Feeding My Soul

calico cat with book

Goblyn loves books too!

Once upon a time, I wrote stories and novels just for fun. I typed them up, polished them, and let them languish on my computer. Writing fiction was a job other people did, but not me. I went to work, came home, read books, and wrote stories.

One day, after I’d finished writing my (3rd? 4th?) (bad) novel, my husband looked at me, puzzled, and said, “Why don’t you ever try to get anything published?”

Well, honestly, it had never occurred to me.

This was back in the days before I used the internet for everything. Back before I had a computer in my pocket. So when I first started my journey, it wasn’t like I could just Google “how to get published.” I had to do research and such. I tried sending off short stories and querying agents regarding that really bad novel. And things went nowhere for me. I’d never been critiqued, and I honestly didn’t know I needed to be.

(I’ll tell you about my torrid love affair with adverbs sometime. *shudder*)

See, I’d been praised by teachers all my life for my writing. So I figured that since I did a great job at writing papers, I was good enough at fiction too. I had concentrated on Psychology and Philosophy in college, and hadn’t taken English classes. They bored me, and I figured I had nothing to learn. (Don’t judge… it was the arrogance of youth!)

Eventually, I found online critique groups, and after learning how to take criticism (the subject of Friday’s blog post) my first short story was published for the amazing amount of $50.

I told everyone, and I’m not a “tell everyone” kind of person. Most of my friends were supportive, but one said, “Really? You put all that work in and only got $50? It doesn’t seem worth it. How many hours did you spend on that story?”

And just like that, some of the air was let out of my bubble. I probably spent 10 hours (or more) on that story. So that works out to $5 an hour? That’s not even minimum wage. Not to mention all the stories I’ve spent time on that will probably never be published.

But then I remembered how many hours I spent writing stories just because it was fun, never intending them to be published. Some people watch TV, some people surf social media, some people watch the stars, some people read books. Hobbies don’t have to be profitable. And doing what makes my soul happy doesn’t have to make money.

I write because I love it. I love it when stories get published because I love to share things that make me happy. If one of my novels gets published, that would make me happy too, for the same reason. (And, quite frankly, because there’s something exciting about seeing my name in print.)

But if the novel never happens, if I just continue to blog and publish short stories, that’s okay too. I’ll keep writing, keep improving, keep trying and having fun. Because what my friend failed to understand was that it’s not about the hours spent or the money I make doing it. It’s about the fact that I’ve been in love with stories for as long as I can remember. And the ability to tell a good story is something special. If I can tell a story that makes other people think, or feel, or empathize, then I’ve done something amazing. I can’t put a price on that kind of connection with other people.

Do you feel that connection to others when you write or read stories?

Open Letter to Other Writers

That's nuts! Photo Credit: Doree Weller

That’s nuts!
Photo Credit: Doree Weller

Dear Other Writers,

It seems like everyone who has anything to say these days says it in a public forum, whether that’s blogging or Facebook, or Twitter or self-publishing a book.

Through blog challenges, I’ve had an opportunity to read other people’s work, and it’s been a mixed experience.  Some of these blogs are hidden jewels that I wouldn’t have found if I weren’t doing blog challenges.  They’re well written, interesting, and I keep going back for more.

Other blogs have a ton of basic issues, jumping back and forth between present and past tense, poor grammar, and poor punctuation.  It’s to the writers of these blogs that I’m addressing myself.

Even if you don’t think I’m talking about you, I might be.  I’ve been there.  Early on, when I made the transition from writing for myself to trying to get things published, I thought it was going to be easy because I was “naturally” a writer.  Words just seemed to flow from my brain to paper, and I thought that every word I wrote was golden.

Um, no.

I wasn’t sure why I wasn’t getting published, so I decided to find an online critique website, and I started using Reviewfuse (which I think is now defunct as it won’t load).  I don’t remember what the first criticism I received was, but I do remember that it hurt.  It stung.  It was obviously wrong.

I almost decided not to bother with it anymore, and then my better judgement overcame my ego, and said, “You’re here, so why don’t you try taking their feedback?  You can keep an unchanged copy of your story in Word.”

Thank goodness my Better Judgement speaks to me sometimes.  After edits, that was the first story I ever got paid for.  It was only $50, but that’s a huge amount to someone who would have written that story anyway, for free.  And that also cemented it.  Listen to feedback = get paid.  Discard feedback = stuff sits unpublished on my computer.

I tell you this, because even if you think your writing is wonderful, it might not be.  I’m not going to make unsolicited comments on your writing style when visiting your blog because it seems rude.  It seems like visiting your house and mentioning the crumbs on the counter.  I’m just not going to do it.  But please, have someone other than your friends read your blog and give you feedback on your writing.  I’d be happy to do it if you ask.  Join a writers group through Meetup or online (I personally like Scribophile currently).  Ask a retired English teacher or another blogger.  Read articles about writing from Writer’s Digest or Query Shark.  Read Stephen King’s book, On Writing.

If you just want a place to put your thoughts, keep a journal or make your blog private.  I’m a huge advocate of just writing whatever you want in your journal, without worrying about grammar or punctuation or spelling.  But if you’re going to publish your work, even in a blog forum, please take it seriously.  Writing is a form of art, and it pains me to see you writing that way in a public setting.  If you, who calls yourself writer, don’t have a basic grasp of English language rules, then what hope do we have for everyone else?

Shall I just give up and understand that evry1 is guna rite lik dis?  (That hurt to type.  Forgive me.)

Fellow writers (and readers too), what do you think?  Am I being too dramatic, or do you agree that this is a problem?

Everybody Judges

San Tan Regional Park; Photo Credit: Doree Weller

San Tan Regional Park; Photo Credit: Doree Weller

I recently got to help judge a story contest.  I (and a few other people) were sent 10 short stories to read.  I was told to rate my top 3, pick my favorite, and rate my bottom 3.  I learned how hard it is to judge a contest.  Instead of rating my top 3, I wanted to pick at least 5, and of those, it was nearly impossible to pick my favorite.  Of my 3 favorites, 1 placed, and 1 took an honorable mention.  One didn’t even make it as a winner!  One of my least favorites took an honorable mention.

I’ve always kind of known intellectually that getting published is hard, and sometimes good stuff gets put aside for one reason or another, but knowing and knowing are two different things.  Everyone’s taste is different.

Case in point… I’m currently reading A Boy’s Life, by Robert McCammon.  It was this month’s book club selection, and I like it, but it’s a little slow reading for me.  When I made this comment to my book club, someone else commented that they couldn’t put it down.

We all have different things that we like and dislike.  I love horror, and many of my friends can’t stand it.  Most of the time, I dislike comedies, which puzzles most of the people I know. Just because I don’t place in a contest or get picked to get published for an issue doesn’t mean that my work wasn’t good.  It just means that someone else’s was a little better.  Or, that it wasn’t to the taste of the person reading it.  I don’t expect to be friends with everyone, so why would I expect my work, my best reflection of self, to appeal to everyone?  It seems so simple when I put it that way, doesn’t it?

So a message out there to those of you who put your work out there for others to read.  It’s possible that your story was someone’s favorite, but still didn’t make the cut.  I don’t know about you, but that idea appeals to me.  I’m not looking to have universal appeal.  But to have someone be really passionate about my story would be awesome.

I don’t care about being famous, but I would like to have people know my name.  I want to be the answer to the question, “Who wrote that really great book?”

It’s a Numbers Game

I read a really great article today that reminded me that if I want to be published, I have to get my work out there.  And get it out there.  And then get it out there some more.  I love to write.  I need to write, but I’m sort of lackadaisical about submitting my work for publication, and even more lackadaisical about submitting query letters to agents.  I’ve gotten short stories published, mostly because the process is easy.  I just have to write the story and send it to the right place.  I don’t have to write a spiffy letter introducing my work; it just speaks for itself.

About a month ago, I was at a motivational conference, and I made a commitment to send 10 query letters to publishers by June 23.  The date is almost here, and guess how many I’ve sent… If you said 0, you’d be right.  I haven’t sent one.  So… here’s my commitment: I will send those 10 letters in the next two weeks.  I want to collect a total of 50 rejections by the end of the year.  Why not?  My novel isn’t published right now, so even if I get rejected 50 times, nothing will have changed other than I’ll know that I’m trying and putting my best foot forward.  And besides, what if… what if one letter isn’t a rejection?  That’s where it starts.

Here’s the article.  I hope it inspires you the way it inspired me.


Slush Pile

I read an interesting article on the slush pile the other day.  It seems that in days past, many prominent authors were “discovered” in the slush pile, but these days, many magazines don’t even read them.  It brings home for me how difficult getting published is these days, and actually encourages me.  Why does it encourage me?  It helps remind me that the “miracle” is getting published at all, and that I shouldn’t be too hard on myself when I get rejections.

I don’t like rejections, same as everyone else.  They have helped me learn and grow, but there’s a huge thrill with every acceptance.  Knowing that in days past, wonderful authors were found in the slush pile, but these days the slush pile is pretty much the trash pile just makes me that much more determined to keep trying.  Getting published may be harder, but it’s still possible.

Here’s a link to the original article:  http://www.submishmash.com/2010/09/slush-2-0/

How To Handle Rejection

The email that reads, “Dear Doree, We are pleased to accept your submission to ABC magazine…” is about the best feeling in the world.  In direct contrast to that, the email that says, “We are sorry that we will not be using your work at this time…” is such a huge letdown.  So, how do I deal with rejection?  You mean, after I’ve drank all the liquor in the cabinet and thought about setting the neighbor’s house on fire?  I’m kidding!  Really!  Sheesh!

Really, a rejection is never easy, but I figure there are a bunch of reasons my work was rejected:

  1. It needed more work. If this is the case, that give me an opportunity to submit it to a writers’ group, like www.reviewfuse.com.  If you’re a writer, check them out.  They’re a great general site.
  2. It was sent close to a deadline. I’m a procrastinator… I admit it.  So if I send something in on the last day they’re accepting submissions, if they’ve already found 200 stories they liked, and mine is 201, I figure I’m less likely to get accepted.
  3. It didn’t fit what they were looking for. Sometimes guidelines can be subject to interpretation.  Maybe I thought it fit and they didn’t.
  4. It sucked. I try to use this reason sparingly, but I have to admit I’ve submitted a story or two and later wondered what I was thinking.  Just because I’m brilliant doesn’t mean that I can’t make mistakes.  (Shh!  Don’t tell anyone.)

Plus, I try to keep in mind that Harry Potter was rejected by many houses before it found a home.  (I’ll be the editors who rejected it are kicking themselves now.)  I’ve gotten lots of rejections, sometimes on the same story.  Eventually, instead of getting upset about it, I realized it’s a volume game.  The more you write, the more you submit, the more likely you are to get something published.

Good luck.  Happy reading and happy writing!