I know quite a lot of people who have dreams of becoming published writers and who struggle at times to remain positive and optimistic while on that noble quest. I know just how they feel.
I made my first attempts to be a writer when I was at Uni. I wrote some poems for a poetry magazine and I also wrote a comedy sketch for a television program – the Paul Hogan Show. I didn’t show anyone what I’d written because I was a bit shy and embarrassed about trying to be a writer, but I sent them both away and I waited. Anxiously.
Eventually I received a reply from the Editor of the poetry magazine. He took the trouble of writing comments and suggestions on one of my poems but then ended with something like, ‘Your poems show some nice touches, but unfortunately they are not quite up to the standard we require at this stage. Best of luck with your future writing.’
I didn’t send any more poems away after that.
Then I got a reply from the head comedy writer of the Paul Hogan Show which went something like this. ‘Dear Michael – Paul and the whole comedy team have read your sketch. We think it’s quite funny, but as we write most of our own material, we won’t be using your work in the show. We wish you all the best with your writing.‘
That was the last comedy sketch I ever wrote.
Looking back, those replies seem quite hopeful and encouraging. But back then, when I had little belief or confidence in myself or my writing, I figured those two people were just being nice and what they were really saying was, ‘Stop kidding yourself. You’re not a writer. Only other people get to be writers.‘
These days when I talk at schools I sometimes tell students about my first two writing attempts and my reactions to them. And I say, that if they have dreams about what they want to be, then they shouldn’t be as pathetic as I was when I was young, and just give up when they get some knock-backs.
I know now that I should have kept writing back then. I should have kept sending things out there. Even if I’d kept being rejected, I would have been doing that I loved, I would have been practising my craft, I would have been learning and improving and getting valuable feedback, and maybe, just maybe, each rejection would have been taking me one step closer to that magic acceptance.
In the end I was lucky. I went on to do teaching which I loved (and sometimes dreaded) but eventually I had another shot at writing and that changed, and at least figuratively, saved, my life.
So to my friends and fb buddies and those people I meet from time to time who are aspiring writers, here’s the message I give to the students:
‘Some people claim you should follow your dreams, but I think that sounds a little passive; sort of like you’re tagging along behind all the time, never quite catching up. So I say you should STALK your dreams. Stick close to them. Track them down. Corner them. And don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.‘
ps I should add that when I say that to students I always take pains to point out, that while ‘stalking dreams’ is fine, stalking people is definitely not! I explain to them that such behaviour is both frowned upon and illegal. And that personally, I found it to be very time-consuming when I could be writing.
Nice advice. Thanks, Michael. Remembered that I wrote a picture book last year (which Hazel Edwards liked apart from its title when I showed it to her at a QWC children’s writing workshop). I didn’t send it out to any publishers though because none of them accept unsolicited manuscripts. Maybe I should start reading QW again. Such a fantastic, supportive writing community (online and off) in Queensland.
Definitely one of the best things about being involved in writing for children and young adults are the people in the writing community.
I can relate to so much of this, Michael. I wrote my first novel when I was about 12, and kept on writing all the way through my teens. When I hit 20 I stopped completely, and didn’t write another thing until my early thirties. Part of the problem was that I managed to convince myself that “normal” people never get published, so why should I waste my time. This was, of course, before the likes of JK Rowling and Stephanie Meyer came on the scene and blew that particular notion out of the water.
I’m so glad I did eventually start writing again, but I still find myself rueing the years of inactivity, and wondering what might have been. It’s a huge encouragement to hear I’m not alone, so thanks for sharing this.
Yes Peter sometimes I wonder what might have been had I kept at it back then. But in the end, the wait was worth it.
Thanks for a great blog post, Michael. It is hard to imagine that today’s accomplished writer’s once upon a time received rejection letters. It was wonderful to read your process to publication. Not giving up is one of the biggest challenges of all and you’re right, stalking that dream and never giving up is the key to success.
Thanks for dropping by Renee!
Hard to believe that even the best writers such as yourself used to have their writing rejected. Thanks for this encouraging piece. I haven’t written anything in over a year (even though I have a Masters degree in writing, editing, and publishing). I am unpublished but once thought of myself as an aspiring writer. How to start again? Joanna :))
I really shouldn’t have used that term ‘aspiring writer’. If you write with care and passion, then you’re a writer. You might aspire to be published. And being published doesn’t necessarily make you a better or more worthy writer than someone who isn’t.
Later on in life Joanna I wrote a picture book and sent it to a half a dozen or so publishers and they all rejected it, including the company who now publishes my books (although it was a different person in charge at the time.) In my case I think what happened was that eventually the story found me that in some way I was meant to write.
Ha ha, I love this Michael. I can relate totally to those positive rejections that, at the time, seemed so deflating. I too sometimes wish I had pursued (or stalked!) my dreams earlier, but perhaps I needed the life experience I have had before I could do the job of writing justice. (at least thats my story and I’m sticking to it – nothing at all to do with me being a wimp, lol)
I feel the same way Lynn. I couldn’t have written the books I have when I was younger. I guess I might have written something else though. But I feel very blessed so I’m not complaining.
I’ve stalked people. There I said it. I’m a stalker. That’s how I bend them to my will in order to get an interview out of certain someones…
At least Paul Hogans crew were nice about your first attempts. I’ve heard some shockers when it comes to rejection letters.
You snare them with your hoops Natalie!