Dry Spells Perspective #4: Kari Maaren

Some writers take never having a dry spell as a point of pride. “Oh,” they’ll say, smiling faintly with disdain, “I don’t get writer’s block. My imagination is always flowing. Writer’s block is really just unwillingness to work.”

My imagination is always flowing too. Right now, I am happily imagining those writers slowly sinking into a bog. They don’t realise what’s happening until it’s too late. Their cries of despair warm my withered heart.

The thing is…I used to be one of them. I used to be smug. I was sure I would never have a dry spell. The stories were everywhere, right? They were, metaphorically speaking, ripe fruit hanging from the branches of a highly symbolic tree, just waiting to be picked. All I had to do was reach out and take them.

There are many reasons the metaphorical story fruit may vanish from the symbolic branches. Hell, there are many non-reasons too. Inspiration doesn’t need a reason to disappear. But I’d like to focus on one of the fruit scourges many never imagine will be a problem. I’d like to talk a bit about what happens when a life-changing event comes along and, well, changes your life. What you may not realise at the time is that it can also change your writing.

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My mother started exhibiting symptoms of Alzheimer’s disease a few years before her diagnosis in 2011. In movies and TV shows, Alzheimer’s is often portrayed in the early stages, with a character maybe forgetting a few words every once in a while, or in what the writers imagine are the late stages, with a character sitting at a window and staring blankly out of it for hours. The truth of the disease is much more complex and messy. I felt as if my mother were being taken away from me piece by piece. Horribly, as the disease consumed her, it also seemed to consume my memories of her as she had been. I still have a hard time remembering my mum before Alzheimer’s. She turns up in my dreams sometimes, but she’s gone in the morning.

The seven-odd years of my mother’s disease comprised the longest dry spell I had ever suffered. It wasn’t a complete dry spell—I wrote comics and music in that period, and I did work on novels and novellas—but it was a time in which the stories seemed to dry up. I couldn’t finish a novel. The stories had beginnings but no endings. I would go for a walk, and instead of spending the walk dreaming up stories, I would find that my mind was a roaring blank. All the old stories, the ones that had occupied my imagination for years and that I had been sure I would get around to writing one day, seemed suddenly flimsy and juvenile.

This was all happening as what would become my first published novel was slowly working its way through the submission, acceptance, and publication processes. It felt sometimes as if Weave a Circle Round would be the last novel I would ever write: as if the stories were gone forever, just when I desperately needed them. I spent a lot of time in tears. I was losing my mother, and I was losing my creativity.

It’s hard to see the cause of the dry spell when you’re right in the middle of it. It took me until some months after my mother’s death in December of 2016 before I even realised that my grief and my writer’s block were connected. I’m pretty sure it was the realisation itself that started me writing again. I went back to a novel I had failed to finish during my seven-year drought, started from scratch, and wrote it all the way through. As I did so, however, I discovered something else.

Somewhere in those seven years, my writing process had changed.

Before my mum got sick, writing was easy. I would sit down at my computer, the world would disappear, and the words would flow out onto the page. I could write a novel in a month and a half. Now the writing was coming in fits and starts. I kept having to go back and rewrite chapters. One chapter needed to be completely reworked three times before I could move on; I later rewrote it twice more. I got to the end of the novel, but I had to delete the entire climax and try again. The story seemed to be fighting me. The words wouldn’t obey. Where I’d once soared on the wings of poesy, now I was hacking my way through a swamp full of spiky, thorny words that wanted to hurt me back.

I discussed this with another writer on Twitter at one point. She was going through some devastating grief of her own and was struggling to come out of a dry spell. It was, she said, going slowly: she still hadn’t finished anything, but she was inching along, writing two novels at once, something she had never done before in her life.

Maybe, I said, you’re now the kind of person who writes two novels at once.

It was a lightbulb moment for both of us. Maybe we were both different people now. Maybe being a different person meant you also had to be a different writer. And maybe that wasn’t a bad thing.

It’s possible I’ve been struggling so much with my new novel because I’ve been trying to write it as if it’s one of my old novels. I need to grab a clue from my beloved Samuel Taylor Coleridge and approach my writing as someone who has made it all the way through the Ancient Mariner’s story and come out the other side sadder and wiser. The dry spells caused by traumatic life events aren’t fun, but they may just be trying to tell us something.

So if you find yourself in this position, don’t just sit there silently plotting to boil cheerful writers who never ever have writer’s block in oil. Think about why the dry spell is happening. If it’s just a random visitation from the Writing Gods, so be it, but if you’re locked in a futile struggle with the ghost of your old self, pause a bit and try to get to know whoever you are now. The writing process isn’t the same for everyone, and it may not remain the same for you throughout your life. You may eventually find you’re the kind of person who writes two novels at once, or who needs to rewrite huge swathes of the story multiple times, or who approaches characterisation differently, or who needs stricter deadlines, or who has developed an unexpected love affair with enormously long sentences, or who suddenly does more subplots, or who leans towards science fiction instead of fantasy, or who is more interested in picture books than novels, or who has an overpowering urge to produce a musical about bees. Get to know the person you are at the moment, and listen to what she has to say.

You never know: someday, she too may be the kind of writer who soars on the wings of poesy.

Kari Maaren is a writer, cartoonist, musician, and academic who has no spare time. Her first novel, the Andre Norton-nominated Weave a Circle Round, was published by Tor Books in 2017. She has a completed webcomic, West of Bathurst, and an active one, It Never Rains, and she has produced two CDs, Beowulf Pulled My Arm Off and Everybody Hates Elves. She is fond of time travel and titles that begin with “W.”

Dry Spells Perspective #3: Andrea L. Mack

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photo: Claudia Osmond

I like to write every day. I can’t always do it, but I know I’m happier and feel more alive when I’ve written something. Writing is what I turn to when nothing’s going on and I want to have fun creating characters, worlds and worst-case scenarios. Writing helps me sort my thoughts and share feelings. It gives me a sense of purpose and a sense of accomplishment. It brings order to my day. So when a dry spell hits, it’s a big deal.

Dry spells frustrate me. I want to write but I’ve got nothing. No new ideas bubbling up. No genius fixes to solve challenging plot problems. Words that I do manage to eke out are dull, bland, boring. My mind is as blank as the page in front of me. Every bit of creative juice has drained away.

It’s probably good advice not to push too hard. Walking away from the blank screen can seem like it’s taking you further away from what you want, but there’s something to be said for replenishing the idea well. Take a vacation from writing. Walk in the woods. Take deep breaths. Appreciate nature.

Dry spells are unpredictable. They can last for a couple of days or many weeks. Sometimes, there’s a legitimate reason, like the aftermath of a family crisis. You can tell yourself it’s understandable to need a break. Maybe it is time to try a different creative pursuit to spark the idea-generating side of the brain. Or maybe you’re just so tired at the thought of coming up with fresh new ideas that all you can do is flop down on the sofa and watch Chopped re-runs.

When I’m feeling really empty, I sometimes find it useful to take a course or workshop. New perspectives on the craft, even just to remind me of what I already know, can ease the frustration of a dry spell. Sometimes, it can even mean the end of the dry spell by inspiring new ideas or techniques.

One of the worst things about dry spells for me is how, if I can’t generate any writing momentum, doubts and insecurities start to creep in. I worry. I’ll forget how to write anything good. All the work I’ve done will be wasted. I’ll never write anything worth reading ever again.I crave the sense of accomplishment that comes from solving a writing problem, but I feel like there’s a wall between me and what I want to do. I get kicked back into a bog of self-doubt and lose faith in my abilities. Why did I even think I could be a writer?

This is where patience is important. Acknowledge that it’s okay not to be writing. They might not talk about it, but other people do have creative dry spells. Even though I’d like to be sitting at my computer every day clicking away at the keys, that’s not always how it works. In the meantime, it’s better not to add to the pressure.

One thing that gives me comfort is reading through my many writing notebooks. I see how I’ve struggled and how I’ve learned. I re-discover ideas I’ve jotted down. I notice when I’ve been discouraged before and gotten past it. Eventually, little flickers of ideas begin to return. Here and there. Maybe not all at once. Maybe not as fast as I’d prefer. But if I’m patient, and have faith, I know the creative spark will come back. It always does.

ANDREA L. MACK writes fiction picture books and middle grade novels. She reviews books on her blog, That’s Another Story, from the perspective of a teacher and a writer. Andrea has been a judge for the Cybils Awards and her published works include many books and articles for educational publishers. When she’s not writing, she teaches kindergarten. Andrea grew up in Thunder Bay, Ontario and now lives in Mississauga. You can find her at http://www.andrea-mack.blogspot.com

Dry Spells Perspective #2: Andrew Tolson

Okay, I’ll come clean.

I gave up.

Despite the number one piece of advice from writers, editors and agents, which is never give up. In fact, it’s usually in caps: 

photo credit: Silk Kaya

Like it’s shouted across a vast chasm filled with the souls of all those who quit. Don’t be one of those poor fools! NEVER, EVER GIVE UP!!!

But still.

I gave up.

I rarely give up. I’m the person who slogs through the muck, to the bitter end, come hell or high water.

Stubborn? I suppose.

I began writing fiction while also starting a photography career, which was equally as difficult a field in which to succeed. But on a whim, I wrote a short story. I wasn’t sure why, but the idea seemed fun. When the story was accepted for publication in a pretty good magazine, I thought, well, that wasn’t so difficult. Maybe I should write a novel.

So, I wrote a novel. Which got the attention of a literary agent and was shortlisted for an award for unpublished writers. And again, I thought, well, that wasn’t so difficult.

Then things got difficult.

The book never sold. I changed agents. Several more novels were written over several years. None of them sold.

Frustration at the mysteries of the publishing world squeezed the joy from creating and giving life to the people on my pages. By now, GIVING UP was edging over the horizon. Still, there was further muck to be slogged. More hell. More high water.

More novels written.

None sold.

And finally, finally, I GAVE UP.  After the rejections and ‘almosts’, the thought of more turmoil was, honestly, not worth the trouble. The cold hard truth was this: the world did not need another novel. Least of all mine. Declarations were made, plans cancelled. Words laid to rest.

Goodbye writing. Good riddance.

For a few years, I was happy without writing.

Relieved, in fact.

Then.

An idea. Kind of a whim. I didn’t ask for it to appear in my head. It just did.

I ignored it.

Soon a voice whispered, ‘How about scribbling a few words about the quirky idea rattling through your brain? No harm in that. You know you want to….’

No, no, I’d GIVEN UP! This was not a dry spell. I was a reformed writer. I wasn’t going back.

But the idea scratched and itched until it demanded attention. Could it hurt to put pencil to paper? Maybe an hour here, an hour there? No need to research agents and editors or devise a global marketing plan for a ten book series.

I was done with all that.

I didn’t mean for it to happen, but the idea became something else. A story. Then came another surprise: I discovered the craft.

My old writing process was this: throw words on the page and move them around until a story emerged. But the craft showed me a better way. I became nerdily obsessed with narrative structure, character arcs, outlining, pinch points and mid points, endings and Saving the Cat. My Kindle was jammed with books on hooks and dialogue and film theory. Gimme me a movie, any movie and I’ll spot the inciting incident – even with my eyes closed.

Unlike the publishing world, craft made sense. Craft and I became best buddies. When craft tried re-introducing me to writing, I wasn’t interested. Writing was all about expectations and rejection. Craft didn’t judge.

But craft was, well, crafty because that idea soon became a novel. And with each draft I crafted, I had the same feeling as when I wrote that first short story years ago; it was fun.

So, here’s what I know: GIVING UP was the best thing I could have done. Craft and process are what turn my gears. When the expectations and rejection of writing rear their ugly heads, craft is there to keep me grounded.

For the record, writing and I have become sort of reaquainted. We don’t have much to say to each other yet. We’re taking it slow, old wounds healing. Though, writing is starting to ask this: does the world need another novel?

Yeah. Maybe one more.

 

ANDREW TOLSON is a photographer, videographer and competitive tea drinker. He also writes books full of adventure for young readers. He divides his time between East York and Toronto. Say hello here: http://www.twitter.com/andrewtolson

Dry Spells Perspective #1: Bev Katz

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photo credit: Claudia Osmond

Dry spells. Well. I’m kind of an expert. I’ve had so many long ones, I hardly remember how to type. But I will try, because this is IMPORTANT. Settle in, lovelies—this is a tale. A tale followed by a very lecture-y, Lessons Learned section. (You’re excited, right?)

So. I published my first novel, a romance, just before I got pregnant with my first child. What great timing, thought stupidly naïve and optimistic twenty-something Bev, who promptly left her full-time, in-house editing job and planned to get a book published every year…

Hahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahahah.

I did leave my job, but couldn’t get another book published for the life of me.

I realized I’d used that first book to process some of my own life experiences (though of course, the thing morphed into something completely different during the writing process) and it seemed I couldn’t just pump out stuff I wasn’t feeling. Okay, I told myself. Think about what you really want to write, and wait until you’re inspired.

I waited.

And waited.

And waited.

Like, for years. Meanwhile, I published a writing-related zine and took on freelance editing projects while being a fulltime caregiver to my two adorbs children.

Finally, ‘chick lit’ (ugh, still hate that handle) became a thing and I was inspired again. Funny books about relationships! Sign me up! I got one published by Harlequin’s ‘Flipside’ imprint.

Which promptly tanked cuz suddenly there was too damn much chick lit on the market.

More waiting.

Then I became inspired by the MG and YA books my kids were reading.

And I wrote I Was a Teenage Popsicle. Which landed me an agent and sold quickly in a two-book deal to a big house and was optioned for film and television. (Note: it sold to a YA imprint, which required me to hit a certain word length. This will become important later. There is no test.)

The sequel, Beyond Cool, tanked. Sequels are hard, y’all. But actually, the entire MG/YA market was tanking cuz it, too, had been flooded after Harry Potter.

I did manage to sell a book about a teen genie to a large German publisher, but it didn’t sell in North America.

And of course, nothing came of those TV options. (Except a season-long gig as a writer on somebody else’s show. Which I wasn’t very good at.)

It was at this point I realized that what I’d tried to establish as my ‘brand’ (funny and contemporary with a sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal twist) probably didn’t play to my strengths. I’d never been a huge sci-fi/fantasy/paranormal reader, though I did love some offerings in those genres. Like many MG/YA writers back then, I think I’d just been secretly hoping to pen the next Harry Potter. Really, I just wanted to tell stories about people and families and relationships—the stuff of everyday life—in my own funny-but-not-funny way.

It actually took me several years to reach the above conclusion. Once I did, I started writing again with baby steps. Some short stories. I thought the first few were really good.

Then, of course, I shot myself in the foot by thinking I could create a connected short story collection for the YA market. Connected YA short stories weren’t actually a thing, but surely I’d be the exception! *Sigh.* Of course, the stories I wrote to fill out the book were crap, so naturally, nobody wanted it. (Also, connected YA short story collections turned out to definitely not be a thing.)

Another long wait.

Then the American election happened. And I rage-wrote a book in three weeks.

It was short and funny, aimed at the MG market. No padding for length this time.

It got a few rejections, but then it sold. To someone who has asked me for more books!

Short, funny, contemporary MG. It’s taken me decades to realize that’s what my long-form stuff should be. (In fact, I’ve rewritten the Popsicle books as MG books AND THEY’RE SO MUCH BETTER! As I said earlier, I really struggled to hit the YA length in those books, and always felt bad about padding them. I hope to get them republished as MGs.)

I’ve also realized–weirdly, now that my kids are grown–that I desperately want to write short, funny picture books. A couple of them are currently going through the acquisitions process at a big house. The editor there likes my style, too, and has invited me to send her more.

I’m under no illusions that it will be smooth sailing from here on in. But I do know now that a long dry spell–or two or three or four–will not end a career.

Here are more Important Lessons I’ve Learned:

This writing thing isn’t for the faint of heart. It’s a business of highs and lows. The highs are very high and the lows are very low. Long dry spells—whether externally or internally induced–are, in fact, the norm. You’d best get comfortable with that.

Have a backup. Most of us cobble together a living with a combination of writing, editing, and teaching gigs, and we also try our best to get paying speaking engagements and grants. Honestly, if I had to do it over, I’d have never left my full-time editing job. Once out for a certain amount of time, I couldn’t get back in. I tried. I now tell young writers—especially young women writers—to never, ever leave their jobs!

It’s okay to take breaks. It’s okay to not write every day. Currently, the conventional wisdom seems to be that you aren’t a real writer if you don’t put your butt in the chair every day and hit a certain word count and blah, blah, blah…

Eff that. Putting my butt in the chair every day just resulted in piles of crap that didn’t sell. What works for me is waiting until I’m inspired to write something. (I can afford to wait because I have a backup—a now very successful editing business. Again, HAVE A BACKUP! AND DON’T QUIT YOUR DAY JOB!)

Finally, you do you. Write to your strengths. Take the time to figure out what you’re meant to write. What do you like to read? What do you feel passionately about? What lessons have you learned in your life that you’d like to impart in a book? (PSA: Do not write hammer-over-head, obvious message-y books. Kids hate those.)

I’ll end now. Even though I could do this all day. Suddenly, it seems I have a lot to say…

THE END

BEV KATZ is an editrix and author whose hobbies include dancing, hiking, and smashing the patriarchy. Her upcoming middle grade novel Who is Tanksy? comes out in Fall, 2019. More about Bev at http://bevkatz.com/

Rejection Perspective #3: Joanna Karaplis

Rejection… from the other side

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photo credit: Silk Kaya

If you’re a writer who’s submitted your work to publishers, odds are you’ve received at least one rejection letter. Maybe it was a short form letter signed “Editorial Department.” Or maybe you lucked out and got a longer letter, signed by a real person, with constructive feedback and the invitation to submit your work again in the future. But no matter what form it takes, rejection is rejection — and it can sting.

I’ve received my share of rejection letters, but I also started my career on the other side of that relationship — as the person doing the rejecting. So let me invite you behind the curtain as I talk a bit about what it’s like to be entrusted with evaluating unsolicited manuscripts at a publishing house.

Before you read on, a few things to keep in mind:

• During my time working in the book industry, I worked at four different publishing houses. This post consolidates my experiences across them all.

• I focus on printed, unsolicited submissions because they are (a) the most common and (b) the type of submissions I dealt with most frequently. Many publishers do not accept unsolicited electronic submissions, and some don’t accept unsolicited submissions in any format. Also, you will likely have a completely different experience if an agent is submitting on your behalf.

• I switched industries five years ago, so (a) some publishing houses may have changed how they do things since then and (b) I cannot help you get published, sorry!

• Finally, my experiences are just that — personal experiences, not objective truths.

OK, let’s dive in! Journey back with me: I am in my early twenties, and the most junior person in the office. I am bestowed with the weighty responsibility of reading hundreds of manuscripts and deciding which (if any) should be brought to my editor. Here are some of the things I learned:

There are a LOT of unsolicited submissions

I don’t think most writers who send in their work imagine the number of unsolicited manuscripts piling up at any given publishing house. Even the smaller houses I worked for were getting around five to 10 manuscripts or more per week, which adds up to 260–520 per year. I’m sure larger houses receive thousands per year.

Reading unsolicited submissions could be a full-time job, but it’s not

Given the volume of manuscripts publishers receive, they could easily hire a full-time employee (or several!) to read them all and respond. However, that would be expensive, and the return on investment would not make it worthwhile — very few manuscripts get published (though some do!), and of those, even fewer go on to be blockbusters (this is true of all books, regardless of their path to publication).

This means that generally, it’s a relatively junior person — a publishing assistant, editorial assistant, or even an intern — who gets the first shot at reading unsolicited manuscripts, and they fit this in on top of their other job duties.

When I was working in this role, I was given a lot of trust and responsibility. If I rejected something, no one else in the company would ever see it. And if I found something I liked, I brought it to my editor to read. Now, editors are notoriously overworked; despite their job title, they spend their days doing pretty much everything but editing, and then go home to spend hours actually editing. So if I was going to take up my editor’s time, I had to be really sure that I had something worth pitching. It was always easier to find a reason to reject something than a reason to invest in it, which brings me to…

You need to make a good impression quickly

When I was trying to fit in 30-60 minutes a day to go through the pile of submissions, I had to be as efficient as possible. There simply wasn’t time to read each one thoroughly, especially if the publisher committed to responding within a specific time frame.

Things that caught my eye:

• Strong writing, in both the (short, to-the-point) cover letter and the submission

• A solid, interesting, original idea

• Previous writing credits (highlighted in the cover letter or a C.V.)

Things that ensured a form rejection letter:

• Weak writing (typos, grammatical mistakes, bad punctuation, etc.)

• Unoriginal idea (“hey, this is just Harry Potter set in space!”)

• Material that was a bad fit with the publisher (erotica for a children’s publishing house; poetry for a house that publishes only non-fiction; etc.)

It’s a huge compliment if you get a personal rejection letter…

The vast majority of unsolicited manuscripts receive a form rejection letter. So if you get a personal rejection letter, it means that your work caught someone’s eye. Take it as less of a “no” and more of a “not yet” or “not this one.” If I was moved to write a personal rejection letter, my main aim was to encourage the writer not to give up.

… but don’t go overboard

Generally, you don’t need to acknowledge a personal rejection letter. If it was sent via email, you can reply with a quick “thanks for taking the time to respond!” Otherwise, wait until you have either revised your rejected manuscript based on the feedback, or have a different work ready to submit. Then you can address your submission to the person who sent you the rejection letter, and remind them about your previous interaction. (“In May 2017, you rejected my novel Kindling Flames, but encouraged me to submit future work. I have enclosed Petra and Paddy, a coming-of-age story about a shy nerd and her talking dog.”)

This should go without saying, but please don’t write back (or worse, call) to argue that your work shouldn’t have been rejected or to demand a further explanation. You will make the person wish they’d sent you a form letter instead, and they will avoid future submissions from you.

I was always anxious about signing my name to a rejection letter for this very reason: sometimes, it was seen as an invitation to question my decision or ask me for much more detailed editorial feedback. I understand the thirst for constructive criticism, but you’ll have much more success hiring an editor to help you improve your work than trying to get those services for free from someone who (a) does not have time, and (b) is likely not an editor anyway (more like aspiring editor, in my case back then!).

And don’t ask for your manuscript back

Every now and then, I’d get someone asking me to mail back their manuscript, even if they hadn’t included a large envelope with enough postage to do so. Once, someone had enclosed an appropriately-stamped envelope, but their manuscript had been recycled by mistake — they were livid, and convinced that I’d stolen their work and was planning on publishing it and keeping all the profits. Please believe me: if your work gets rejected, the publisher will recycle it, not secretly publish it. Promise.

So, to wrap up

You probably already know this, but getting traditionally published comes down to a combination of luck and hard work.

Sadly, the luck part is out of your hands. It’s about your timing, and how your work aligns with the person reading it, the publisher they work for, and what’s already out there in the market (or currently under consideration). You can’t predict all those factors, so don’t stress yourself out by trying.

The good news is that the hard work part is the bit you can control. So start there: write your story, research publishers and their submission guidelines, find an agent if you want to skip the unsolicited submissions pile.

Rejection will happen, but it doesn’t need to be the end of your journey to publication. Keep writing, keep submitting, and keep improving. And treasure those personal rejection letters — at least until the publishing offers begin to flow.

JOANNA KARAPLIS started her career in the Canadian book publishing industry, and now works in internal communications. She has two published works with McKellar & Martin Publishing Group: Fractured: Happily Never After? (2010) and Chester Gets A Pet! (2016). She is originally from Vancouver and now lives in Toronto with her husband, son, and cat. You can find her at http://www.joannakaraplis.com

Rejection Perspective #2: Josiah DeWit

The room is dark. A single light shines down on me. A second party sits alone in the corner, barely illuminated.

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Photo: Silk Kaya Photography

“But you still love me, right?”

I reply, “I do, but to be honest, I don’t have a clue why.”

“I’m irresistible.” The figure’s head tilts upward.

“You could say that.”

“You’ll never reject me.” It gets up onto its knees.

I turn away from it. “Whatever.”

“You need me.” It approaches ambitiously.

“Maybe… But it’s definitely not mutual, apparently.”

“What do you mean? How could I exist if it weren’t for you?”

Lips protruding as I exhale loudly I say, “Maybe. We need each other.”

“But what’s getting to you? I can tell that something is eating you. What’s eating you my friend?”

“It’s just that…” My nostrils flare as my head tilts toward the floor. “ I thought you’d… I thought you would get me there.”

“Get you where?”

Sheepishly I state, “You know. Closer to my dreams.”

“Ah. The D word.”

“Yeah, the D word. I said it. My dreams. And don’t hold it against me for having them. Everyone has them.”

“Oh, I don’t hold it against you. I just wonder what they have to do with me.”

“I created you…”

“For? For getting you closer to your dreams? Your ambitious goals of being world renown? Of being forever loved and remembered?”

“The way you put it is…” I shake my head. I know what it is saying. But I can’t acknowledge that it is indeed selfish of me to expect anymore of it or its existence. “The way you put it makes me sound…”

“You need more, I know. I am not enough.” It starts back towards the corner until I speak again.

“It’s not like that! You ARE enough… but still. It would be nice if you didn’t cost me so much.”

Turning its head back to me in curiosity it asks, “How exactly am I costing you?”

“Hours and hours of time, for one. And the energy. You know, like brain power. It takes brain power… and… and… innovation. Innovation isn’t exactly a renewable resource.”

It takes a strong stance toward me. It huffs its chest and says, “That’s on you, pretty thing. I never forced you to use those resources on me.”

“No, you didn’t. But you were very enticing.”

“Was I enticing? Or was what you thought you could get from me enticing?”

I hush it. I don’t like where it is going. “You don’t know what you’re talking about.”

“Don’t I? Don’t I know that you wanted to impress others with me? Maybe a pretty girl or two? Didn’t I know that?”

I cut it off. “You could say that. But what does that have to do with anything?”

“Or how you wanted to be famous? How you wanted riches from me?”

“Hey, at this point I’d be happy just to make a meager living. I don’t need those things anymore.”

“Alright. I get it. You’re not satisfied. It’s not enough that you have me.”

Incensed and ready to stake my claim I raise my voice and say, “You’re right! I’m not satisfied. You could at least give me something to live off of. How else could I invest so much in you?”

Silence.

“My dreams? Hah! Those are far gone. I’m 33 now, lest you fail to tell. I spent a good 18 years with you hoping you’d give me something. And here I am with nothing to show for. All those hours, days, months and years for what? Just to have you sit here arguing with me?”

“I guess I was not enough.”

I did not let up. “No, you weren’t! I put all I had into you even when my friend told me to give it up.”

“But you didn’t listen to them.”

“A lot of good that did me. Then I sent you to the record labels.”

“And…?”

“And I only heard back from one.”

“What did they say?”

“They said the cd didn’t work.”

“Snap.”

“Snap is right.”

“So what did you do? Did you go store to store to share me with them?”

“No… I didn’t do that. But I did play on the streets. Sold some cds out there.”

“You must have really made an impression.”

“Actually, I think they only bought my cd’s because I had crutches with me. That was right after I’d taken off my full-leg cast.”

“Alright. Air it all out. How salty are you?”

“I had bandmates who threw me to the curb after I asked them to practice more. I had online collaborators who played along for a song or two, until they found all that guff too time-consuming. I had a youtube channel with nearly a thousand subscribers only for new videos to get only 20 views!”

“And you want to put the blame on me? All that weight of rejection.”

“I spent the better part of a year writing a novel only to have all the publishers reject me. I self published two books and who gave them a look? No one but my mom”

“Blame me if you want. But you’re still here. And you’re still with me.”

“That’s true, though god knows why. It’s not like I still believe in the dream.”

Dream enters with its nose turned up and its chest puffed out. “What’s this I hear about not believing in me?”

“You heard what I said.”

“You think I give my time to just anyone?” Dream chuckles dismissively.

“Screw you. I oughta…”

“You oughta what? Face it. It didn’t matter how much time you spent with Art over here. If you wanted me, you should have done more with me. You should have given your soul to me.”

“Screw you.”

“Art over here isn’t even my friend. If anything, we’re contrary.”

Art purses its lips and frowns. “You’re what he wants. He’s just using me to get to you.”

“No, it’s not like that,” I protest. “I was just hoping that you both would come along for the ride.”

“Looks like you’re missing the point,” Dream says, smirking.

“Yeah, he really is,” Art chimes in.

“What do you mean?” I ask.

“He really needs to appreciate you for what you are,” Dream says to Art.

“He doesn’t want me. Maybe I should just leave?” Art says.

I hunch down and put my hands on my knees. I breathe deeply and exhale loudly. “You know, even if everyone else rejects you, I still love you, Art. I don’t want you to leave me.”

“And what about this guy? Do you need him?” Art points at Dream.

“Dream? Naw. You’re enough for me.”

“Good. What are you doing now then? Get back to work.” Art says.

Dream leans in and gives me a kiss, “I know you want me, but you don’t need me. Maybe I would just get in the way of Art here. So let’s keep it simple. Let’s just make it you two. And if I pop in some time, well, enjoy my presence while you can for I am fickle and fleeting.”

“I get it. I’ll get back to it.”

Art smiles. “I knew you would be faithful to me.”

“Like I ever had a choice,” I say as I pick up my ukulele.

JOSIAH DEWIT enjoys writing and composing music. He also does, on occasion, contribute instruction in the English language to non native English speakers whilst living out his years in Thailand with his beloved wife, Nok. He is in favor of putting pineapple on pizza. You can find some of his work on his youtube channel at www.youtube.com/soulofbass

Rejection Perspective #1: Cheryl Rainfield

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photo credit: Claudia Osmond

Rejection Hurts. So How Do Writers and Other Creatives Deal With It In A Healthy Way?

Rejection hurts. If you get enough of it, it can eat away at your self-esteem, your confidence, even your sense of place in the world. Most of us try to avoid or minimize the rejection we receive—which, according to author and hypnotherapist Marisa Peer in her Ted Talk (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zeDt9dgFXFk), may be a primal instinctive need because when humans lived in tribes they couldn’t survive unless they were connected to each other. We still need people, and we still dread rejection. But dealing with rejection is part of the life of a writer.

I think rejection hurts even more when it’s about something we put our heart and soul into—it can feel like rejection of our deepest self. And many of us writers and creatives already carry emotional wounds that drive us to write—childhood bullying, abuse, neglect, or just being seen as different or other because of the way we see the world—all forms of rejection. So the added layer of publishing rejection can add to or trigger our existing wounds.

Yet we keep subjecting ourselves to potential rejection, over and over again—from editors, agents, and even negative reviews—that can feel like an attack on our soul. So why do we do it? Because we have the need to share our stories with others, to have a voice and be heard, and when we finally get that, it can outweigh all the publishing-industry rejection we’ve received. But getting there can be rough. It’s so important to hold on to hope, and to not give up on your publishing journey.

It took me more than ten years and hundreds of rejections to get SCARS published. I had done my research and knew that it could take a while, so I was mentally prepared for some rejection. The rejections hurt, but I knew I needed to let myself take a day or two to deal with how I felt, and then get my manuscript back out there, as well as listen to any feedback editors gave me and weigh whether I should use their suggestions; keep getting feedback from other writers; and revise my work. But as the years went on and I received more and more rejections, they started to wear on my self-esteem and my soul. I felt hopelessness and despair, and wanted to give up. I’m glad that I didn’t. Evelyn Fazio, my editor for SCARS and HUNTED, plucked SCARS out of the slush pile, and I’ll forever be grateful to her for that. Around the same time that I got the contract for SCARS, I also got a contract for my hi-lo YA novel The LAST DRAGON from Paul Kropp at HIP Books. It was validating—after ten years of rejections, I had finally broken through.

Getting those book contracts brought me such happiness. But receiving letters from readers telling me that I’d helped them to stop cutting; to talk to someone for the first time about their self-harm, abuse, or being queer; or even to keep from killing themselves brought me even more joy (and continues to). I would never have had that experience, never been able to help people on such a large scale, if I’d given up at my first fifty rejections, or even the first hundred.

I thought that once I got published I wouldn’t receive any more rejections (cue hysterical laughter), but that just isn’t true. I know enough now not to give up, even when I feel like I want to. But sometimes it’s still hard.

So how do we as writers deal with rejection in a healthy way? Here’s what’s helped me:

  • Don’t give up. If this is your dream, if you NEED to write and get published, keep submitting your work. You can’t get published if you don’t send it out.
  • Get feedback on your manuscript, weigh what works for you and what doesn’t, and then revise. If you’ve received a lot of rejections, it’s important to get feedback from other writers you trust. Sometimes your manuscript or your query isn’t quite ready to send out; it may need more editing. But once you’ve received feedback and polished your manuscript, if you really believe in your piece, then send it out again and keep sending it out.
  • Remember that every rejection is subjective—it’s an opinion based on that editor’s or agent’s personal experiences, taste, and what they think will sell. A rejection may not have anything to do with how good your writing is. In other words, just because you get a rejection it doesn’t mean that there’s something wrong with your writing. It just may not be the right fit for that editor, publisher, or agent.
  • Remember that you only need one yes. All the rejections you’ve received up until now won’t mean anything once you get that acceptance letter or phone call.
  • If you’re receiving personalized rejections where the editor or agent comments about what they liked in the story and what didn’t work for them, then you’re close/r to getting an acceptance. Editors and agents are inundated with submissions, and for them to take the time to comment personally on your manuscript and mention what they liked means it stood out from the thousands of others. Keep submitting your work.
  • Keep hold of WHY you write, what drives you to write, and what gives you joy from writing. Remind yourself of those reasons; they’re important.
  • Commiserate with other writers. Talk about rejection. It helps to know that we’re not alone, that other writers are going through or have gone through the same thing.
  • Read stories about famous authors or some of your favourite authors who received rejections. It can help to see that they, too, received rejections, which in hindsight may seem laughable. For instance, CHICKEN SOUP FOR THE SOUL was rejected one hundred and forty-four times before it was published; ZEN AND THE ART OF MOTORCYCLE MAINTENANCE by Robert M. Pirsig was rejected one hundred and twenty-one times before it was published; THE HELP by Kathryn Stockett was rejected sixty times by agents before it was accepted; and one of my favourite books A WRINKLE IN TIME by Madeline L’Engle was rejected twenty-six times before it was published. Even HARRY POTTER AND THE SORCERER’S STONE by J. K. Rowling was rejected twelve times before it was published! These are all highly successful books that multiple editors rejected based on their own opinions, taste, and experience. You can read more examples here: (https://lithub.com/the-most-rejected-books-of-all-time/)
  • Recharge your creative and emotional batteries. If rejection is wearing at you or interfering with your writing or your submission process, do things that help you remember why you love writing. Re-read one (or many) of your favourite books; this can help you fall in love with writing again and feed your creative well. Or you may need to do something separate from writing and reading, something that makes you feel happy and alive. Do something fun. Connect with people you love. And then come back, refreshed, to your work.
  • Hang on to the positives you’ve received about your writing. If you’re not yet published, think about feedback you’ve received in a writing critique group or from a fellow writer. If you’re published, you can also re-read a favourite reader letter or review. We all need encouragement, especially in the face of rejection, and positive feedback can bolster us to keep moving forward.
  • And, of course, always work on improving your craft. That will help your work stand out from others. Read as much as you can—both fiction in your genre and outside of it, and also writing technique books. Some of my favorite writing technique books include: THE ANATOMY OF STORY by John Truby (I use it to help plan every book I write); the entire A BUSY WRITER’S GUIDE series by Marcy Kennedy; WIRED FOR STORY by Lisa Cron; THE EMOTION THESAURUS series by Angela Ackerman and Becca Puglisi; and many more.

Following your passion can bring you fulfillment and a sense of rightness in doing what you were meant to do. I feel so much happier and stronger since I got published. I’m glad I didn’t give up, and I hope you don’t, either. Keep moving towards your dream.

CHERYL RAINFIELDis the author of the award-winning SCARS, a novel about a queer teen sexual abuse survivor who uses self-harm to cope; the award-winning HUNTED, a novel about a teen telepath in a world where any paranormal power is illegal; award-winning STAINED, about a teen who is abducted and must rescue herself; as well as two hi-lo YA novels THE LAST DRAGON and WALKING BOTH SIDES, and PARALLEL VISIONS. Cheryl Rainfield is a lesbian feminist, incest and ritual abuse survivor, and an avid reader and writer. She lives in Toronto with her little dog Petal.

Cheryl Rainfield has been said to write with “great empathy and compassion” (VOYA) and to write stories that “can, perhaps, save a life.” (CM Magazine) SLJ said of her work: “[readers] will be on the edge of their seats.”

You can find Cheryl on her websiteCherylRainfield.com

or her blog http://www.CherylRainfield.com/blog,

on Twitter:http://www.Twitter.com/CherylRainfield,

Instagram:http://www.Instagram.com/CherylRainfield,

and FaceBook:http://www.facebook.com/CherylRainfield.