The emotional ups and downs of being a writer

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a rollercoaster at sunset. emotional rollercoaster

Like the Radletts in Nancy Mitford’s The Pursuit of Love I too live life in superlative, either on a peak of happiness or drowning in black waters of despair. Maybe it’s just me. But I think a part of it is because I’m a writer. Or maybe I’m a writer because of it? Egg chicken. Chicken egg. Either way you boil it, being a writer is emotional. There are so many ups and downs—the trick is learning how to ride the emotional roller coaster*.

Rejection

This is going to be a pretty personal blog. I don’t usually write this intimately about my own life—mainly because you’d be bored senseless—but I think this story warrants it’s own kind of attention.

Anyway the story all starts when a short story I wrote got rejected by a journal for publication.

The letter I got in response to my submission was a perfectly amiable your story doesn’t suit us at this time kind of letter, but when I read it what the words were really saying to me were; Your writing is rubbish. Give up NOW!!!

I was sitting in the car when I read the email. I’d just pulled up home from a training session at the gym. I’d also just had a body assessment and was told I was carrying most of my fat on my hips. I was fine with that at the time but now? Well I’d been rejected so those fat hips all of a sudden seemed like tumours on the brink of metastasis which would slowly eat away at my body until I died but probably wouldn’t kill me as fast as the rejection tearing at my soul.

I wrote a text message to my husband explaining as much:

My soul is dying and I have fat hips.

Which in my crazed state I accidentally sent to my trainer… embarrassing yes. But he was really nice about it and at least acted like he didn’t think I was a psycho…

But why was I so upset?

As a copywriter I get rejected all the time. There are plenty of times when I’m asked to write a proposal and don’t get the job. So why did it hurt so much when my short story got rejected?

I’ve done a lot of thinking about this and the main reason I’ve come up with is that my fiction feels like it’s from me. Like it’s part of me. When it gets rejected I feel like I’m being rejected as a person. It’s like every one of my insecurities is confirmed. It’s one of the reasons I hate sending work out there.

It actually hurts

Studies have shown that rejection piggybacks on physical pain pathways. This means we actually respond to it as if we’ve been smacked in the face. And there is a good reason for this. In our evolutionary past, being ostracised from our fellow cave people would have been akin to death.

Evolutionary psychologists theorise that the pain of rejection gave our ancestors an opportunity to rectify whatever it was they’d done so they wouldn’t be kicked out of the cave. They believe this is also why the brain can replay the feelings associated with rejection vividly, while physical pain is somewhat forgotten.

So how can you deal with it?

Chances are if you’re a writer you’ll get rejected. I’ve spoken to a lot of writers and here are some of the ways they’ve told me they deal with it:

  • Cry
  • Take a hot bath with a glass of wine
  • Go to the gym
  • Eat chocolate
  • Take up boxing
  • Go for a run
  • Take the dog for a walk
  • Take a nap
  • Meditate
  • Do yoga
  • Read
  • Watch a movie
  • Cook
  • Write

Personally I cleaned the house. While the rest of my life may feel like a mess at least my space is immaculate!

And after that? Well, I got back to writing. I decided (as I always do in these moments) to write for me and forget about everything else. I was still a little depressed but at least I was dealing with it in a positive way and using the emotions to help my story.

The high

This depression lasted for about two days. On the third day (sounds like a biblical story) I got an email to lift my mood.

It started out: Dear Richell Prize longlisters

The first thing I thought was Oh they’ve decided who’s made the longlist, followed the link and realised MY NAME WAS ON THE LIST!!

I couldn’t believe it. I was certain I wasn’t going to win because last years’ winner was so amazing and there was no way I’d be even in sight of her league. But there I was.

I was so happy I was nearly sick and my smile didn’t disappear for hours. Again I got back to writing, this time without having to clean my house first.

Moral of the story

Sometimes being a writer HURTS. I think if you’re doing anything creative and really putting yourself out there then it’s going to. One day you’ll feel like a genius and the next like a fraud. But at the end of the day what I’ve decided is that the most important thing for me is to keep going. As I said in my application form for the prize:

While winning the prize may change everything, not winning will change nothing. I have a burning desire to tell this story and even if I wanted to give up I don’t think I could. I’m that much of a writing junkie and I wouldn’t change it for the world.

Have you ever had a story rejected? How did it make you feel? What are some ways you deal with rejection?

*As you will see from this blog I still haven’t figured this out.

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