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I have only the vaguest recollection of my first submission – a (long) short story to some magazine (I can’t remember which exactly) way back in the late 1980s.

The story was an action story. I remember the story specifically. I still have it (and wrote two sequels, as well as a prequel before prequels were fashionable). One day, I’d like to do something with it although, in retrospect, it’s probably better suited to a screenplay.

The magazine was one of those women’s periodicals, like Woman’s Day – although I don’t think it was that particular one. It was one that did publish short stories, though. I wouldn’t have just sent it blindly to one that didn’t publish stories. I was clueless, but not that clueless.

That submission was the submission that started a long, long, long career in rejection.

When I was younger, I didn’t submit as actively as I should have. Short stories went out to a few places. Novels just sat there, as I had no idea where they should go, and how they should go.

This was pre-internet, so I couldn’t just Google prospective markets. Also, as it was pre-internet, I had to mail hardcopies and enclose a SSAE – a Stamped Self-Addressed Envelope – so they could insert my story

along with my rejection

and send it back to me. This was expensive, paying for two lots of postage. But hope fuelled me. And naivety. And stupidity. So every time I saw one of my yellow stamped self-addressed envelopes poking out from the slit in the mailbox, I felt that acceleration of my heartbeat, and that belief that my submission had been accepted.

I’d savour that moment of anticipation, open the envelope, and then pull out the form rejection – if you don’t know, a form rejection is something standard (Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, it’s not quite right for us. But we wish you all the best in the future) they send out, personalising only the name of the author. (Somebody once called me ‘Leo’, though.)

Moving through the years, I segued into screenwriting and then, I was sending around both screenplays (some internationally, which cost heaps) and short stories. I had some minor (minor isn’t a big enough word to quantify how small the amount) successes, but the rejections were the thing.

Then I came back around to manuscripts. Thanks to the passing of the years, tertiary study, and (the book version of) The Australian Writers Marketplace, I’d learned about publishers and submitting. Even though the internet now existed, lots of markets still wanted hardcopy submissions. So I kept submitting, but when I saw that fucker of an envelope back in my mailbox, I knew what it meant. I did get some personalised rejections, which was encouraging. It showed me I was closer – they were taking time to encourage me. But they were still rejections.

Moving into the age of email submissions, I started submitting frequently. If somebody rejected a short story, I’d read and revise it, then send it straight back out. I usually wouldn’t read and revise a whole manuscript (well, I would if it was rejected enough), but I would send it back out. Everything had to be constantly in motion. This is writing. It’s about perseverance. It’s about moving forward.

Or at least trying to.

Because those rejections can crush you – figuratively and literally.

My dear friend Laurie Steed (you should read his novel You Belong Here) once told me, ‘Every rejection brings your piece one step closer to its eventual home.’

That’s something to hold onto. But it can be hard to carry on.

Rejection will make you question everything you can about your writing: the quality of your writing, the story you want to tell, and you as a commodity. When you get enough rejections, you begin questioning yourself obsessively, whether you’re submitting or not. It’s very easy to transition into identifying with rejection and, parallel to that, failure.

When you find somebody – or somebody finds you – that believes in your work, that accepts you, it is amazingly gratifying, especially when others might’ve rejected that same work.

There’s no guarantees in publishing, like there aren’t in all of the artistic fields. It comes down to subjectivity. As far as publishing goes, there’s tons of books that are rejected repeatedly, which finally find a home, and become huge hits (Harry Potter is always the best example), as well as tons of books that publishers pay big money for and which they push majestically, and yet do very little.

So what your truth comes down to – more than reviews, more than sales, more than anything else – is that belief somebody has in you, your story, and your ability to tell that story.

Thus, a big thank you to Pantera Press, for their belief first in Just Another Week in Suburbia, and my new book (due out in just under two weeks), August Falling.

Thank you.

 
Postscript: You may have noticed the word count hasn’t gone up much on my work-in-progress. There’s two reasons. One: I’ve been asked to lead the Liberal Party and, thus, the country, but I just don’t think I’ll have the time. And, two: I’m stuck on a pivotal scene that I’ve rewritten four days in a row. Usually, I wouldn’t let something anchor me this way, but it’s really, really, really important (← good writing).

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Something I get asked often is how I’m so prolific. People query me like I must have some magical solution. But the answer is simple: I sit down and write.

Everybody will have a different methodology as to how they get to that point – do they plan the book out, or do they just write and let the story develop organically? Everybody has to find their own way. What works for me won’t necessarily work for somebody else, and what works for them won’t necessarily work for me.

But what we all share in common is that, at some point, we have to sit down at a computer or laptop, or at a typewriter or a notebook, and we have to write.

That simple.

There’s no magical answers.

And I can guarantee that at some point any or all of the following will happen:

  • you’ll hit an obstacle and won’t know where to go next. For a novel, you’re dealing with around 80,000 words. In no world will those 80,000 words come unhindered. There’ll be plenty of times you’ll stop and think, What comes next?
  • you’ll get bored by your story. Again, it’s 80,000 words. It’ll bore you at times. You’ll be eager to get to some other point, but bored by the journey. (Although a lot of the time, I think the journey is much more compelling.) But being bored doesn’t mean your story is boring. It’s simply hard to keep the engagement through all that writing. It’s like watching a 24-hour-long making-of-a-movie documentary – because that’s what you’re doing: you’re making something. Readers see the finished product. You’re behind the scenes. It’s not always going to be interesting, and you’re not going to be enthusiastic about it all the time.
  • you’ll grow frustrated. For whatever reason. The story’s not working, the characters aren’t working, you think the story’s shit, you think your writing’s shit, you don’t see the point of it all, and so on. Again, you’re dealing with something so big – any or all of these are going to happen.
  • you’ll go the wrong way. You’ll follow a thread that, at some point, you’ll realise isn’t true to the story. One accomplished author told me she got 90,000 words into a new novel, and realised 80,000 of them were wrong. That’s drastic. But wrong turns are going to happen. I don’t mind going the wrong way, because at least then I can dismiss it as an avenue.
  • another project will seem more exciting. New projects are always much more exciting. When they occur to you, you’re hovering right around the inspiration, rather than 30,000 words into a first draft that has started to bore you or frustrate you, so how wouldn’t that be more exciting? It’s untarnished and pure and hasn’t been subjected to any of the states you’re now experiencing – but you will. The exact same thing will happen.

Early as a writer, I experienced all of the above – repeatedly. In the early 2000s, I had lots of unfinished screenplays. Then I made a conscious decision to sit down and finish whatever I started, and if another, more-appealing idea came along, to file it and stick with what I was doing, no matter how much it bored or frustrated me, or how much I doubted myself.

Eventually, what I taught myself through this routine was to accept those states of mind weren’t an indictment on writing, but just natural and occasional thought processes. If you’ve ever been in a relationship, you’re not always in love with the person – sometimes, your partner frustrates you, angers you, bores you, etc. But it doesn’t mean you ditch them because of it. (Well, for most.)

I’ve built up endurance that sees me through just about anything. I know that when I sit down to write something, I will finish it – it’s just a matter of time. As far as this one goes, there’s been lots of wrong turns, lots of questioning what happens next (although I always seem to know what happens in the scene after), but I accept those states as they help me find the trueness and thrust of the story.

None of this is meant to bignote myself. Everything I’m writing might be terrible.

But at least they’re finished terrible things.

 
Last Week’s Lie: I’ve never spoken to Charlaine Harris so, unfortunately, there’ll never be a vampire opera with zombie gerbils.