Last Friday the Lady Holly and I were lucky enough to attend The Porch Sessions. Think of it as a travelling mini festival. Really mini. Set in someone’s backyard. Four musicians, which this year consisted of Ryan Martin John, Tim Hart, Stu Larsen, and Natsuki Kurai, travel around Australia in a number of vans, playing shows in backyards of people who volunteer the spaces. A small crowd of music lovers then spread out on the supplied rugs and blankets, underneath streamers and lights, and picnic and drink while listening to some great tunes. We were those people, and it was excellent. The atmosphere was perfect, intimate but relaxed, and the music incredibly enjoyable. The standout by far was Natsuki Kurai, a harmonicist from Japan, who performed his set with Stu Larsen. He did things with a harmonica that had be heard to be believed. It was like he was singing through it, so natural did he make the sound. He also managed to use the harmonica to make background sounds that matched the lyrics, beat box, and elevate every song it was a part of. Unsurprisingly, their duo is today’s blog song.
Words written for the year: 19,539
I wrote a few weeks ago about my four new years goals, which were, in short; writing, running, reading, and photography. The goal being to increase all of these activities, using a measurable target for each of them. But I also have an unofficial goal for this year as well, one linked to writing. It is thus:
Collect as many rejection letters as possible*.
At the tail end of last year I had two close calls with awards — a longlisting for pilot script, and a shortlisting for a novella — and those close calls have motivated me. I’m going to enter everything, I’m going to submit more of my writing to competitions and magazines than I ever have previously, and I’m going to collect rejection letters like twelve year old me collected pokemon cards.
You may be thinking, surely the goal should be to win or get published, not collect rejection letters, which is where the above asterisk comes in.
*and acceptance letters where possible.
There are a couple or reasons that asterik is a subset of the goal and not the main goal itself.
First, I have no control over whether I win, or whether an editor likes my story. Literally, none. I could try to change my writing so that it fits the niche of whoever I’m submitting it to, and I should definitely be aware of their preferences, but ultimately it’ll still be a Damian Robb story told in a Damian Robb way, and if a Damian Robb story is not what they’re looking for then there’s nothing I can do about that. So, setting my goal to “winning” is unrealistic and ultimately pointless.
Second, receiving rejection letters is what writers do. I’ve read a number of books on writing, and follow an even larger number of writers blogs, and without exception every writer I look up to has an impressive collection of rejection letters. Stephen King, in his early days, kept his rejection letters on a nail above his writing desk, and wrote this in his book; On Writing:
“By the time I was fourteen the nail in my wall would no longer support the weight of the rejection slips impaled upon it. I replaced the nail with a spike and went on writing.”
Likewise his son, Joe Hill, also now an acclaimed author, shared this tweet on twitter showcasing the amount of rejection letters he got for a single story.
Of course both those guys are successful authors, so it’s easy for them to show off these war wounds, but it’s important to remember they weren’t when they received them. Being a seasoned writer means receiving rejection letters. It’s a collection, a thing to stockpile, to bring out and show your friends, not something to be ashamed of.
Third, I want to feel positive whenever I submit a piece of writing. I should, right? If I’m submitting something then I have 1) written something (that’s good!) and 2) had the courage and belief in that writing to share it out into the big bad world of possible rejection (also good!). Also, by changing my mindset so that receiving a rejection letter is seen as a good thing, a necessary step on the road to becoming a writer, that’ll stop me feeling like a failure whenever I receive one. I don’t want to feel like a failure, I want to feel like a writer, and they way to feel like a writer is to keep writing; something that becomes infinitely harder to do when I feel like a failure.
Fourth, that pile of rejection letters will become the metaphorical ladder I’ll use to reach greater heights. Writing, like any skill, requires practice and feedback; putting your work out there before it’s ready because that’s the way to make it ready. Having places to submit my writing gives me more reasons to write, and, if the magazine or competition offers it, will provide me with feedback on how to improve. The more rejection letters I receive, the better my writing should become, until, hopefully, they’re not rejection letters anymore.
I’m already off to a good start. I’ve made a spreadsheet (how I love a good spreadsheet) with a list of magazines to submit to on one axis, and a list of finished short stories on the other. There are already a number of crosses (indications of rejection letters) littered across the cells, and I plan to get a lot more before the year is out, and, possibly, a tick or two as well.
Remember, the important thing isn’t to succeed, but to keep trying