I don’t know what happened late last year, but I suddenly realised that I’m not getting any younger. To keep planning on what one will do one day just gives you an excuse to not do anything today.
I felt the pressure of that thought through our bushfire-ravaged Christmas and New Year. My perspective about what was important got seriously highlighted. So, after much consideration, I quit my job. It is time to write.
Don’t worry, I accept that I will (probably) have to go back to work eventually, but I have saved enough to give myself a decent break and I have got a plan with numerous lists to go with it. Just one spreadsheet though. I’m sure that will change.
The first stage, implemented in February, was to tidy up the multitude of short stories I had that were nearly finished and almost ready to send out. They are now doing the rounds and with luck I might get some acceptances soon (I’ve already had two really positive rejections).
March is new short story month. The past eighteen months, each time I’ve had an idea for a short story I’ve just written the summary of it into my ideas book. Stories can die in there. This month I’ll set some free.
So, join me on this next leg. Hopefully it will be rewarding for both of us; reader and writer alike. We might all learn something. I’m not committing to an every-Sunday post, but I will try to get back here as often as I can. Wish me luck!
Something that all writers need to get used to is rejection. This week I had another rejection which left me feeling pretty flat. To make matters even worse, these days you don’t even get rejected; you just get ignored. For this particular submission I found out when the selected stories got announced. This is the face of rejection now.
You would think it gets easier with age and experience, but it doesn’t. I feel like these days I do much better research, and significantly better editing with my submissions, so it seems like I should be increasing my chances of acceptance.
This week it didn’t happen for me. So, I’ll let myself wallow in a bit of disappointment. I’ll question again if I should even be bothering. And no doubt I’ll consider closing my blog for the umpteenth time.
But I expect I’ll be back to do it all again soon. After all, I don’t write the stories to get shortlisted in competitions or published, I write them because if I don’t write them, they will haunt me. I need to keep my eye on that and try not to get upset when someone doesn’t like my story or my way of putting it down on paper.
Some days it does feel hard though.
One of the big reasons why it is good to be a part of a don’t-pull-any-punches writers group is that they can tell you when you are off the mark. I find it very hard to assess my writing in terms of what is good and bad. In the past, the members of my writers group have had no trouble making that distinction.
Sure, they may sometimes get it wrong, ideas of good and bad are very subjective after all, but they can save you a lot of time identifying what’s not working, and can usually give you some hints about how to fix it. I think I need that help at the moment.
I have a piece of flash fiction that keeps coming back to me in record time. It’s short, punchy and complete – so is the sort of thing that normally gets accepted the first or second time I send it out. This one just came back to me in two days. So clearly there is something very wrong with it.
I’m not part of a group at the moment, and I feel that loss most months. I think it might be time to try and track a new group down. Wish me luck!
When I started ‘seriously’ pursuing my writing career the advice from all the authors around me was that you needed to prove yourself with short story publications, then that would fast-track your novels to the top of the slush pile. I know that was a long time ago, but now that I’m about to hit my 40th short story publication I don’t think the short publications are helping at all. My stories seem to sit endlessly in the slush waiting for their turn like everyone else’s.
This was highlighted when I recently queried a novel that had been with a publisher for over 7 months. From their response it was obvious that they didn’t even know they had the story. Due to a change in staff, no-one was reading it. Even today I don’t know if they found it, and I don’t know if they are reading it now. What I do know is for the 7 months it was lost in the abyss of slush I was not sending it out to anyone else. This was the same novel a previous publisher had held onto for over a year before they ‘regretfully’ rejected it.
Obviously, these days short story publications are not the way to rise to the top of the slush pile. Awards and social media success probably count for more than publications, but I’m sure (like every other job) networking is what matters most. I guess if I am ‘serious’ about getting published I need to give this a go. It’s going to be hard to do that in Adelaide, but for my sanity alone, I need to try something else in an attempt to get out of the slush pile.
Humour is such a personal thing. Sometimes I worry that my idea of what is funny is quite different to other people’s. In fact, sometimes I say stuff on Twitter that I’m pretty sure people don’t even realise is intended as a joke. They think I’m serious, as well as a bit stupid. That’s my sense of humour.
This is what probably gets in the way when I try to sell my humorous stories. I guess editors don’t realise they are meant to be funny, or worse, they do realise but the story just isn’t funny (to them). Logic tells me to pull the plug on writing funny stories, but they just keep slipping out, like SBD’s you can’t hold back.
I’ve just penned another, and I’ve sent it out, but I can almost picture the eye-roll as the editor reads it. I really should stop subjecting all of us to dealing with them. Having said that, I have sold a few my-version-of-funny stories, however I’ve never been complemented on any of them.
Perhaps I should clear a special place in my bottom drawer for my humorous writing? Or, better yet, maybe I should try to publish them under a different name. It would have to be a silly name… silly but accidentally clever. Sounds like a project for this week.
Something you will hear time and time again is how ‘lonely’ it is to be a writer. I’ve always thought people said that because of the long hours you spend alone at the computer writing. This has always seemed a bit of a contradiction to me, because if you are writing you are spending time with your characters so you are not alone.
This week I got hit with the full brunt of the lonely occupation. After 329 days (and of that over two months spent in the ‘number 1 in the queue’ position) my novella got rejected. I really liked that novella and thought it had a chance. To really rub salt into the wound it was a form letter rejection, so much so that it went to my junk mail, and I opened it just before I started a particularly taxing day at work.
There was no-one I could tell. My work colleagues think I’m wasting my time with my writing, so it would just be confirmation to them that I’m being foolish, and my friends and family are all working through fairly serious issues at the moment, so I didn’t want to burden them with the ‘problem’ of my dreams not coming true. Instead all I could do was think to myself ‘that sucks’ and get back to work building intranet pages.
I have got a writer friend who I will burden with my disappointment when we catch up next week, but I know by then I will have gotten over it and integrated it into my reality. But I can say that this week I felt like a lonely writer. Then I felt guilty for not appreciating all the good things in my life. For me, writing and guilt go hand in hand so I guess I’m normalising already. But I’ll chalk this up as just another sucky week and move on. At least gay marriage was legalised, so it wasn’t a total loss.
Like most of us, I’ve had a lot of rejection in my time. You would think I would be getting used to it by now, but it still carries a painful barb. My novel got rejected this week. To really rub salt into the wound it was just a two sentence ‘dear author…’ rejection. In recent history I’ve usually got a personal note to say it was good, just not what they were looking for, but that was bitterly absent on this one.
It was interesting to go through the rejection transition, which does speed up as you get more ‘used’ to rejection. The first step is what I think of as the ‘it’s me’ stage –where you read the subtext of the rejection as “what the hell are you doing wasting your time on this? You can’t write, so just stop, okay?”
The next stage is the ‘it’s them’ where the rejection reads as “we are too small minded to consider things outside the box and are closed to the potential of doing something different.” I used to stay in this stage for a long and angry time.
The final stage is the ‘the planets didn’t align’ stage where you realise they were just not the right publisher for your book. They were looking for something and this wasn’t it. Someone else will be looking for it and they will be as excited as a kid who has found their mother’s chocolate stash (behind the fantasy novels in the bookshelf) when they read your pages. That’s the publisher you want championing your book.
This time it took about 24 hours to transition, so I think I need to apologise to my work colleagues and I know I need to apologise to my family for my foul mood on Wednesday. I was in stage 1 at work and 2 at home. Sorry. And thank you to my fantastic friends for dragging me into stage 3 much faster than I think I would have been able to do so alone.
In keeping with my send out something every month resolution, I’m getting much more experience at rejection. It’s funny but my response differs each time and I can’t work out if there is any reason behind it.
The good response is that I get a fire in my belly and go out with the ‘I’ll show them’ frame of mind. Unfortunately this often leads to me sending the story out straight away without giving it the proper review a rejection probably invites.
The medium response is that I hope that maybe I can get the story up to scratch and find it a home, all it needs is a really good edit, and then another one, and another one, and maybe one more time through the writers group. These responses often lead to the story getting trapped in a never-good-enough loop.
The bad response, and the one I had this week, is the ‘why do I do this to myself?’ response. I write to entertain myself, and maybe what I find entertaining isn’t what the world wants to see. This response threatens to bring my whole send out policy to a standstill.
Fortunately I’m OCD enough to know I have committed to sending out a new piece every month, so I will continue with that until the end of the year when I can make some new resolutions. But what may happen is that once they get rejected the stories can just sit for a while.
Or maybe I’ll show them and get it published in an even BETTER magazine!
This year one of my NY resolutions was to submit a new piece of writing for publication each month. It has to be a new piece that I send off, so if a previous month’s submission gets rejected, when I next send it out it doesn’t count toward my sub for the month. So at the moment I have three pieces doing the rounds (yes, I have had one accepted, yay, but more on that closer to the publication date).
This means for the first time in a long time I’m getting lots of rejections again. The funny thing is that I’m not taking the rejections personally anymore. I just tick it off on my spreadsheet and move on (well, if I’m honest there are about five parameters collected on my spreadsheet and there may be some auto-graphing, but that’s just my Excel OCD).
I think one of the reasons I’m better able to cope with the rejection is the thick skin my writers group has calloused upon me. In my current group we each submit every month. This means a) I must write something every month, and b) I’m used to people giving me feedback on my stuff, not all of it good!
I’ve heard stories of people who fall apart when they get a critique of their story because the reader didn’t love every word. They completely blank the positive feedback and focus on the bad bits (these really are opportunities to make your story the best it can be and should be embraced). I hate to think how they must react when they get a form rejection with no explanation.
There is so much about being a writer that has nothing to do with writing, and I think accepting rejection and criticism is a big part of it. After all, even if you get a publisher who LOVES your story, there will always be people who read your stuff and write horrible reviews, or feel the need to tell the world why they think you should go back to your day job.
I don’t know if I’m ready to embrace the level of rejection and criticism that published novelists get, but thanks to my writers group I know I’m a lot closer to being ready.
If there is one thing that my penchant for self-help books has taught me, it is that fear does not need to be of the heart-rate-increasing variety. Some fears do not spark your adrenalin or send your skin clammy. In fact some fear does not show itself at all. Why, because it is so ingrained that you know you will never let yourself face it, so your body does not get worried.
One that falls into this category is the fear of failure. Different people are afraid of failing at different things. For writers there are lots of failures we worry about. The story won’t come out on the page as perfectly as it looks in our heads, so we don’t write it. People won’t like the story when we finish writing it, so we don’t show it to anyone. Publishers will tell us that we have no skill and we should quit now, so we don’t submit our story. Academically we know these things probably won’t be issues, but it doesn’t stop the fear from getting in.
A lot of self-help gurus preach that you should do one thing a day that scares you. I think this is actually really good advice. It trains you to a) look for fears and be aware of them, and b) know that you can survive facing them. It is very easy for us to let our sub-conscious mind go about making our decisions so we don’t even know what we are afraid of, keeping us in a little, secure, safety-bubble.
But that won’t help you to become the best that you can be. Facing your fears is how you grow. That is how you learn what you are capable of, and it gets you to stretch beyond the familiar to the possible.
I think my fears have been holding back my submissions this year. I’ve subbed only two things, and one of those got accepted. Not a bad hit rate, but it is a terrible submission rate. So with what is left of the last two months of this year I’m going to face that fear. Let’s see what is possible.