Friday, January 10, 2014

Back to the Future...

By Russel D McLean

I've talked about rejection before, I'm sure. But its on my mind as I sit here in my brand new office, having finally completed the move that began in November. I'm in a new city, in a new flat (after living for a month in The Literary Critic's old place, we've now found ourselves a Gothic Monstrosity that really is quite marvelous). I've spent the last few days working on the 5th McNee novel (this is the one that ties up a number of ongoing threads - is it the actual last in the series? Goodness only knows, but it certainly takes some themes that have been dangling over the books and finally lays old ghosts to rest) but I've also been unpacking some final boxes.

One of those boxes contained a lot of old rejection slips.

Someone of them are disheartening. Phrases like, "just not exciting enough" and "show don't tell" pop up frequently, especially in the early part of this millennium. But I clearly learned from them. There are three that say, "Submissions have now closed" or "this imprint will be closing" which shows just what good timing I have when it comes to most things.

But then there are others, like a letter from a respected SF editor who says that he doesn't think I would fit on an SF list but should try to go more literary. He gives me a number of names and then those names, when I find the letters, give me names, too. None of them think I'm quite there yet for their list, but they're all massively enthusiastic. Its intriguing to read, and makes me wonder if I should re-do that old "sf" chestnut someday. In fact, I'm already churning over in my mind what I would do to it, now. And I think the result would be a stronger book, although I have to wonder if its the kind of book I am capable of writing. That's always a worry for me, of course. Can my ambition match my ability?

Certainly it wasn't the case with a manuscript that went out to an editor (oh who am I kidding, it was a script, he was a producer - - and he asked for it based on an outline) that came back ripped to shreds and doodled over with crayon. At the bottom of the script is a handwritten note that reads, "As you can, my kids didn't like it, either". It still makes me go ouch. But I can take comfort from the fact that apparently the guy's a bit of a pariah, now. So there's something.

But what I'm thinking looking through the box is how much I've changed as writer over the year. Every rejection taught me something, made me grow. Every piece of advice - the well meant ones, of course - has stayed with me and guided me on my journey. I was not ready to write at 18, 20, 23. At 24 I got a break but there are still a lot of rejections between then and the publication of The Good Son to remind me that you don't just leap from not published to published, from bad to good. You make mistakes. You refine your approach. You soak up the world around you. You find your voice.

And you don't let it stagnate.

I'd like to think that in another ten years, I'll look back at stuff I'm doing now and see the change from here to then. I'll be proud - I'm still proud of a lot of what I produced back on those days, even if I'd never actually allow it to be published in that state... yes, the people who rejected me were mostly right to do so - of my work, but I'll be able to see how I've evolved and changed.

Hopefully for the better.

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