'You're good, but not good enough.' Writing rejection/career advice?
September 29, 2017 2:56 PM   Subscribe

I feel like that is the recurring message lately. How can I improve as much as humanely possible? And how do I cultivate a career in journalism at this late stage?

So I've been writing stories since I was about 4, it's an obsession and if I don't write for a while it becomes something I desperately need to unload.

At university I began submitting stories when a tutor told me I should be doing so. The initial stories were accepted immediately and I thought I was all sorts of talented and this was the beginning of something great, especially when attending the live launches of the anthologies. Erm, not quite.

^Those stories were published during a time when I was grieving and powerfully channelling my energies into writing. Since then, I haven't had so much luck. I had my last short story published three years ago. Recently I started submitting a short story I have edited many times over. The recurring answer? Either 'It's not right for this issue but please know we read with great enjoyment and contemplation. Please submit something in future' or 'While the writing was good and the story dealt with many of the issues we are interested in, I felt the transitions were confusing. As such the ending felt unsatisfying to me . Please do consider submitting again in future.'

Aside from this I have written the first few chapters of two novels. Again a tutor said I 'must' finish writing the first novel, but I have lost my confidence lately.

...sigh. Furthermore, I graduated with a Journalism degree and have since become a teacher. I get a lot of joy from teaching but lately find myself missing writing features. My talent lies in writing interviews for the most part. My writing has been well praised by an old tutor who is still a prominent figure at the BBC. Is there still time for me to kickstart my journalism? How? Can I do it freelance? Or do I need to give up the steady teaching job to pursue the passion?

Thanks for listening to my ramblings!
posted by Willow251 to Writing & Language (7 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
The recurring answer? Either 'It's not right for this issue but please know we read with great enjoyment and contemplation. Please submit something in future' or 'While the writing was good and the story dealt with many of the issues we are interested in, I felt the transitions were confusing. As such the ending felt unsatisfying to me . Please do consider submitting again in future.'

Um, those are actually high-tier rejections. Many writers would have their spirits revived by receiving something like that (as opposed to the more generic "thanks for submitting this, but it doesn't meet our needs at this time" type of response). One of the editors actually gave you specific feedback for an unsolicited submission! That's like gold dust! What that says to me is that your story is going to get published sooner or later, particularly if you take the feedback you've received on board. Look at your transitions. Why are they confusing? How can you make them less so?

One of the most important skills for a writer to have is patience. My acceptance rate is, as Duotrope kindly tells me, higher than average for writers who have submitted to the same markets. And yet I have received, and expect to keep receiving, many, many rejections. It's all part of the game. So is wrestling with a piece and racking your brain for ways to bring what you've written closer to the vision you have in your head. One day the solution will come to you, and it will be so perfect it seems obvious. But there's no shortcut to that point. Keep writing, keep revising and keep submitting. Things will fall into place.

I don't have any advice on journalism, sorry (got out of it 20 years ago).
posted by Perodicticus potto at 3:26 PM on September 29, 2017 [8 favorites]

There's some interesting discussion of balancing teaching and writing in the latest episode of the Longform Podcast.
posted by sockpup at 4:04 PM on September 29, 2017 [2 favorites]

As a former journalist, I encourage you to freelance. There is no reason at all to give up teaching. As a teacher, I expect that you have a little flexibility with your time to work on feature pieces.
posted by maurreen at 8:35 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

Just a heads up, after you finish your first draft of the novel, you'll probably get lots of the same kind of rejections and / or requirements that you do revisions to move forward. Embrace all of this as a process, maybe? It's not about whether you're "talented" enough but whether you're willing to do the work.
posted by salvia at 11:19 PM on September 29, 2017 [1 favorite]

I'm a creative writer (poetry and short fiction) and music journalist, so I have familiarity on both sides of your interests. While the rejections you got were pretty great rejections (and even included a revision suggestion), I know it's frustrating to feel like you're always the first runner-up.

Reading your post, it sounds like, maybe because of losing confidence in yourself, you're somewhat unfocused in what you want to be working on and how to get it into the world. Starting two novels, editing short stories, contemplating journalism, saying you thrive in doing interviews--that's a lot to take on, and it can really divide your energy, especially when you have a day job too. If you can figure out which projects are most important to you, most urgent, most timely for today's literary climate, then focus on those. The others will keep.

You can absolutely do interviews while still teaching, and I second the idea of freelancing. Talk to your BBC contact, work up some pitches for pieces you'd like to do, and send them out. Doing interviews again might be a good confidence-booster as you'll get faster feedback and online shares and such if you end up doing any interviews. Don't take it personally if you don't get your foot in the door again right away.

Finally, do you have a writing community, either in person or online? I don't have a huge one right now, but I can usually find someone to take a look at my transitions or share frustrations or all the things writers talk about. I also hired an editor for one short story that's dogged me for ages, and she's worked me really hard, but it has been so worth it. It's hard to find a good one, of course, but especially if you've reworked this story a bunch already, it can be invaluable.
posted by mermaidcafe at 6:16 AM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

Two recommendations for you:

1. Read this great article about Why You Should Aim for 100 Rejections A Year (on the basis that if you throw enough mud at the wall some of it will inevitably stick, and that rejection is a totally normal part of even the best writer's career). I'm nowhere near 100 rejections this year, but reading this article earlier in the year has helped me a. apply for more stuff and b. accept the rejections with less despair!

2. Listen to Liz Gilbert's podcast, Magic Lessons (there's also a book called Big Magic, which I've not read, but go for that if you prefer, I assume they're similar). It features her coaching a whole series of creative people in different fields to help them through the fear of rejection, lack of confidence, or other forms of being stuck that are so often a part of creativity. At best it'll get you through it yourself, at worst you'll at least know you're not alone, this is part of the creative life for the vast majority of people. Her Ted Talk is pretty great, too. It's all about not taking your success/failure as a writer quite so personally as a measure of your success as a human being. It's also funny.
posted by penguin pie at 10:54 AM on September 30, 2017 [4 favorites]

Agreeing with Perodicticus above, except for this bit: take the feedback you've received on board.

Not always. Unless you've been told to revise and resubmit, you're not writing or revising your story for a magazine that rejected it. A very encouraging rejection usually means this story will be published by another venue, and you just have to be tenacious enough to submit many many times. If you continue to get the same feedback, from many venues, about the story being confusing--that's when you should consider revising before submitting elsewhere. But if this is simply something you've heard once from a journal? Or even twice? Nah. I've had editors tell me all kinds of ways my stories were lacking in something, and other editors (who picked up those same stories) say that those very aspects of the stories in question were what sold them.

It's about finding the right editor, and the right readers.
posted by Miss T.Horn at 3:35 PM on September 30, 2017 [1 favorite]

« Older where to begin: Indian history   |   Hinges within reach Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.