Last month, I received another rejection. Not a ‘no thank you, I never want to publish you in a hundred years,’ sort of a rejection, more a ‘this still needs quite a bit more work.’ sort. Nevertheless, receiving this news rendered me a tiny bit gloomy. No! Forgive me, Friends. I must be frank with you. I was devastated. I cried and stamped my feet a little, fumed and fussed as my mind went on a rampage searching out every criticism, no matter how small. No negative comment went untouched. Whirling around in my mind, each one became hideously amplified and distorted until my husband slapped me on the back and proclaimed, “Never mind, you’ve always got your primary teaching degree to fall back on!”
Well, if that was meant to shake me – it worked. The rage of defeatism passed making room for something far more dangerous. Something so sinister it has been known to cripple one’s vision and dreams until they are filed away deep into the cavernous mind, and forgotten. Of course, I’m speaking of: The Fog of Self-Doubt
I’m assuming every human being, at some point, has been plagued by the fog of self-doubt. It’s the smoke that clouds your mind, whispers words that pull you down, and wound your soul. I’m a rubbish writer. No one wants to read my hopelessly inferior scribbles. I’m never going to write again. Perhaps I should get a job in Asda on the checkout – No, Waitrose – One must have at least a little self-respect. *
This fog of self-doubt once descended, can last for many weeks, perhaps even months, if one permits it. But the longer the choking, stupefying mist is allowed to linger, the thicker it becomes, and the more difficult it is to escape.
Fellow writers! In this situation, one calls for a tempestuous gust of pragmatism to blow that suffocating mist all the way back to hell, for that is where it comes from! As the fog billows, I recall Hemingway’s wise words.
“Don’t get discouraged because there’s a lot of mechanical work to writing. The first draft of anything is s***.”
Whilst I don’t admire that particular choice of word, I certainly appreciate the sentiment. He goes on to share something that thins the fog of self-doubt in my mind just a little. He rewrote A Farewell to Arms at least fifty times. Did you hear that? He rewrote that novel at least FIFTY times. Even a literary genius like Hemingway had to work hard at his writing. In fact, the more I delve into this subject, the more I discover many brilliant authors had their work initially rejected. JK Rowling rudely told not to ‘quit her day job’, was rejected by twelve publishers before Bloomsbury took her on. Dr. Seuss rejected twenty-seven times; William Golding’s Lord of the Flies rejected twenty times; Margaret Mitchell’s Gone with the Wind turned down thirty-eight times; Rudyard Kipling criticised for ‘not knowing how to use the English language’; Agatha Christie waited four years before getting published and some kindly well-meaning publisher advised Louisa May Alcott to ‘stick to teaching’. Thank God, these great writers did not give in to self-doubt, and listen to such counsel.
Now, the fog is lifting but that last stubborn wisp needs a little extra puff before completely clearing. And it comes down to this. I know I’m a writer because it’s in the very substance of me. It’s in my bones, my blood, my tears, my sweat, my soul. It’s my God-given purpose in life. I can’t stop writing, even if a thousand scholarly critics shout from the literary rooftops: ‘Nikki Salt has no writing ability!’ (Though I might change my name, and write in secret if that happened.) Whether or not I have writing ability, I do not have the ability to stop writing. Despite the stuff of life (which can easily add up to at least twenty-eight hours of the day), I still have to find the time to write. If I don’t, something inside of me dries out and shrivels. It squeezes the breath out of my being until I pick up a biro or open my laptop.
So here I am, again. Writing. And I’ll keep writing. And I’ll keep fighting. Whenever that fog threatens to descend, no matter how thinly veiled, I’ll scatter the inky words across my page like the proverbial farmer scatters the seed. Some will fall amongst the weeds and will be choked, some will fall on the hard ground to dry and shrivel in the sun, and some might just fall in the good soil, and will grow and nourish the world. But none will be lost in the fog of self-doubt.
Source: JK Rowling information: Alison Ford, Guardian 24.3.15; Brilliant Authors Whose Work Was Initially Rejected: St Martin’s Press posted 20.9.13 ( https://www.buzzfeed.com/stmartinspress/20-brilliant-authors-whose-work-was-initially-reje-7rut?utm_term=.euamaqDKxo#.ts44R29pdB)
*Sorry Asda! – It’s not that you’re a bad supermarket, it’s Waitrose’s free coffee that pips you to the post!