Are you a hedgehog or a fox? It’s a question that goes back to an Isaiah Berlin essay and one that helped Malcolm Gladwell determine that he was destined to become a journalist, not an academic.
A fox knows many things, but a hedgehog one important thing.
The distinction is wafted at, but totally unexplained, in this slightly unhinged profile of Gladwell in the Independent. The most interesting thing Big Malc says is when he’s asked whether he has ‘a gift’ for writing:
[I]f someone worked really hard could they write like me? Yes. But it’s a bit like saying, if someone worked really hard they could have your personality. My writing is who I am. Is good writing available to a larger group of people than we think? Absolutely. But the amount of work that goes into my writing… The last piece I did was 12 drafts, and if you write 12 drafts, I guess it’s going to be a pretty good piece, but how many people will do 12 drafts?
It’s not a style; it’s who you are. It’s not a gift; it’s hard work.
Which brings me neatly onto…
The value of persistence in comedy writing
I’m currently reading Good Habits, Bad Habits by Wendy Wood, one of the world’s leading social psychologists. She describes one piece of research that shows how we consistently underestimate the power of persistence.
At Northwestern University, Brian Lucas and Loren Nordgren asked a group of comedians to come up with as many punchlines to a setup as they could in four minutes.
Then they had to stop and tell the researchers how many more ideas they could come up with if they carried on for another four minutes. Typically, the comedy writers reckoned that they’d come up with fewer ideas after the break.
But when they were forced (presumably at gunpoint) to work for another four minutes, the comedians actually came up with more ideas than they expected—almost as many as in the first burst of creativity.
Lucas and Nordgren’s follow up studies showed that we particularly underestimate the value of persistence for creative tasks. In one experiment with over two hundred participants, the responses generated while persisting with the task in the second time period were significantly more creative than the responses generated initially.
Those of you who follow my thoughts to a frankly intrusive degree, will know of my fondness for Albert Camus.
Not only was he a goalkeeper of some repute (see Monty Python), but as a philosopher he had the flair of a novelist. Or as a novelist he had the flair of a philosopher. I’m not sure which. I’ve asked Jeeves and he doesn’t know either.
In ‘The Myth of Sisyphus’, Camus lays out the logic of his practical philosophy. The argument (as pertains this newsletter) goes as follows:
There is no god.
So there is no ultimate arbiter of right and wrong, good and bad.
Therefore the old philosophers’ hunt for ‘the good life’ has been a wild goose chase. It’s impossible to live a good life because there is no good if there is no bad.
So are there no suggestions a jobbing philosopher can offer on how to live? Yes, there are – Camus proposes. To live not better, but more.
By aiming to get the most out of life we are not dependent on outcomes of subjective good and bad. Camus offers up three avenues for most living.
The actor gets the most out of life by playing hundreds of different roles, sometimes covering the entire span of a life from birth to death in a single day – twice if there’s a matinee. This is the archetype of freedom.
The conqueror – whom Camus imagines a kind of soldier – lives constantly in the shadow of death. When you deal in death, life tastes moreish. This the archetype of revolt.
The Don Juan uses romance as the road to most living. Rarely do humans feel more alive than when indulging the fiery emotions of love. This is the archetype of passion.
These are the three archetypes that Camus sketches for us, but it’s easy to imagine myriad sub-types – the paramedic and the mountaineer are sub-types of the conqueror, for example.
My primary interest here, of course, is the actor. In fact, most of us are actors already – but perhaps we’re not getting the most out of the masks we wear. Perhaps we try our hardest to apply the same make-up and costume every day.
There are good reasons why we might want to do that. But if there is no good… What harm can come of trying another role today? It’s not forever – the actor melts into another role as easily as night follows day.
So what harm can come of trying another role for ten minutes, in the time it takes you to ride the train two stops?
Expression and Suppression
We seem to have two modes of living (here I deviate from Camus): expression and suppression. I am either expressing something or I am suppressing something.
There are good reasons, again, why I might want to suppress some impulse. And, besides, we can’t express everything all at once: that way mania lies. But the basic distinction is there: either I express or I suppress.
But if there is no good or bad, and our only philosophical position is most living, then there is nothing to be lost from expression.
So why then do we suppress? Personally, it comes down to a fear of rejection by other people. Even when there is no one in earshot, I can feel a weighty oppression from social norms.
Rejection challenges are a great way to turn such obstacles into opportunity. An obstacle isn’t a roadblock if it’s a game.
Games are areas of life around which we draw a boundary of rules. Inside, we play; outside we work. But those boundaries are arbitrary.
There is no reason why – again, given that there is no objective good or bad – that we can’t as individuals draw our boundaries in a wide compass around all of life, and play as the actor plays.
Can I give you an example?
In Foiled, Sabrina is a god-awful hairdresser with a penchant for chucking customers out of her salon. One of her favourite lines is ‘No, absolutely no way, come you – out!’ I think Camus would have approved: she says exactly what she wants to say.
It’s a role, of course. But it’s an extraordinary useful role for us in day-to-day life. Sabrina speaks the unspeakable. And she speaks in such heightened language that, with a smile, she helps us say things we could never say.
We put the words into her mouth that we dream of saying to others. And little by little we build our courage until one day some outrage is visited upon me, like I’m served a dodgy cup of tea, and I say those words: ‘No, absolutely no way…’
Sometimes we need permission to express ourselves and, in a world with no good or bad, fictional characters give us that permission. Roles like Sabrina are stepping stones that pick a path through our comfort zone.
We can try a new character on for size, change the cut of our clothes, use new language and tone of voice, take on different mannerisms. Take a peek over the other side of the wall. Try out the priest or the predator.
We have a choice. Expression or suppression, action or inaction, attraction or rejection, stasis or growth, sensitive or resistant, yang or yin.
Acting begins with empathy. On stage, you know very quickly whether an actor is engaged empathically with the character and with you, the audience.
If all the world’s a stage, then we players must find the empathy in our roles and with each other. For empathy is the conduit that connects us and allows the plurality of experience that Camus prescribes.
To two men living the same number of years, the world always provides the same sum of experiences. It is up to us to be conscious of them. Being aware of one’s life, one’s revolt, one’s freedom, and to the maximum, is living, and to the maximum.
In our third year of Foiled, I feel like I can say something about the rhythms of writing a radio sitcom. Settle in, this is a long read.
Writing a sitcom episode is like building a house (kinda)
In reality, Beth and I usually start laying bricks before we’ve got any blueprints. If you hired us as builders, you’d probably want your money back.
Whether any of those early bricks make it into the final building is a matter of luck. The risk is that we’ll fall in love with some clever brickwork, which makes it all the harder to tear the folly down later.
But it feels good to write ourselves into the series, reacquaint ourselves with the world and the characters. Unlike in construction, in writing nothing is ever really wasted.
Typing through a script, once the plans are finally in place, is pretty easy now we’re in our third year – a matter of placing one brick alongside another and remembering cement. By this point, we know the returning characters back-to-front; and the hardest part is always putting together the episode’s new characters.
Once a story is written out from start to finish, it’s clear where the problems are. We can start the heavy manual labour of ripping walls down, moving the bathroom into the kitchen, and adding a loft conversion. This part of the process feels very physical – huge swathes of script cut and, sometimes, pasted.
As the story sorts itself out, we move onto the fine work of painting and decorating, sanding and polishing. At this point, we can stand back and admire our handiwork, or – as so often happens – realise that the whole edifice is about to collapse and we need to buttress our walls or tear them out.
The timeline of construction
Foiled was re-commissioned at the end of 2018. The first mention in my diary of any writing comes in mid-February. We were slow to get started, basking in the glory of a commission, putting off the actual labour.
By this point we’d already got the broad ideas for stories: something about a work exchange, something about hedgehogs, and something about a cash and carry. It’s not a lot to go on.
We really started working on the scripts from the beginning of March, with ten days together in London. By the end of this spell, we’d pulled together the ‘beats’ of each of the episodes, and run them past the producer with mixed results.
The ten weeks through the rest of March, April and May were mostly spent working separately, with increasing dedication.
By the end of April, we’d sent the producer first drafts of two of the episodes. The third episode follows in early May. The producer sends us notes. We tear our hair out in gratitude.
The week before the writers rooms, we send the producer what we think will be approximate working drafts. We’re wrong, for two of the episodes at least. Frantic re-writes ensue.
The two days of writers rooms at the end of May give a burst of energy to all three scripts. Which is handy because we only have 9 days before the recording.
Luckily, by this point I’m in London and Beth and I can work together more closely, in the high-rise, riverside solitude of my friend’s flat in Woolwich (thanks Tim!).
A hangover the day after the final writers room doesn’t help, but long days mean that by Monday lunchtime we can send the producer what we think are two finished, record-worthy scripts – Episodes 1 and 4.
Again, we’re wrong about one of them – something we realised only yesterday.
In the meantime, we go over the final script – Episode 2 – with a fine tooth-comb, tightening the nuts and bolts of the story and turning place-markers into zingers. We send it off on Wednesday morning in a blaze of emotion.
Why are we doing this, again?
That night, I re-read Episode 4. After two days’ creative distance, and having raised the bar with our work on Episode 2, we decide that the mid-section is completely wrong. One of the characters is just floating along and a pair of titanium toaster tongs appear at the episode climax for no discernible reason.
It’s not just the amount of work needed that’s a concern. The scripts have already been sent to the actors and the sound engineers have already done the work needed to make sure all the SFX are in place. A new script for Episode 4 is completely out of the question.
So yesterday morning, I start working on the re-working, and Beth starts working on the producer. She jokes that she’ll pull out of the project if he doesn’t accept the new script. At 2pm, with the ‘new’ script almost finished, I go for a swim in the Thames to await his answer.
None of us do this for the money. I don’t think the producers have made more than a few pennies from Foiled. Beth and I get paid, of course, but it’s not much more than minimum wage.
The only real reason for writing and recording Foiled is for the sake of the work itself. This is our creative reputation. Tomorrow’s recording will almost certainly outlive all of us. The oldest recording in the BBC archives is dated to 1890. The scripts that go into St David’s Hall tomorrow will be humbly printed on eternity.
So it’s fair to say that my leisurely swim yesterday was quite stressful. Could I even bear to sit in the room as the old script was being recorded?
The good news is that our producer gave the new script the green light. And we worked into the summer dusk sanding and polishing Episode 4. It’s now a piece of writing that I’m proud of and I reckon it might make you laugh.
So the writing is done. All that remains, for me at least, is to send one of the actor’s a recording of my sister’s partner speaking Danish, and to get myself to Cardiff tomorrow.
Oh – and then start work on Episode 3, which we’ll record in a studio in London at some point over the next month. The cycle continues!
For those of you interested in a more detailed breakdown, the first two weeks of March involved about 8 hours per week of script-writing. We stepped up script-writing to about 11 hours a week for the seven weeks from the beginning of April up until the week before the writers rooms at the end of May. For the last three weeks I have done almost nothing other than work on Foiled: more than 20 hours a week on script-writing alone.
I write this not to show off, but to show you honestly the work it takes to write three episodes of a radio sitcom: about 150 hours of pure script-writing, plus plenty of other work behind the scenes on story-writing and talking things over with Beth and the producers.
By complete coincidence, I got an email this morning from a man who saw Foiled at the Edinburgh Fringe in 2016.
We met you in George Square gardens in 2016 when you talked us into coming to see Foiled that afternoon. Brilliant!! We’ve raved about it ever since and watched its success since then.
It blows my mind to think that there are people out there who, years later, are still thinking about the work that we’ve done. This is what I mean when I say that we don’t do this for the money.
Series 3 of Foiled – indeed all of Foiled since 2013 – has been a wonderful experience; thank you for your support and I really hope you enjoy listening as much as I’ve enjoyed writing.
UPDATE: After writing this, a fellow writer of radio sitcoms got in touch to share his data. In terms of hours, I was reassured how similar they were: he takes 55-65 hours per episode.
Where we differ is on how spread out those hours are. Beth and I spent about 74 days working on Foiled since the beginning of March; my correspondent and his writing partner cover similar ground in only 40-50 working days.
But they do have 30 years’ writing experience on us!
And, just like that, it’s May and we’ve only got 5 weeks to finish Foiled. So far, we’ve delivered the first drafts of 3 of the 4 episodes, and got notes from the producer on 2 of them.
First drafts are funny beasts. Every time we finish a first draft, we think that it’s more or less great. In spite of all experience, we hope that this time will be different and the producer’s only note will come back: ‘This is so good, would you mind turning it into a Netflix series?’
Strangely, this is yet to happen.
All first drafts have problems. Some bigger than others. But those producer’s notes land in our inbox like a letterbox turd, stinking the place out with their effortless skewering of the plot holes, character motivations, and the Purple Line of Doom that strides over pages of boredom.
Made all the worse by the fact that, deep down, we knew these problems were there all along, and all we can say is daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaamn.
The only remedy to producer’s notes is, of course, panic. Swiftly pursued by exactly the same attitude that got us into this mess: sitting down and writing a lot more words.
Nothing ever came out right first time, and this series won’t either. But it’ll get written the same way it did last year: patient hours in front of a computer screen. Putting the time in. Sitting there and writing until eventually something good pops up.
The skill, if there is one, is in spotting the good when it pops, grabbing hold of it, pinning it to the page and not letting go until it’s been bled dry.
This episode of Rule of Three with Miles Jupp analysing his favourite episode of Frasier has given us good writing energy. Now all we’ve got to do is avoid plagiarising!
Pay attention team because I’ve got some very important newses. We are salon of the year!
Wales’ least active salon of the year?
No, awards-wise: we are Clipadvisor’s Salon of the Year.
Really?! Us? How exciting! How?!
Oi! What do you mean how?
So we wrote way back in 2016 and now, just 3 short years later, Foiled has been nominated (Hold on, we haven’t won?) for best radio comedy at the highly prestigious Celtic Media Awards.
Compared to theatre, writing for the radio is a strange experience. We write the scripts, have a laugh recording them, listen to the broadcast with butterflies in our stomachs and then – nothing.
No one reviews radio comedy. No one gives us the listener figures. We have no idea how the show’s gone down with our audience – or even if there was an audience. We have no idea which episodes – or even jokes – worked for our listeners, which didn’t, and why.
In Bird By Bird, Anne Lamott paints a pretty picture of this eternal, gaping, yawning silence. She’s writing about book publishing, but it seems to me that the sense of emptiness and craving is the same for radio.
There will be a few book-signing parties and maybe some readings, at one of which your publisher will spring for a twenty-pound wheel of runny Brie, and the only person who will show has lived on the street since he was twelve and even he will leave, because he hates Brie.
So it’s wonderful for something, some acknowledgement and approbation, to come crawling out of the ether and say: YOU DID A THING AND WE LIKED IT.
The nomination cites my personal favourite episode from the last series, starring Miles Jupp as Richie’s dad. Sitting across from Miles as he read out words that I’d written was one of the most thrilling events of my life last year.
There is nothing more rewarding for a writer than to watch a talented actor rub your words together and make sparks fly until the whole thing catches fire.
But where do we go now, now we’ve been nommed by the Celtic Media Awards? Will the Celtic imprimatur spur us to write ever funnier scripts – or will we become complacent, crippled by our glory like Wet Wet Wet after Four Weddings came out?
I guess I can turn to Anne Lamott again:
The fact of publication is the acknowledgement from the community that you did your writing right. You acquire a rank that you never lose. Now you’re a published writer, and you are in that rare position of getting to make a living, such as it is, doing what you love best. That knowledge does bring you a quiet joy. But eventually you have to sit down like every other writer and face the blank page.
For now, big love to everyone for supporting Foiled. I’ll get Beth to give you a shout out in her acceptance speech. (Hold on, we still haven’t won?)
Foiled has been clipping along all week, with the usual ups and downs. Example: We thought we had a lovely opening episode until our producers said the BBC won’t countenance anything to do with people going missing. Spoil sports.
As I write this, Beth is out networking with potential famos for Series 3. She’s pulled in some wonderful guests over the past two years: Felicity Montagu (currently in This Time With Alan Partridge), John Culshaw (Dead Ringers), Ralf Little (The Royle Family) and Miles Jupp (News Quiz). Blows my mind to see them all written down like that.
When writing with someone else, you have a balancing act to perform between working alone and working in tandem. Too much of one and you fall into narcissistic solipsism; too much of the other and you die from caffeine poisoning.
I think my favourite, most productive moments of writing Foiled have come in two thankfully common situations:
Beth pacing up and down in the kitchen, and me at the keyboard frantically trying to synthesise her comic stream of consciousness into grammar.
Working in the same house, but in different rooms at our different tempos, with enough excuses to share snippets while re-boiling the kettle or filling a bowl with homemade soup, and occasionally, for a change of scenery, swapping scripts.
These shared moments are why I don’t think I could ever be a solitary novelist – or at least, not a contented one. For some people, writing is a way of life; for me, life must be a way of writing.
After last week’s missive on rejection, this week I’ve dabbled in a little rejection therapy. I can’t tell you the story of what I tried on Wednesday, but I can describe what happened when I took rejection out for a spin yesterday.
Picture the scene…
Drenched on the aptly named Fishponds Road, I walk out of the rain and into a hair salon. A lone woman sits in an armchair (I can already see that it’s a special kind of salon), footling with her phone.
‘Hi there. I’ve got a bit of a strange request.’ Oh god. That sounds like I’m going to ask for a lumbar massage. ‘Well, it’s not that strange. I’ll explain. I’m a comedy writer and – ‘ Confused looks. Legitimise, legitimise! ‘It’s for the BBC.’ Back on track. ‘It’s a sitcom set in a hair salon and I like to come into salons and, you know, soak up the atmosphere.’ What am I saying? Who, you know, knows that? ‘Would you mind if I sat here for fifteen minutes, if you’re not busy – or you can get on with what your doing, I can sit in the corner while you…’
This is a definite no.
She puts her phone down: ‘Would you like a cup of tea?’
I’ve caught Lara at a good moment. She’s got 15 minutes before her next client – an unusual occurrence at Tame The Mane, the only all-vegan, all-natural hair salon in the UK.
Teaching English to Libyan teenagers divided by Gaddafi’s Little Green Book, Lara dreamt of escaping that dead-end and running her own business. She spent 3 years writing up a business plan to set up a cafe, before her little brother had the temerity to suggest she open a salon.
Temerity because Lara hates hairdressers and, even more so, salons. She couldn’t sleep for three nights after her brother’s infuriating suggestion.
But the barb had lodged.
‘I’ve loved hairdressing since I was five or six. I used to beg my grandmother to do her hair. Every Sunday night: Can I do your hair, can I do your hair?’
As a teenager, Lara learnt hairdressing from an Italian woman and cutting hair became a great sideline for cash right through her English degree and even while she was teaching.
Then she realised that maybe her brother had a point: she couldn’t be the only one who hated your typical salons.
Sometimes we struggle to see what was right in front of us all along.
Tame The Mane looks more like a stylish living room than a styling salon. Potted plants crawl along any available surface. The walls are decorated with portraits of colourful women – not crass posed photographs, but original oils and pastels.
Lara wanted to create an anti-salon atmosphere and thought that her all-vegan, all-natural approach would draw in an exclusively (and quite possibly penniless) hippie clientele.
There’s a record player (‘Can’t play records, though, because of all the hair – didn’t think that one through’) and a bookcase where she does book swaps.
But she was far wrong about the hippies.
The mirrors are covered with scarfs, and Lara will only remove them if a client asks. So she gets a lot of clients who suffer from anxiety in other salons. ‘I get people who haven’t set foot in a salon for years.’
(Plus it’s weird, huh, having someone watch your every move while you do your job. I hate people looking over my shoulder when I write.)
Lara passes me what looks like a laminated menu. It’s a lucid explanation about why she only uses natural products, about how the salon business is so often built on convincing customers to put crap in their hair.
She offers suggestions about how we can reduce our reliance on products that aren’t all that different to Fairy Liquid, from diluting harsh shampoos to simply using a squeeze of lemon juice.
The back of the ‘menu’ has two recipes for Lara’s products: an oat conditioner and a flax gel. They sound delicious. There are more on her blog, free for you to create for yourself. If you don’t have the time, Lara’s got her own apothecary out the back.
With a mischievous smile she suggests that, if you want a protein-enriched wash, you should really just crack an egg on your head (although not in her vegan salon). It strengthens the hair, and gives a really nice shine, she says.
As an English graduate, Lara often dreams of writing her salon stories up. I’m lucky to have the chance to turn lives like hers into, well, this. And who knows what snippets from our conversation might turn up in Series 3 of Foiled…
It’s not every week that I read a book cover-to-cover in under 48 hours.
Admittedly, at only 200 pages Rejection Proof by Jia Jiang is a quick read, but I absolutely guttled those pages.
Why? Because Jiang offers a creative solution to a problem that I think almost every live human being struggles with: rejection.
This video is how I first heard about Jiang’s 100 Days of Rejection experiment. It’s a good primer for what follows. Enjoy.
Dave’s Short History of Rejection
My history of rejection is short not because my life has been an endless cavalcade of glorious successes, but because, for the most part, I have gone to great lengths to avoid sticking my neck out and asking for anything, you know, worthwhile.
Example 1: Romantic Rejection
It took me until 2013 before I first told someone I really liked that I really liked them. Terrifying.
They did indeed reject my approach, but frankly by that point I didn’t care. The panic over saying anything to this person far outweighed the disappointment of the negative response by about a million to one.
This million-to-one ratio is about the same for ‘Love interests I longed to approach’ against ‘Love interests I actually approached’.
Combined with my everyday fear of social rejection, the number of missed opportunities for connection with other human beings is staggering, and all because of an egotistic, and unnecessary, fear of rejection.
Example 2: Book Rejection
For the most part, I have avoided professional rejection by not taking a profession. When I have held jobs, I have tended to do the work and then go home, not doing anything that would call attention to my work and thus invite rejection (or, indeed, approbation).
I have, however, written several books. Occasionally, I have sent the manuscripts to agents and publishers and have been rejected every single time.
I think I’ve received about 5 rejection letters in my life, ever, including the following unexpectedly expensive one.
J.K. Rowling famously received 12 rejections for Harry Potter alone; William Golding got 20 for Lord of the Flies; Carrie by Stephen King garnered him 30 rejections before selling over a million copies in its first year and being turned into, not one, but three feature films, and, improbably enough, a musical.
It’s pretty easy to avoid rejection if you don’t put your work out there. I think it’s fair to say that I haven’t embraced professional rejection despite knowing full well that it is an essential part of the process.
Example 3: Rejection on the Road
Hitchhiking has taught me a lot about rejection. Standing on the side of a busy road with a smile and a sign, or walking up to strangers in service stations and begging for a lift: it’s a cold recipe for relentless rejection.
Even so, somehow I’ve always managed to get where I was going. Somehow, as Jiang says, ‘rejection has a number’ and persistence usually pays off if you’re willing to be flexible.
My least successful hitchhike involved about 3 hours of rejections – but I still got a ride (after changing my approach). How’s that for rejection? Pretty good, I’d say.
In most of the rest of my life, however, I give up after a single rejection (if I even get that far). Why is that?
Example 4: Critical Rejection
When me and Beth took Foiled to Edinburgh in 2016, we wanted to be judged. So much so that we actually paid a PR company to get critics in to review our show. We positively invited rejection.
The hefty weight of that judgement was shared between us, but it still wasn’t very nice when we got a stinking review from a well-respected critic.
I don’t think we ever seriously doubted our material, and it helped that the audiences didn’t seem to either, but the review was (and still is) there in black and white on the internet. A fulsome rejection of everything we’d worked so hard to create.
In this case, there was nothing we could do except rationalise what he had to say (it’s just one opinion, it was based on a preview, and we’d already addressed some of his criticisms) and use it as motivation to make the show the best it could be.
We didn’t shut down the PR company and tell them to invite no more critics. Thankfully, the critics kept coming and Foiled ended up with a couple of phenomenal reviews, which we could use to sell the show to producers and, ultimately, to the BBC.
Example 5: Reader Rejection
My Friday newsletter is a weekly opportunity for people to reject me and my work. The unsubscribe button is right there at the bottom of every single email.
Even if people aren’t unsubscribing, I can still see who is opening the newsletter and reading to the end. It’s usually just under half.
After over 2 years of newsletters, I have become comfortable with the fact that some people will unsubscribe and no longer read my words of comfort and joy.
I have eventually come to see unsubscribes in a positive light. It’s not that I’ve failed them, or that they are repulsed by the very essence of my being; it’s just that we weren’t a good fit for whatever reason.
Indeed, with the unsubscribers gone, my reader percentage numbers should go up – and that’s a good thing. Seen this way, unsubscribes are a gradual honing of my audience to the shape of my work.
Notice that, unlike my approach to publishing, I have persisted at newsletter-writing, drilling through the prison walls of ‘rejection’ to the green pastures of unbounded creativity.
(Whereupon I abuse my freedom and write ridiculous sentences like the foregoing.)
The lesson is that avoiding rejection can be incredibly damaging – not in the short term, perhaps, but certainly and abundantly in the long term.
What opportunities have I passed up through fear of rejection? Could I be a published novelist by now? Could I have found the loves of my lives?
Fear of rejection is a crime of omission. If you give yourself no chance of rejection, then you also have very little chance of progress.
In pursuit of 100 rejections, I put myself forward for opportunities I’d previously thought were for smarter, funnier, cooler people. And sometimes I wasn’t rejected. I wrote for new publications, got a joke-writing gig on my favorite comedian’s radio show and interviewed guests on my podcast who I’d thought wouldn’t waste their time on me.
Emily ended the year with 101 rejections and 39 acceptances.
[O]ur experiments weren’t a magic solution. Andy is still unattached, and I’m still living paycheck to paycheck. But we’ve taken more chances and come closer to getting the things we want. So I don’t regret committing to this masochistic rejection project. It made me feel embarrassed, depressed, overwhelmed and self-indulgent. But I also felt that I was moving forward instead of standing still.
As you can see, the Department for Work and Pensions are optimistic that my comedy writing career is really going to take off over the next 31 years. I’m sure that the reason they have so much confidence is that they’ve heard I write in Arcot Street. Continue reading Everyone needs an Arcot
In other news, the opening of my novel-in-progress was reliably eviscerated at Curtis Brown on Wednesday.
Fifteen different sets of educated critique of my work. Fabulous. As you’d expect, there were equal and opposite opinions on particular lines, but also a useful seam of agreement.
However, the most valuable feedback I got was completely unwitting: this is not the opening to the novel that I’ve actually written.
On the basis of my 3000 words, everyone was expecting a riotous satire of modern life as the hero wades deeper and deeper into cult worship.
It’s not that. It’s not that at all. But maybe it should be…
On Tuesday, Curtis Brown held a Q&A with two literary agents and a publisher. One of the pieces of advice the publisher gave was in equal parts useless and invaluable:
When I asked her to elaborate, she replied that readers can ‘just tell’ when an author is being truly sincere and that she wouldn’t publish anything that bore even a whiff of abdication.
But the question of sincerity cuts far deeper than the superficiality of a novel. It asks what I really believe in. What I really really really believe in. What I believe in so much that I’m willing to spend 80,000 words arguing with myself about it.
Sincerity is a fair demand to make of the author. Who wants to read anything so insipid that the creator couldn’t even muster the attention to sustain his own passions?
I caught sight of the Zac Efron A-Z in the library earlier and felt a pang of sympathy for author Alex Kincaid (That’s speczacular!).
It’s one thing sincerity being a reasonable demand for readers to make; it’s quite another to bear that weight as the congenitally doubting writer.
Is Alex sincere in his gushing (and alphabetically comprehensive) lionisation of an eminently forgettable Hollywood celebrity?
Credit if you are, Alex. You deserve every penny of your Public Lending Rights (7.82p per loan: not a route to fortune but that’s another story altogether).
But what about me? Will I discover what I believe in?
UPDATE: No. I’m abandoning novel writing, for the next few decades at least.