comes along and suddenly they are the thing we could never live without. To be a politician, a person has to thrive in the arrogance that only they can save the world; being an artist takes no less certainty.
You can read The Beginning here.