Waiting on God’s Timing, God’s Will.
I have always loved writing. I studied creative writing at university, and spent time submitting poems and stories to magazines, but almost everything was rejected.
At the end of my BA I was forced to acknowledge that it just wasn’t happening, so I ended up doing an MA in Museum Studies. I worked in museums for a number of years, and loved it. There was some frustration that God had not given me either of the two things I most wanted in life; He did not give me a husband and children, and He did not give me success as a writer. But I focused on enjoying my job, growing as a Christian and serving the church.
Then my job was taken away from me. I was made redundant, and had a really horrible experience that knocked my confidence to rock bottom. I worked incredibly hard applying for job after job after job and ended up working part time in a job that was not very interesting, though I was grateful to be able to pay the bills. I was bored, and I had a lot of free time. My friend (who was a journalist) talked a lot about her blog, and I was jealous of her success. Then, one day, it occurred to me that there was no reason why I couldn’t create my own blog, so I did. Eventually, this blog helped me to find enjoyment in life again. It was the right thing for me to do at that point in my life. I wrote book reviews, and the books I was reviewing inspired me to write my own poems again.
Looking back, I can see that God was leading me through a time of learning, of honing my craft, of building my confidence as a writer. I began to attend open mic events and was soon able to stand up and read my work in front of an audience. At the same time, I grew as a Christian in lots of different ways, serving in new roles and developing my confidence in ways that would never have happened if I had not been through this time of difficulty and renewal.
I am certain that God was leading me to this point, where I now have a debut poetry collection published at the age of 38. The quality of my work is far beyond what it was twenty years ago. There is a kind of empathy and humility in my work that could only have come from the experiences God has given me. A few years ago, the publication of a poetry collection would have been a dream come true. Now, it is far more than that. I am certain that God will use it, perhaps in ways I cannot even imagine, to touch people’s hearts. My poems do not preach, but they contain a lifetime of being shaped by God, and I have already seen how He can use them to reach people in unexpected ways. I don’t know exactly where God will lead me next, but I know that He will lead me, and that His timing is perfect and good.
Be humble. Be open. Listen.
I can tell which of my students will succeed almost straight away. Those who read will become better writers. But it is not as simple as that. Students often read only the course material they are asked to read. In an English Literature degree, much of this reading material consists of the literary greats: Shakespeare, Wordsworth, Keats, Virginia Woolf. This is good. It is important to have a grounding in such work, to analyse it and discuss it in class. But if you want to be published now, in the twenty-first century, you also need to read contemporary work. By that, I mean texts that have been published in your lifetime. Texts that were published this year, that are being reviewed and discussed in magazines right now. And you need to be open-minded too, to be willing to persevere with a book even if you don’t like it. To ask yourself: Why don’t I like this? If it was my text, what changes would I make to improve it?
Imagine the literary world as a huge, complex conversation between lots of people. Before you attempt to enter into that dialogue, to say what you have to say, you need to listen. Listening requires humility and patience. It can be a slow, exasperating process. But how can you speak in a way that is meaningful and engaging, if you don’t know what the topic of the conversation is? Read as widely as you can. Join your local library. Buy copies of the magazines that you want to be published in, or borrow them. Writing a book review is also a great way to reflect on what makes a book effective. You don’t have to publish your review, but you may find that keeping some kind of review journal will help you to build confidence in your judgement, which will in turn help you to judge your own work.
Be Generous, Accept Your Emotions.
In the writing community it can be a constant battle to accept others’ success in the face of your own rejection. These feelings of jealousy can be overwhelming at times. One thing I have learned over the years is that it is ok to feel a sense of disappointment when your friend wins that competition, while you didn’t even make the longlist. Remember that God uses these things to make us more like Him. It will never be easy. When you’re finding it particularly hard, try to be generous, if you can. It will help you to swallow down your own jealousy and transfer those feelings into loving kindness. Share their post on social media. Give them a hug. Read their book. Review their book, if you feel you can give an honest opinion.
But if you’re finding things particularly difficult, it’s ok to acknowledge and accept your emotions. I remember sitting in the audience at an event where the ten shortlisted writers were receiving their awards, and the winner of the competition was due to be announced. I had entered that competition, and I had been gutted not to make the shortlist. But it wasn’t until the event began, that I realized no-one was forcing me to be there. I could have gone home, and nobody would have minded.
Bring these frustrations to God. Cry out to Him. Give yourself time to recover. Acknowledge the hurt. Then try to channel your anger, jealousy and disappointment into something constructive like a new poem, or a new competition entry. Some of my best work was born out of pain and despair.
Rejection, Failure and Persistence.
Who is in control of which poem wins a competition? Or whether a publisher says yes, or no? Sometimes it is incredibly hard to take the constant rejection, but we know that, whatever the response, ultimately it is the will of God.
Looking back over my life, the sheer number of job applications that I’ve had to write have clearly taught me a kind of endurance and persistence that is almost laughable, in the face of constant rejection. I transferred this persistence to writing, and God gave me the ability to keep on sending out poems, again and again and again. I am certain that it is only through this persistence that I have achieved my dream of becoming a published writer.
I tried the 100 rejections challenge. It is an idea that originated in the US, where the aim is to receive 100 rejections in a year, and by increasing the number of rejections, you also increase the number of acceptances. While that seems counter-intuitive, it does help change your mind-set, somewhat. It is also true that if you submit a poem or story, you stand a small chance of publication. If you don’t submit at all, the chance of publication is nil.
This system doesn’t quite transfer perfectly to the UK, with long wait times (on average 3 or 4 months) and the fact that many magazines do not allow simultaneous submissions. Instead, I aimed for 100 submissions in a year. That equates to 8 or 9 submissions each month. Alongside a colour-coded spreadsheet, I created a submissions notebook where I write down every submission. When it is rejected, I get the satisfaction of crossing it out. I then send it off again straight away (often with a few more edits) transforming the disappointment of rejection into a new hope. If a submission is accepted, it gets a very large tick!
When I showed my submissions notebook to some Christian friends, they were shocked at how many rejections it contained. I’d say my success rate is extremely variable. On average, I probably get around 1 in 8 or 1 in 9 submissions accepted. One friend said that my notebook was an example of spiritual persistence. It was only then that I began to realise how God has shaped my life in ways that have led me to this point.
Rachel Carney is a poet, academic researcher and creative writing tutor currently based at Cardiff University. Her book Octopus Mind (Seren Books, 2023) explores the intricacies of neurodiversity, perception and the human mind.