Darlings, Rejection, Craftsmanship, Evolution

James Bruce May stares into the barrel of submission.


The image falls unbidden and the waiting writer catches it in cupped hands. Here is art which can begin or end, add colour or depth, enhance or defuse, bring stillness to a stanza or perform the quiet work of a metaphor. Whichever ideas come, writers take them and nourish them and with their unique voices place them on paper where art meets craft.

Some images are stronger, more vivid than others, and these are the darlings paraded on the page with pride. They can be mothers and fathers of stories or poems, a centre point, a recurring theme, a focus. They can become part of the work’s DNA.

But what when a publisher, editor or literary agent rejects the work containing these ideas?

Everybody knows that agreement with such professionals is crucial for most writers who hope to bring their work to a wider audience. Given their position and experience within the publishing world, their opinions, although individually subjective, are well-informed and so should be heeded. They know the fashions of readers, they see what is popular and what is not, they know which ideas will thrive.

Rejection is sometimes suggestive of interest and writers might hear in reply to their work, ‘You’ve got something here, but it’s not quite right for the present market.’ Perhaps advice will be given to try a more familiar approach, closer to what today’s reader might expect. It may be suggested that the image is altered, just a little:
‘Her touch was delicate, like a breath of wind curling in the palm of his hand.’

Though the revision seems obvious and the intimacy retained, writers are uncomfortable with changing their work to suit market trends. It is here then that the decision must be faced: accept the rejection or adapt the darling?

To choose both is best.

To return to the body of the work and ensure it earns the duty of carrying the original image is first. The writing process is long and so another draft doesn’t hurt. Here rejection proves positive for it provides more time to nurture and reinforce ideas. Just as an artisan hones and polishes until perfection is reached, writers must be diligent and check each word is placed with care. And the more rejection, the larger a portfolio in circulation; the busier the workshop, the more practiced the craftsman.

Meanwhile the flames of refusal should be doused, for burnt bridges are perilous to cross. Bitterness brings alienation and distraction. Focus encourages evolution. The progressive writer, the well-practiced artist made robust by rejection who adopts and develops advice, will find new ways to share ideas with the literary world. Those first images pass on their strengths and watch their darling offspring parade the page with a new pride.

The circle complete, the writer returns to catching the unbidden, awaiting inspiration:
‘She took his hand in hers, a breath of wind curled across his palm.’

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James Bruce May read Creative Writing at Greenwich University and Goldsmiths College in London.
To read more of James’s work visit his blog: jamesbrucemay.blogspot.co.uk

You can follow James on Twitter @james_bruce_may

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