Hazel McHaffie


Against the odds

I am blown away by the courage and fortitude of so many of my fellow authors. Not just battling a harsh system in a difficult and fickle industry, but succeeding against all manner of odds.

Why is this in my mind this week? Because I’ve just re-read an exceptionally good issue of the writing journal Mslexia  (Winter 21/22) which captures the indomitable spirit of women who have picked themselves up, dusted themselves down, and got right back in the saddle. Inspirational stuff. What are the puny obstacles in my path against these giants?

There’s Faye Keegan who overcame poverty and depression and anxiety and lockdown and moving into a boat too small even for her writing desk. She’s still constantly grappling with boat-related crises, but she’s back writing.

Then there’s crime writer Joy Ellis who struggled with ME, the collapse of her upmarket floristry business, being homeless, injury in a motorbike accident, innumerable rejections and disappointments, but now in her 70s, with over 3 million sales under her belt, and publishing three new titles a year.

Jesse Sutanto is really really hard on herself and has had her fair share of rejection. After 11 years of serious writing she’s still only had three of her nine novels published. Does she give in? Certainly not. She overcomes the inner voice that constantly berates her by writing really really fast so she can outrun it! She aims for 2,000 words a day, and writes in bursts of 15 minutes at a time. ‘Nothing is too intimidating if you only have to do it for 15 minutes’, she says.

When Matilda Tristram was diagnosed with bowel cancer during her first pregnancy she used the experience to advantage by writing a comic diary about it! It was both therapeutic and confirming, educating and entertaining, emotionally beneficial and artistically valuable.

All power to the writing hands (and hearts and minds) of any who are struggling against demons within and without.

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Encouraging facts for struggling writers

Mslexia‘Tis the day before Christmas, when all through the house … hmm, yes, creatures are stirring, but hopefully not a mouse … all presents are safely delivered or under the tree, wine is mulling, carols playing, lights twinkling, larder and fridge full … Pause for thought …

Top of the list those who are grieving or weighed down with life’s troubles. I surround you with huge sympathy and concern. May you find courage and strength to go on; may you in time find peace. For now please forgive my moving on to matters of far less moment, but this is a blog about writers and writing.

Next on my list then, all those of you who have ever doubted yourselves, or known deep despair. Those who have struggled to get published, who have felt hopeless and diminished. Those who have burned/shredded/drowned a manuscript following a rejection slip or an ominous silence from a prospective agent. Those whose hearts are failing them for fear of another year of knock-backs. Yes, you, my fellow writers. I’d like to send you a seasonal gift: some heartening statistics culled from the latest Mslexia magazine. In short, hope.

Man Booker Prize winner, Marlon James, was rejected 78 times before his first novel was accepted for publication. I bet you haven’t amassed 78 yet.

Gertrude Stein submitted poems for 22 years before having even one accepted. OK, you don’t write or even like poetry. I get it.

It took Malorie Blackman two years, submitting eight/nine different books, and 82 rejection letters before she was published. Now that’s what I call determination and awe-inspiring self belief.

The HelpKathryn Stockett‘s bestseller The Help was rejected by 60 agents. What does that tell you about agents? Flick your nose at that one you selected – who’s heard of her anyway?

Elmear McBride‘s multi-award winning A Girl is a Half-formed Thing made the rounds to agents and publishers for nine years before someone recognised its potential. OK, it has had poor reviews from the public but at least it’s risen above the radar.

Zen and the Motorcycle Maintenance by Robert Pirsig made it into the Guinness Book of Records as the most rejected bestseller. It was rejected 121 times before going on to sell five million copies. 121! And you thought you were in the wrong job?

We Need to Talk about Kevin-book-coverBestselling We Need to talk about Kevin by Lionel Shriver was rejected by her own agent (who rated it so poorly she made Shriver pay the bill for photocopying) and 30 publishers. NB. Shriver went on to marry said agent’s husband! Phew. Some revenge, huh?! Hey, I never said those were the kind of tactics to adopt.

Author of twenty novels Anne Tyler has disavowed her first four because she now shudders at the lack of redrafting and character development. If you’re still within your own first four … or eight … or more … come on! What are you – a mouse?

A recent survey of 2254 women writers by Mslexia revealed that one in three submit less than a fifth of their finished work. Why? Because they fear rejection. Hmmm. Chin up folks! Re-read the above facts … And again … Perseverance and sheer cussed determination – that’s the name of the game. So, enough of doubt and timidity! Gird your loins and get that manuscript out there in 2016. It certainly won’t get noticed languishing in the drawer marked Failures.

And all blessings of the season whatever it means to you to all readers of my blog, struggling or not, writers or not. Thank you for your support.Christmas gift


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