Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil—but there is no way around them.
– Isaac Asimov
There can be no greater succor and anchor for a writer than finding a confidant who understands the trials and tribulations, the unadulterated masochism, uncertainty and self-doubt involved in becoming a writer.
In reality, there can be no more comforting confidant than a fellow writer. Somebody that has toiled over character, plot, motivation and all those other things a writer has to agonise over, and then agonise over more.
I remember attending a British Fantasy Society Open Night for the first time. I was a bag of nerves (they all know more than me, they’ve all read more than me, they all know each other). The meeting was held in an upstairs room at the Princess Louise, a traditional Holborn pub, all glass, brass, class and history. I was a neophyte. Raw. Self-conscious. Unsure.
And I was welcomed. What a wonderful thing it was. Here was my tribe. The writers. The readers. The drinkers. They laughed and didn’t take themselves too seriously but knew what was serious. I talked books and football with one of my literary heroes Graham Joyce (who died far far too young last year – if you have read none of his works I strongly recommend you do – try the award-winning Tooth Fairy or his last book, the magnificent Some Kind of Fairy Tale). Jeff Vandameer snapped me holding his little green alien. I got drunk. Blathered on about Cormac McCarthy. Bought some books.
Later, I attended the BFS annual conference and met more of my heroes including the absurdly talented Michael Marshall Smith. His debut Only Forward, an amalgam of sci-fi, fantasy and dream logic remains firmly in my all time top ten books – if you haven’t read it, read it. He writes superbly about friendship and heartbreak and talking fridges. He also writes top notch, NY Times bestselling thrillers and had the darkly fantastic Intruders adapted for TV. See, told you he was talented.
I also met industry luminary Stephen Jones who has edited oh… close to a million anthologies and collections. I was still nervous meeting all these people and fuelled by nerves and beer managed to offend Mr Jones with some ridiculous point I was struggling to frame (I can’t even remember what it was) and was only rescued from making it worse by a tactful Mr MMS.
One of my golden rules was born: attend and be damned.
I wrote a batch of short stories on the wave of confidence that rolled off the back of that meeting. It left me feeling invigorated, intoxicated and invulnerable. Later, I received great encouragement and critical feedback from members of the society – redundancies that needed cutting, sections requiring a polish and it allowed me to get my writing career back on track.
& why you should ignore this golden rule: see the next golden rule.
next time: You absolutely have to make it on your own.