My last two posts on rejection have been months apart. There are three main reasons why: 1. I was busy writing for others. 2. I was re-writing and editing my 133,000-word semi-autobiographical novel based on my tumultuous years in India and Sri Lanka. 3. I had a series of bereavements that drained me of the inspiration to write anything new.
As the above image suggests (that I took on a recent walk on the beach in front of my home), I’ve been caught between a rock and hard place, but still appreciating the view. These experiences led me to explore the relationship between rejection and loss, and whether dealing with both is part of the writer’s lot in life.
Firstly, in order to build a platform as a writing coach, it’s been necessary to demonstrate my credibility online, rather than focus on crafting posts in what could otherwise remain an unseen internet backwater. However, this entailed shelving this blog for a while which was a type of loss, as I enjoy sharing my musings here with others and the feedback I receive by email.
Yet, this experience has been useful as I’ve been content writing for other blogs, podcasts, and social media accounts, coached a range of writers from diverse academic specialisms, and learned how to turn down badly paid writing gigs – often after my bids had been accepted and fees were yet to be agreed. We’ll return to these points later in this post. So, I’ve been living a writer’s life, and encountering the same issues that my coaching clients struggle with along the way.
Secondly, I took up the long overdue task of rewriting and editing my novel based upon the true story of my time in India and Sri Lanka. There will be a sequel- two are planned. However, taking on board my previous editor’s remarks and recent feedback from a prospective publisher required a big rethink and a new beginning for the book. They made excellent points and spoke to some concerns I also shared.
Taking this on board and beginning again meant I then had to edit the remaining text to accommodate this major change. So, once again, I became immersed in the memories of the wildest adventure of my life as I sifted through the story and ironed out the wrinkles in the plot. I can’t deny that this was emotionally draining work, especially in the context of current events in Sri Lanka and the conversations I’ve had with old friends there about what’s happening on the ground. The seeds were sown for the current crisis over a decade ago and were germinating in the background of my story during my time living on the island.
I then decided that rather than going straight back to a publisher, I’d try to get an agent. So, I had to research who was open to submissions, their interests, and submission requirements. This involved crafting an elevator pitch, a new blurb, and new synopsis. I’m now waiting patiently for a response to my proposal, inviting the possibility of rejection after all that hard work.
While I was preparing my submission, I decided to research strategies for coping with rejection both for readers of this blog, and for me should I need it (let’s face it, who doesn’t?). In the short video below, meditation teacher Todd Perelmuter encourages inviting as much rejection as possible, while learning to interpret rejection as valuable feedback rather than a personal injury. He reminds us that everybody who has become successful has experienced a mountain of rejection along the way, and that embracing rejection is the fastest way to achieving our goals. This sounds counterintuitive in our ego-driven culture, but give him a listen.
Next, after submitting my proposal to an agent, and while editing the remainder of my book, a series of bereavements occurred involving family and friends over the course of just a few weeks. I dropped work for a while and allowed myself some time to process these losses. I took up more intense meditation, walked a lot in nature, and spent time with friends. I reflected on the relationship between rejection and loss, and how rejection can involve the loss of hope. The loss of a loved one can feel like a rejection by life itself, even a loss of meaning or reason to go on, as our interpersonal reference points shift and dissolve.
I found myself drawn to rereading a memoir that is steeped in the experience of rejection and loss to help me gather the threads of these reflections together. Tamsin Calidas’ ‘I Am An Island’ is one of the most hauntingly poetic and moving books I’ve ever read. I say ‘read’, but that’s not strictly true, as when I bought it there were no hard copies available- it had sold out everywhere- I could only purchase the audiobook. There was no Kindle and no paperback published at the time.
So, while doing my household chores I listened again to the audiobook that is so elegantly narrated by the author. Her story describes her experience of rejection and multiple losses, her descent into the undertow of grief, and the loss of meaning that occurs when she confronts her isolation and lack of belonging. Calidas faced a crisis that resulted in surrender and initiation into union with the creative pulse of nature, embodied in the wild landscape of the Scottish island she has made her home.
Given my recent experiences, and my relocation to the Scottish coast during lockdown (not an island, however), I appreciated it all the more the second time around. I began researching her current whereabouts and found some mixed book reviews and a few podcast interviews. I tuned into a couple of YouTube videos to listen to her explain how she transitioned from surviving to thriving in the face of rejection, loss, isolation, and deep despair. My favourite is linked below.
My overwhelming response to hearing her describe the wider context she couldn’t include in the memoir, given the pressure of word counts and space, was a deep respect for her humility and courage. These qualities seem to be key to processing rejection and loss, as both invite us to reframe these painful experiences in the context of something much broader than the personal. Calidas describes an experience of heart opening, and a radical repositioning of her sense of belonging to the ever-present breath of life. She describes her emerging union with the expansions and contractions, ‘the systole and diastole’ of the cycles of nature. Her description of this process echoes the initiation rites common to many indigenous peoples that are required to become fully grown adults in such societies.
So, what has all got to do with the writer’s lot in life? As writers, we must be prepared to face a lot of rejection. A long stream of rejections can risk us experiencing a deepening sense of loss- of hope, of meaning, or purpose. The result of this can be the dreaded writer’s block. Then there’s the temptation to devalue our work by accepting badly paid gigs just to gain a sense of acceptance. However, juggling multiple poor-paying gigs is likely to lead to overwhelm and burnout. So, writer beware!
Despite my experience, skills, and qualifications, I’ve navigated complex contract bids only to be offered ‘extra exposure’ (unpaid work) as my compensation, or rates much less than the minimum wage that are impossible to live on. I’ve also had promised by-lines for blog articles omitted that were then published as ghostwritten pieces. I’ve discovered, to my cost, that there are some personal development ‘authors’ that I doubt have ever written anything that they claim to have written at all.
These rude awakenings to the realities many working writers face have been super valuable. I’m now fully acquainted with the pitfalls of freelance writing which improves the coaching I can offer my clients. Also, I have my name on the front page of Google following a year of hard work writing for reputable blogs managed by authentic people. I’ve learned how to spot the sketchy gigs and can now avoid them. I can help my clients do the same.
However, the most important thing I’ve learned during my first year as a writing coach is not to reject my values when pursuing my own writing goals. Instead, I’ve practised self-help, taken my own advice, and endured the rough and tumble to develop resilience for the long haul. I’m reminded of the old aphorism by the translator of ancient Indian wisdom texts Eknath Easwaran-