Failsafe: writing and rejection

Titanic disaster - a real failure

I’m not very good at self-motivation (I know, imagine). Even when I want to do something if it’s a bit hard, I give up. It’s laziness and privilege I guess. I’m not going to starve so why try harder than I have to? It’s one of my many character flaws (oh there are so many to choose from) but it’s easily the one that I dislike the most.

I mean, I have evidence that doing stuff makes me happier. I have actually done some stuff in my life, not much worth talking about or particularly special, but even these relatively small achievements have given me joy. Yep, actual joy. Woo. I’ve also discovered that thinking about doing things is kind of fun too (I guess that’s why I like writing!) but ultimately it’s the properly doing them part that brings the real excitement and pleasure. At 32 this probably shouldn’t be a revelation.

I’m afraid of failure, like most people, but to the extent that I just don’t really try to do anything too big or ambitious. The shame of being bad at something, not good enough, is too awful to contemplate. Who wants to be laughed at? Especially if it’s something you care about. It’s much easier to just not care, not bother. All that better to have loved and lost stuff is a load of old arse, right? Who would want to invite failure?

I care about writing, I want to be good at it and I want to succeed, but it’s not easy. I read amazing writing all the time and I know I can’t compete, so why bother? Well, I’m not going to. Instead I have a new ambition. To be a failed writer. Because I’m already jealous of people who’ve finished a book and have stacks of rejection letters in a box under their bed. So I’m going to aim for rejection. At least I can claim it for my own. Success is great but failure is so much more real. It’s true that you can’t actually get anywhere close to success without a (painful metaphor ahead) path, perhaps a little winding and often unlit, with stepping stones hewn from the rocks of failure (I did warn you).

The best thing is, that I’ve already made headway on this new ambition. I’ve already had a fair few rejections. Just recently, I failed to get a gig writing a regular blog for a local website. For free.

I sent in my 500 word review, details of other things I’ve written, including a link to this blog (perhaps my biggest mistake) and I heard…nothing. I chased and the editor hadn’t looked at the applications yet. He also helpfully reminded me that they’d only be getting in touch with people they thought were interesting and worth considering for the role. That was about a month ago and yep, that’s right, nothing. I’m not interesting, apparently.

I’m annoyed by the rejection and upset that their email silence feels like it’s screaming that I’m not talented enough for them to let me write for them. FOR FREE.

Even better though, this isn’t my first rejection. Nope. When I look at it this way, I’ve already made those first tentative, wobbly steps on my new lamby legs towards my goal of failed writer. I’ve got a long way to go but I’ve started. Probably the must crushing failure so far was the play that I wrote for my MA.

Yah, I wrote a play. A whole play. That I finished. It had an ending. A freaking tedious ending but it was there on the paper and everything. I feel ashamed when I think about my play, about how bloody awful it was (I had characters called the Farfalles. Yes, like the pasta). The worst part though, is not just that it was bad, but that I was convinced it was a work of heart stopping genius. In my head, there was no chance it wasn’t going to be amazing. I imagined hundreds of column inches raking up as theatre journalists went insane about my talent, the first play I’d ever written was a masterpiece, it would rival Shakespeare and shake up theatre, culture, the world as we know it. More plays would follow, perhaps some TV and film, awards, all of that.

Ah, the shame. Because, seriously, it’s a bloody awful play. Melodramatic, pretentious, kind of boring and clunky and did I mention the tedious and rather lacklustre ending? (No, you can’t read it. Well, maybe one day I’ll put it up for a laugh, you know, to be all humble and that. Maybe.)

So this terrible play, I decided, was worthy of entry into the Bruntwood prize for playwriting. No, it did not win. It also didn’t get singled out as one of the hundred that merited feedback because they showed potential. I doubt they got much past the first act without either laughing hysterically or crying for the state of the arts.

I also sent it to a director at The Rep in Birmingham. (If you send them a play someone – and for a very short time that someone was me – will read it and either pass it on for further attention, or reject it, politely, with some hopefully constructive criticism. If you have a script then give it a go. It’s worth it, even just for the rejection, honest.)

Anyway, the director rejected mine. She gave helpful (probably), painful criticism. I sent her a bitter email back saying I might as well give up playwriting as I obviously have no talent and never ever will. She protested but also, I noted, did not encourage me to send them anything else in future. I imagine she thought I was a wannabe, giving it a half-arsed try and then chucking it all in when it got a bit difficult. Well, she’d be right. Which is the most shameful thing about the whole experience. I’m a big fat quitter.

But hey, at least I can tick failed playwright off my list! To be honest, I have also realised that writing plays isn’t for me, and not just because I’m really, really bad at it. I’ve seen about maybe five or six plays in my life, and that’s including school trips. I don’t really care about plays. They’re ok, a bit pretentious though sometimes, but I’m not really that fussed. I can take them or leave them. And I generally go for the second option.

The whole experience was not enjoyable and had it been a physical rejection letter, I definitely would have set fire to it and done a little angry dance around the dying embers. Instead I swore at my gmail account and had mean and uncharitable thoughts about the director.

Now, though, it doesn’t feel so bad. And I guess I kinda feel like perhaps I maybe even sort of learned something from it. It helped me to realise how rubbish my play was, which was certainly more helpful than my MA tutor, who didn’t bother to tell me (probably unfair but, you know, it’s my blog). If I carried, or really carry, on writing like that then I won’t improve. None of my writing will get any better and that’s a waste of all the effort I put in to writing the play.

I’m still scared of criticism, of course, and the feeling of being ashamed and humiliated by daring to try isn’t going to get any nicer. But by not really trying, or daring, I’m already a failure, except nobody actually knows about it, and where’s the fun in that?

I hope to have more tales of rejection, despair and miserable failure to add to the list soon. In the meantime, tell me about your pathetic failures, in whatever field you like, because misery likes company and all that!


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