taking a moment

I sometimes feel writing is a never-ending quest. An ultra-marathon with no finish line. But I realise it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s okay to stop and rest. To admire the view from a lookout. To be proud of the miles we’ve run so far.

I’ve been through all the ups and downs of the writing game since I first started scribbling stories more than ten years ago. Despair at how bad my initial work was. Rejections left, right and centre. Flickers of hope here and there, followed by more disappointment. And, as with any writer, my life has had its own ups and downs.

But all that angst ends with a book publication, right? I mean THAT should make a writer forever content.

Speaking from my own experience, having a full length publication is certainly gratifying – the huge buzz of reaching that milestone. It’s exciting to imagine people reading your words. But then the doubts creep back. The mind says snidely, Sure, you have a book published, but does anyone actually like it? Besides your mother, that is?

When I found out If You’re Happy had been shortlisted in the 2022 Queensland Literary Awards (for the USQ Steele Rudd Award), I was so happy I cried. Literally walked around the house, by myself, for almost an hour, with tears of relief running down my face. Because it turns out I was mightily unsure of the book’s quality, and having this shortlisting was such a boost from the judges. It helped me believe the book must be decent after all.

(pic of all Steele Rudd shortlisted books below)

The thing is, though – I know my brain. It will move on, and I’ll go through all the highs and lows of my new writing project. And when that’s complete, I’ll fret about whether anyone will want it.

But for now, I will sit with this positive news. Tonight, at the awards ceremony, I’ll gather with others from the amazing writing community, and revel in the delight of all the shortlisted and winning writers.

I hope you can take time to enjoy your most recent uplifting moment. A book just launched. A deeply satisfying day of writing. A shortlisting or longlisting. A published piece. Words of admiration from a trusted friend.

The writing industry is tough. If you’re only just beginning, you’ll know to be prepared for knockbacks. If you’ve been writing for awhile, you’ve already learnt about persistence. And it’s this hardship that makes it especially important to celebrate each achievement.

Cheers to all of us running our writing marathons, and to every highlight along the way. 🌻

The Best of 2020

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably been seeing a lot of those ‘best books of 2020’ lists, lately. I know I have. I read each list, looking for the titles of writers I know, feeling a twist of disappointment if their book doesn’t appear. I can only imagine what it must be like to peruse the lists as an author, and in many cases, not find the name of your book. A book is a piece of its creator, something personal and almost sacred. The term ‘book baby’ exists for good reason.

Not only published authors feel downhearted, of course. There are many of us submitting and getting knocked back in multiple ways. We check longlists and shortlists and don’t see our title. We receive emails that contain that fateful phrase, ‘Unfortunately your (story/poem/essay/piece) was not ….’. We have to pick ourselves up and carry on, having faith that our writing has worth, knowing that the only way to eventually receive acceptances is to keep writing and submitting. This writing game is not for the fainthearted!

So to anyone, anywhere, whose story didn’t win a competition in 2020, whose essay wasn’t accepted by that literary journal last year, whose poem was ignored by an anthology callout, who toiled over a manuscript yet to find a home, or who had an entire book published, not recognised by any ‘best of 2020’ lists ⎯ I hope you can be proud. You created, and you achieved something wonderful in furthering or completing that work, or in being published, especially in a year of worldwide disruption. Your words were chosen with care, and others have the privilege of reading them ⎯ whether friends and family, a feedback group, editors or the wider public.

To all writers who carry on, who keep producing work, who persist despite setbacks ⎯ especially to those writers in countries badly affected by the Covid-19 pandemic ⎯ congratulations.

You absolutely are the best of 2020.

some thoughts on rejection

I once dated a wonderful guy.  He was funny, smart and good-looking. Generous. A great listener. My family loved him. And I loved him, too, except not in the way I wanted to. For some reason, he wasn’t quite right for me.

I once was dumped by a guy. He told me he wanted space, which since we were both independent and spent lots of time apart, was really code for ‘I’m over you’. It hurt, absolutely. And for awhile there I thought ‘I’m obviously way too boring/emotional/freckly/fat’. But that breakup wasn’t the end of my dating life. Other people found me tolerable, even delightful 😜. I just wasn’t right for that person.

And I’ve realised that rejection in the writing world is often the same. The work might be great, but there’s a mismatch.

When we receive a rejection, it’s easy to blame ourselves. To spiral into thoughts of ‘my writing is shit’ (which reminds me of the time I accidentally called my manuscript a manushit) and ‘I’ll never get anywhere’ and ‘where’s the chocolate?’ And sure, there must be times when the submission wasn’t up to scratch. It was rushed out, not proofread well, or it’s an early career submission. It has good elements but needs some work.

But over time, as we improve, other factors come into play. The journal already commissioned an essay on belly button lint. We sent a dark story and they’re looking for a funny piece (or vice versa). The style doesn’t resonate with the competition judge (even though another judge will love it).

On Monday, I had dinner with two writer friends. Both women are very talented. One writes screenplays, memoir, novels, short stories, essays and more. The other writes plays, short stories and essays and is an accomplished actor. Both have won awards and fellowships. Both have been published, one in book form. These women are dynamos. And yet, as we ate our yellow curry, they spoke about the rejection emails they’d received the past few days. I chimed in to say I’d had recent rejections, too. We commiserated over pieces we thought were strong, yet were not accepted or didn’t place in competitions. And as we whined and laughed and wined, I had a minor epiphany (can an epiphany be minor?) —

Rejections don’t mean our work isn’t good.

Turns out, the writing world is like the dating world. Not everyone will fall in love with our work (and we won’t fall in love with everything we read, either). As with dating, we shouldn’t try to be who we’re not, to please someone else. They’ll like us or they won’t. We’ll be rejected for sure, but acceptances will come when we least expect it.

And in the meantime, we can write.