29 Sep 2014

Writing A Winner

When I scrolled through the list of competitions at the Winchester Writers’ Festival earlier this year, I never imagined for a minute that I’d find myself entering the Feature Article one.  For a start there were two children’s fiction categories that I could have entered B4 (codename) into, with very little effort.  More importantly, perhaps, was the fact that I hadn’t written a “professional” article before, although I suppose I have written article-type-blurb many times.

I think it was the given title that particularly grabbed me, partly as it had great energy and partly as I’d had to work through that very topic at the end of last year.  I massively enjoyed writing it, but had no idea at all if it was any good and how it might compare with other entries.

I got my answer quite conclusively on the Saturday of Winchester, when it was announced that I’d come second in the competition!  Thrilled would be an understatement.  It was a fantastic endorsement that I do have some skill at putting one word after another down on paper.

Bizarrely, coming second was perfect placing as far as I was concerned.  I would have felt a complete fraud winning a competition like that on my first attempt.  Plus the first placed article will be published in the competition anthology due out in November, so I’ll get a chance to read it and compare it to mine.  If I’d won then I wouldn’t have been able to see any of the other articles, and at this stage in my writing that’s a useful learning opportunity. 

I already know from the personal feedback I received that the winning article wasn’t actually written in a traditional article format, which is what made it stand out.  Not having written an article before, I was hardly about to break the rules before I’d kept them first, so I was never going to win against that!

Having discovered an unrealised love of non-fiction writing, I now want to write more articles.  There are lots of online magazines that could provide opportunities for that, but this blog is the most obvious outlet.  Future posts will still be about my journey and discoveries, and still very much in my voice, but hopefully also more professional and generally informative whether you’re interested in my writing or not.

So – drum roll! – here, for your delight and information, is my second-prize-winning article, published for the first time anywhere in the world!


“Never Give Up!  Never Surrender!

How to keep writing in the face of rejection.”


Rejection is one of the most painful words in the English language.  The best way to deal with it is to remove it from your vocabulary and replace it with an excess of other words beginning with “Re” instead.


1. React

The rejection “no, thank you” email/letter could be a “let them down softly” response – “I did not feel it would be right for my list and therefore I am unable to offer you representation”.  It might be more dismissive – “unfortunately we did not feel enthusiastic enough about it to take this further.”  However it’s phrased, it hurts. 

Allow yourself to react however you want to – there’s no right or wrong response, it’s just personal.  Get angry and resent them for crushing your dreams.  Cry, sob and reel in feelings of being misunderstood and unappreciated.  Take refuge in wine and chocolate to anaesthetise you from this rebuff.  Get out into the countryside for a refreshing walk and let nature help you put things into perspective. 

Release your emotions – privately is probably best.  Only become a recluse for the purpose of, and time period necessary for, this recovery process.   Make sure it includes positive aspects that accelerate your emotional recuperation and restoration.


2. Recognise

Rejections are an unavoidable part of the publishing industry.  Remind yourself that before they were first published JK Rowling was rejected 12 times, Dr Seuss 27 and Malorie Blackman 82!  Go to www.onehundredrejections.com for even more reassurance and proof that rejections happen ALL the time in the writing world.

“I love my rejection slips.  They show me I try.”  Sylvia Plath

Resilience is almost as important as the ability to write well.  Persistence is an essential characteristic for success and being rejected by agents is a first step in acquiring the strength and tenacity you need to survive in the writing world.  So embrace it.  It’s not a death blow to your dreams.  It’s a painful-in-the-short-term learning opportunity essential to longevity and ultimate success in publishing.

“I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide.”  Harper Lee

It might be tempting to reply and ask an agent to reconsider.  You might even want to remonstrate with them and share the things you think and feel during Step One above.  Refute that idea straightaway!

Agents don’t have the time or inclination to get into an argument about whether or not your manuscript is actually the next Booker Prize or Carnegie Medal winner and they’ve failed to recognise that fact.  They’re business people and you don’t fit with their business plan for whatever reason.  Let it go.


3. Review

A few hours, days or weeks later – depending on how long you take to calm down – take time to review your manuscript and reflect on the reasons why your work might have been rejected. 

If you’re fortunate enough to have had any useful advice with the rejection, consider it seriously, even if you continue to disagree with it and don’t revamp your writing in the light of it.

In the more likely scenario that there’s no feedback with the rejection, you’ll need to be realistic yourself about any revision you need to do.  You might redeploy friends and fellow writers to look over it again and suggest revisions.  The manuscript could need slight refinement or a more serious rewrite.  It may not need rectifying at all, but it’s still important to re-read it and double check before sending it out to more agents.


4. Rebound

Now is a perfect time to remember why you wanted to become a writer in the first place.  Recall what you hoped to achieve.  Remind yourself of your writing dreams.

Get up and get on again.  Renounce this being the end of your dream.  Refuse to let all those hours/days/weeks/months/years of thinking and writing go to waste by retiring now. 

“If you can quit, then quit.  If you can’t quit, you’re a writer.”  R.A. Salvatore

If you can’t quit and resolutely recommit to being a writer, then you must rebound.  Send out your work again (having done Step Three above).  Realise that agents are just people with different tastes and different business aims.  Some will like your work, some won’t.  You need to keep putting your writing in front of people until you find “The One” it clicks with.

“This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address’. Just keep looking for the right address.”  Barbara Kingsolver

Don’t wallow in regret, rebuking yourself for wasting so much of your life working on your manuscript.  Don’t have such a major tantrum that you decide to use it as fuel for the fire on a cold winter’s evening.  You must have enjoyed at least some of the time you’ve given to it, otherwise you wouldn’t have done it.  Relish the pure pleasure of writing, regardless of whether or not you’re ever published.


5. Resume

Keep writing.  You’ll only improve by writing, writing and writing some more.  If it takes 10,000 hours to become an expert in a subject then most of us have a long way to go.  Why should it be any easier or quicker for you than the rest of the writing world?

“We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.”  Ernest Hemingway

Don’t give up.  If you truly are a writer then you have no other choice than to pick up your pen or tap on your keyboard and push through the pain to put one word after another on the page.  Your story, your voice, your point of view – only you can share it.  If you don’t, then it will never be heard.

Resolve to find ways to reinvigorate your writing.  You might need to put aside your current manuscript and write something else completely different for a while.  Devour as many books as you can.  Read them critically and take away renewed insights about both good and bad writing. 

Enter competitions.  They compel you to revise your work repeatedly until it’s near perfect and you often receive useful feedback if short-listed.

Sign up for a course – long/short, local/residential, traditional/online – and learn more about your craft.  Have a go at something different to your usual writing genre, e.g. writing drama to help you refine “showing not telling”, or flash fiction to develop your conciseness.

Persevere until that door opens and breakthrough comes.  Any rejections along the way will have developed your work and your character so that you are better placed to deal with success!  So, never give up, never surrender – keep writing!  

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Helen says:

Mel, this is wonderful news! And what a fabulous article – I think it's relevant to anyone who has ever been rejected, not just writers – and really that's all of us!

Mel Green says:

Thanks Helen!  I do try to be relevant to a wider audience than just writers, so it’s good to know I might be achieving that 🙂

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