Wednesday, March 2, 2016

WRITING 102 - the "R" word ...

In Back To The Future - Marty McFly goes back in time, and meets his father as a teenager.  He's somewhat shocked to find George McFly writes stories.  At the time George's words really struck a chord with me ...

George refused to let anyone else see his writing because, as he puts it, “What if they don’t like it? What if they think I’m no good? I just can’t take that kind of rejection!”

In this article I'm going to tell you about some of my rejection tales - partly so I exorcise some personal demons, but also to really take the sting and fear out of it for you.

Eeek - it got personal!

I never really saw myself as a writer, but back in 2006, I met up with a group of friends who like me were Doctor Who geeks, and enjoyed making Doctor Who themed audios.  I starred in one of those dramas, which you can find here.

The problem came though when I was approached to write a story myself.  I wrote several.  And numerous rewrites ... which were then "dropped".  Sad to say, I did take it very personally (not helped by the fact that they decided not to tell me that decision, until I flat-out asked "when are we recording one of mine?"), and it did cause a lot of friction between us all.

But here's the good news.  I never saw myself as a writer until then ... but then I had a feeling of "something to prove".  Which pretty much "lit a rocket up my arse" to get writing within testing, and led to the first publication on this blog in 2010.

Don't be afraid!

So I started blogging here in 2010 - and I tried to blog regularly.  Initially my blog reader count, and the Twitter account I used to promote was pitiful.  I was learning as I went.

But with each post, I got better.  As I found when I used to run a comedy blog in the early 2000s (the material for which is too dire to reproduce), the more I wrote, the easier it got.

Soon enough I got a desire to get published in The Ministry Of Testing's Testing Planet.  I even ended up getting a position on the editorial staff.  Simples, yes?

Actually, no.  I actually got my first three submissions rejected,  On the plus side, you could say there wasn't a culture of favouritism to the staff going on.  It was a little frustrating for me, especially because as a reviewer I did everything I could to work with a writer to get their article to a publishable state.  And I did feel a little like I wasn't being extended the same courtesy.

However, there were multiple reasons,

  • My first article, "The Agile Haka", had already been published on this blog, and there was an "exclusive content" clause.  [Be aware of this for some places]
  • My second article "The View From The Test Manager's Gallery" was written exclusively for publication on test management, but rejected by Rob Lambert for being too long for the paper.  I was kind of gutted, but Testing Circus got behind me to publish it.
  • My third article  "Schrodinger's Code" was alas too derivative of an article by Elisabeth Hendrickson.  I sometimes feel guilty I don't credit Elisabeth more.  I think although I don't try and emulate her, her writing style has been extremely influential on me - more than any other software testing writer.  Because she taught me to embrace storytelling, and it is okay to be off the wall.  I'm really saddened as you can imagine that she doesn't have as much time to write these days.

Thankfully Testing Planet owner Rosie Sherry knew that at three rejections, it was probably my limit before I just gave up and stopped submitting.  So she handed me to the very capable hands of new editor Simon Knight, who worked with me through my Schrodinger's Code article to produce something on a similar theme, but exploring it in a different way to Elisabeth.

He asked questions, asked for elaboration, asked for clarity .... it was a fun experience, of writing, and being challenged to push myself further.  The end result was an article called "The Software Minefield".  To be fair, the article was better than what I was capable at the time, and it led to a good friendship between myself and Simon.  I eventually was even given an article by Simon to review - submitted under a pseudonym so I wouldn't show favour!

If the price of three rejections was the price of getting to know Simon, it was well worth the price of admission.  I learnt a lot about pushing myself as a writer from him.  I also learned a lot about editing from him.  In fact I'd not have been as good supporting More Agile Testing as a reviewer if not for Simon.

It also led me to the ultimate accolade, where my brother (another Simon) asked me for his help writing an article on change management.  Sibling rivalry is a force to be reckoned with - just ask Cain and Able!

Ultimately, what I'm saying is, don't fear rejection.  Dare to write - but don't be afraid to ask someone "I'm new to writing, this if what I've got, any hints?".  With luck you'll find your own Simon Knight to help you become the better writer!


  1. I've been lucky to have several Simon Knights that made me a better writer, starting with Brian Marick on my first Better Software (it was called something different then) article. I am so grateful to every editor and writer who has helped me learn!

    I love that "Dare to write, but don't be afraid to ask for help" advice!

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