Monday, October 20, 2008

Toes, Fabulous; Writing, Crap


I’m in a funk lately. None of my writing projects seems to be going quite right. The last scene of Folly’s chapter one needs work. The flash piece I started in Rhinelander over the summer is…not quite right. I’ve shared it with writing buddy Jane and she says she likes it. But something about it just…isn’t right.

It has me wondering: why can’t there be some universal rule about writing that, when things aren’t right, we know to check a certain thing and—VOILA!—we arrive at the answer. Or why can’t someone invent the Revise-O-Matic? We plop in the rough draft, press a button, and –WHAMMO!— out spits a polished manuscript. But I guess that’s the thorniest bitch about writing: it’s never easy. If it is, I know better than to trust it.

Personally, I think it’s the pressure that’s getting to me. I’m a one-track thinker and having two projects really messes with me. And deadlines are doing me in. I need to get both these pieces done before I go to Vegas next week. But I sit down and don’t know where to begin. I’m on overload.

I have no answers. Vegas is looming and I’m excited. In the meanwhile, I need to clear the decks. After the two projects, my top priority should be spending this week thinking of what I want to research while I’m in Vegas. Instead, I spent the morning giving myself a pedicure. My toes look great, but my writing is in shambles. It makes no sense, but the whole writing process rarely does. The biggest mystery: why we do it at all.

Thursday, October 9, 2008

The Beauty in Rejection


A week or so ago, a writer friend emailed to ask what was new with my writing. I filled her in on the highlights: small forward progress on Jamieson’s Folly. Two rejections on short stories I’d submitted.

She emailed me back how badly it sucked that I’d had my stories rejected, how awful she felt for me. As I read her response, I remember shrugging my shoulders and thinking, “Gee, it’s not that big of a deal.” I appreciated her commiserating with me—that’s what friends are for—but what interested me most was that I’d crossed an important threshold in my writing career. I’d learned rejection is part of the process.

It got me thinking. Back a year or so ago, I was sick at heart over every single rejection I got. I remember whining (and I mean WHINING) to my writing workshop buddies over the endless rejections I’d gathered. I was angry, too. How could these editors not think my work was gold? Were they just too stupid to get it?

They weren’t. But I was. Back in those days I didn’t see rejection for what it is: opportunity and conditioning for publishing.

As for opportunities, I think rejections offer a few:

One, rejections opened the door for me to view my work with fresh eyes and see where I could grow and develop. Any time I get better at my craft, that’s a very good thing.

Two, the opportunity to mature. My stack of rejections fueled my hunger to publish and to do that, I needed to improve. To improve, I needed to get past my fragile ego. To do any of this, I needed to work hard and persist. I think rejections serve to separate the wheat from the chaff. Quitters get rejections and give up. Those who persist grow and develop into better writers. Writers who persist and work hard eventually get published.

Now conditioning: It’s hard when an editor responds to a hopeful submission by saying he thinks my story sucks. But it’s harder to have my work published for all the world to see and have people flagellate me publicly. Rejection taught me: some people say rotten, mean things about my stories just because they’re rotten, mean people. And some people just don’t like my style. But those early rejections helped me toughen up. To learn we’re all different and we all like different things. To not to take people’s opinions too seriously. Rejection taught me to be tough and discerning. I listen to everyone, then sift through for what’s useful.

Back to my friend: she’s an extremely talented writer with lots of potential. She’s new to submitting, so I think those rejections have more sting. She received her first acceptance a few weeks ago and I confess, I was a little jealous. Everything seems so easy for her. Her acceptance came on say her third or fourth-ish submission. As for me, I’d gotten something like 15 rejections before I ever had anything accepted. (To make things worse, that magazine failed before my story got published, and I persisted through another long dry spell.) But in retrospect, I’m grateful for the beauty that came from the rejections. I hope she gets to endure them, too. Her potential will only be met if she faces a little adversity. Like in life, it’s the way we grow.