On Rejection

I got a few rejections today. Rejection is something to get used if one is to try being a writer. Every time, I think of this passage from Confucius’s Analects:

“Do not be concerned that you lack an official position, but rather concern yourself with the means by which you might become established. Do not be concerned that no one has heard of you, but rather strive to become a person worthy of being known.” (Analects, 4.14)

It’s easy to get discouraged by rejection. It sucks to be told no – but it’s also just the daily lived reality if you want to be a writer. And I think it’s very easy to be concerned that one isn’t getting published, instead of focusing on the real thing that matters – having good thoughts and writing them down well. This is really hard, so it’s understandable to want to worry about the other thing. But it’s a mistake. We need to strive to write things worthy of being published. This is the only thing that matters. It doesn’t matter how long it takes to write a thing, it doesn’t matter if writing it is difficult, and it doesn’t matter if we succeed. You can only do your best.

Someone told me that their goal was to get 100 rejections each year. 100 rejections would mean they’d have submitted their writing widely, that they’d have written more, and in all likelihood that they’d have been published more. It’s true. Publishing a numbers game. It’s a skill too, but to a lesser degree. There comes a point at which your skill is good enough to get published – it can be extremely difficult to tell when this happens – and that improves your luck. But every writer gets rejected a lot. Some get to a point where they’re famous enough to stop getting rejected, and that must be nice.  Personally, I think aiming for a number of rejections is pretty masochistic.

I prefer to think of it in terms of my own acceptance rate. A thing is only really rejected when I reject it. It’s possible to realise a story or essay that one was initially excited about was actually not that great. Sometimes these things can be salvaged, and sometimes they end up in a graveyard in the depths of Google Drive.

Looking at things this way, my hit rate over the last few years has been pretty good. I’ve abandoned a handful of things, but the majority of things I write have found a home somewhere. It might just not be the first, or fifth, or tenth home I thought would be good for them. But even then, that’s all secondary. Publication, even fame, are no guarantees of having achieved the goal of writing something good. I just want to write, like, one good sentence.

Information Diet 007

  • Continuing to feed my obsession with other writers’ spaces and craft, here’s a fun article about 5 women writers’ workrooms at Financial Times.
  • Anil Dash on his blog on 12 things people need to understand about tech. May be a bit of a basic list, but some good food for thought there. No 5 – that tech education doesn’t include ethical training – is an important one, but the solution won’t be to simply teach ethics to entrepreneurs or stem students, the solution is to decouple technological progress from capitalistic incentives.
  • Alissa Quart appeals for more inclusive editorial standards for journalists in the Columbia Journalism Review.
  • Kensy Cooperrider in The Public Domain Review on hand mnemonics in medieval Europe, China and Tibet – super interesting stuff about how hands were used as mnemonic devices to remember prayers, musical pieces and scales, to figure out important dates, etc.
  • Lauren Carroll Harris in Kill Your Darlings on the puzzling absence of anti-war sentiment in Australian cinema.
  • The Liminal Magazine team have released another tranche of their “Liminal Review of Books” series – right now they’re publishing some of the most exciting critical writing in this country, so it’s well worth a read. My favourite essays are Brian Castro on Fernando Pessoa, no thoughts head empty by Michael Sun, and Susie Anderson on my second favourite Siri Hustvedt book.
  • Liminal editor Cher Tan is also the reviews editor at Meanjin, and unsurprisingly Meanjin has now started publishing way more way good quality criticism – huge week for this kind of writing (and books in general) – beyond their usual quarterly publication, they’ll now publish more criticism online as well. I think I saw that they’ll release a few every fortnight, I might be included next time? Not sure when my review’s coming out. In any case, here’s this edition, with Zowie Douglas-Kinghorn writing on Bastian Fox Phelan’s memoir and Scott Limbrick on Steve Toltz’s Here Goes Nothing.

Listening this week to Jake Xerxes Fussell’s NPR Tiny Desk Concert, which is one of the most exceptional ones in the series. There’s a new album by King Gizzard and the Lizard Wizard (there’s always a new album by them, and that’s a good thing). The big find for me this week though is this album by Real Lies. Maybe it’s just come at the right moment to suit my mood, but Lad Ash is just phenomenal, filled with textures and rhythms, and it really just hits a certain nostalgic nerve in me. Waiting is the new Rammstein album – I’ve only heard bits, but I’m very excited to sit down with it properly.

Books on the go are Devin Zane Shaw’s Egalitarian Moments and Antonio Negri’s Political Descartes, both as background for a potential new project. I’ve got a few books waiting to be reviewed for various outlets, but with loose deadlines. I should get to those soon also.