Today I got a nasty email from an agent I had sent 3 chapters of my book to back in January.
I am not really sure why she bothered to contact me as the content of her electronic missive was hardly inspiring.
These are her words of wisdom:
Thank you for sending me THE FLATS, the premise of which I was intrigued by as I like the stories that aren’t told enough. I read your chapters over the weekend and whilst there’s much to admire here, I didn’t engage as I hoped. For me, the characters are a little unsurprising and carried a bit too heavily on the page: I would rather be launched immediately into the story rather than being told about the foibles of each character before I see them in action.
It’s all very subjective, and I’m sure another agent may feel differently. Good luck with this novel and your writing in the future.
I am not really sure how I was supposed to react to this. The obvious and mature thing to do would be to ignore the email, but it irritated me. Sadly we can’t always be the person we want to be,the mature and composed individual who nods sagely as someone pisses on your parade. I would dance with joy if someone told me that they loved my work, but I can’t really see what this person is hoping to achieve. There are no suggestions as to how I might improve it, which I would welcome. Just a wall of negativity.
I’m afraid I told her I didn’t like her email much, which was wrong and to my surprise she replied,with the most insincere attempt at an apology I have ever seen. It made me shout and rage. It triggered feelings of loathing. Then I kind of got over myself.
I think one of the most challenging things about writing or doing anything creative is learning how to process rejection. In fact I think one of the most challenging things in life is about how to process rejection – be it professional, romantic, social, you name it. Do you ignore it and keep going much as before or do you let it destroy you? Do you let it wither your spirit and sour your dreams? It is very easy to let this happen as rejection really isn’t very nice.
I’ve been reading a lot about attachment theory recently – bear with me, this is connected. Attachment theory describes how infants bond with an initial caregiver and how this affects much of their later life. A securely attached individual will process rejection in a mature way, whereas an anxiously attached person (whose mother gave them mixed messages) or an avoidantly attached person (who was ignored) is more likely to let it disable them. This is not their fault, it is just how their experiences in early life have programmed them. Is it the fault of their parents? Probably not either – just the fault of their programming. Generations of fuck ups – as Larkin rightly pointed out.
I have my own theories about my own attachment style (maybe you can work it out for yourself?). After all, would someone who was securely attached be that interested in theories which attempt to unpick their own pathology? I wonder?
It would be easy to see this as terribly depressing – after all what could be worse than thinking that what happened to you years ago has messed you up for life. I used to struggle to believe in attachment theory as I saw it as robbing me of any agency, but certain things that have happened with my own children have made me see more sense in it. And boy is that scary….
The good news is that it is possible to overcome problems caused by your attachment style – it’s not easy, but it can be done. Therapy is important,as is forgiving yourself and also forgiving others. Having secure relationships (partners/friends/children/colleagues) helps as does feeling useful. And also being aware that feelings you have will pass – being mindful and aware of your own emotional landscape. Writing this piece is helping me process the anger my exchange with the agent made me feel and therefore diminishes it. By thinking and writing I can step back from negative feelings – basically why I think I love writing so much. The negative feelings provide a starting point and the rage a fuel. But the process of reflection also neutralises them.
Apologies if I sound like a self-absorbed twat from North London who has read too many articles on Psychology Today (LOVE IT). I probably am. And I was probably wrong to be angry with the agent. There are other agents. Lots of them. There is self publication. There is the possibility that I need to move on and push forward with another project I started and then put to one side. There is always the possibility of change and growth; rejection makes you angry but it is possible to move on and channel those negative feelings.
Basically – I tell students off for starting sentences off with that word – you just have to keep on keeping on, however glib and odious that may sound. Cue the music: