Guest Post by Martine Helene Svanevik on The Big Fear: Rejection

Today, I am turning my blog over to the fabulous and talented Martine Helene Svanevik, a fiction writer from Montreal.

I absolutely adore her blog about writing and training over on nascentnovelist.wordpress.com. You should definitely check it out. She tells me she can often be found wasting time on Twitter too.

Martine spends her days editing text for computer games, her evenings powerlifting and crossfitting, and her nights writing twisted stories set in a darker world than our own. She graciously agreed to come on my blog today and talk about the Big Fear writers face…

The Big Fear

I started my writing career in academia with a five year History program at the University of Oslo. Academia is all about harsh critiques. There’s no mollycoddling or pulling punches. You learn to step up and get knocked down. This form of continuous trial by fire makes you handle feedback without taking it personally. And that makes you a better researcher.

After developing a skin so thick it could be elephant hide, I embarked on my journey as a fiction writer,  sure that I’d be equally cavalier about any feedback I got on my stories. How wrong I was. You see, writing academic papers is all about doing the research, working the problem and then phrasing your arguments in a way nobody has thought of before. It’s a job with goals and measuring sticks.

Writing fiction, on the other hand, is like taking a little piece of your soul, moulding it into something you’re proud of, and then being brave enough to open your hands just enough to show that inner part of you to someone else. Having that critiqued is a whole ‘nother world of pain.

After my first writing class, I was crushed. I felt like I’d shown someone my baby and they’d told me it was ugly and that I should never show it to anyone again. I despaired. If even a group of other struggling writers could make me drown my sorrows in pitchers of Rickard’s Red, how was I supposed to send anything out to a publisher?

I went home and I polished and polished, and pushed the date to send my story out by a week, a month, three months, and so forth. The longer I waited, the more comfortable I got not showing my work to publishers. It’s not ready yet, I thought. It needs more work.

Lucky for me, I found a competition that fit my genre so well that I couldn’t let fear get in the way of participation. No entry fee, 50K prize money and a publishing deal. So I polished my manuscript one more time, sought solace with Uncle Whisky, and pressed the send button on my email.

And do you know what? It didn’t hurt a bit. It was exhilarating. As soon as the story was out of my hands, I had room in my head for new ones. Better ones. Of course, I didn’t win the big publishing deal, but I learned that receiving that sad note that says “Thank you for your contribution. Unfortunately…” was not as crushing as I thought it would be.

Did I overcome my fear of rejection? Not at all. I still hold my breath every time I send a piece of my soul out to be weighed and measured, and I still feel like someone stomps it into the ground when I get those rejections back. But I also know that if I want to get published, I need to dare take that leap. And maybe, just maybe, a publisher will measure the piece of my soul that I put in their hands, and find it compelling.

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38 Responses to Guest Post by Martine Helene Svanevik on The Big Fear: Rejection

  1. It’s so hard to put it out there but like you say we have to if we want a chance that we will get a yes one day. Good luck!!

  2. Pingback: The Big Fear « nascentnovelist

  3. Rain says:

    I like your comparison academia writing and fiction writing. They really are so different. Querying is scary, but it’s also exciting. I enjoy the adrenaline rush of pressing send. =)

  4. I for one, find my world a little richer for you not giving up on fiction writing after that first class. I think, ideally, it never stops being painful (not completely). Having feeling in the soul nerve endings is a good sign. Go see a doctor…or a witch doctor, if that ever changes.

  5. Thanks for a fantastic guest post, Martine! I still get twinges when I send stuff out. I love how you compared academia to fiction writing. It’s interesting how distanced we can be in academia but how emotionally attached we are to our fiction.

  6. Samir says:

    This is a really beautiful post. I think it’s great that you turn pessimism into optimism and that fear, when overcome, is liberating and energizing. I’d have to say for myself that I can completely relate to the ‘it’s still not good enough to send out’ syndrome. That’s a good thing, right? Otherwise, we’d be sending out drafts that really aren’t ready to be sent out and we all know where that leads both to the writer and the writing profession.

    I suppose in the end, it’s all bout knowing when to actually stop polishing a draft or keeping it locked up, but instead to release it and… move on.

    • That’s so true. And I definitely think we should all make sure we err on the side of too much polish, rather than too little. That being said, I think I could have kept picking on that draft forever.

      Thanks for reading!

  7. crubin says:

    Great post, Martine. Writing fiction is definitely different from academic papers. As you said, the criticism seems so much more personal.

    Thanks Kourtney for hosting Martine. I will check her out on Twitter!

  8. Great post. That send button sure gives me a momentary pause. 🙂

  9. zelmare says:

    I tried once – not brave enough to try again. I took that as a sign that I was not supposed to be a writer! 🙂 I admire you for knowing what you want and persevering. Good luck!

  10. jmmcdowell says:

    There is such a difference between academic/professional writing and writing fiction! The styles are as different as the critiques. Overcoming that feeling of rejection has been the hardest thing for me. But I keep writing. And I think I get better at it.

    Lovely guest post!

  11. CC MacKenzie says:

    Great post, Martine.

    And so true. It’s the scariest thing in the world to put your work out there but you don’t grow as a writer until you do.

    Once we lose the fear of failure there’s nowhere else to go except up and we also need to understand that we’ll never ever stop learning the craft. How wonderful is that?

  12. Enjoyed the interview. This is a great line: “a publisher will measure the piece of my soul that I put in their hands, and find it compelling.” Most writers can identify with that – well stated!

  13. It's the little things that make life great.berry says:

    Great guest. Love the sharing of thoughts. Best of luck.

  14. mj monaghan says:

    This was a great guest post. I love Martine’s comparison between academia and writing fiction.

    The release of the novel, in a physical and mental sense, makes total sense as well. Very thought-provoking!

  15. Eden says:

    I wonder sometimes if the personal nature of fiction isn’t why we (as readers) also get so entranced by it. We see fiction as a connection with another human being.

    Lovely post, Martine. Thanks!

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