Collecting Rejections

Stack of books

Some famous “rejects.”

Just a few weeks ago, I wrote a post about dealing with criticism. Which is hard enough, but in some ways, dealing with rejection is worse.

I “collect” rejection stories. Carrie, by Stephen King, was rejected 30 times. Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, by JK Rowling, was rejected 12 times. Gone With the Wind, by Margaret Mitchell, was rejected 38 times. And on and on and on.

I pull these stories out whenever I need to remind myself that a rejection doesn’t mean the story is bad; it just means that it didn’t find its match. It’s kind of like dating that way. I’ve abandoned many books that other people loved, and loved books other people hate. Unless a book is actually poorly written, whether or not it’s “good” is more about the taste of the reader than the actual story. And even then, I like some “poorly written” stories.

Recently, I had a tough rejection. I have a goal to get a story into a particular online magazine. I read it, I follow it, and I know what type of stories they take. My story is better than some of the stories I read there. Not better than all of them, but better than some. (This is, of course, my extremely biased opinion.)

Usually, this magazine rejects within 30 days, so when a month came and went, my excitement built. And built. I tried to tell myself that it didn’t mean they’d accept my story, but of course, I didn’t listen.

When they had the story 75 days, I got a form rejection back with the usual, “Thank you but this wasn’t a good fit for us.” My heart plummeted. But on the bottom was a “PS,” the email equivalent of a handwritten note. It said: “PS We enjoyed this story, but it didn’t make our final cut.”

(insert screaming face)

Truthfully though, I really appreciated that feedback, because it told me what I believed; it was a good story. Just not quite good enough? Too similar to another story that’s being published soon? Drew the short straw? I don’t know. But since a publication I respect liked it (even if they didn’t publish it), someone else probably will too.

I recently read a story about how someone, inspired by Stephen King’s tale of collecting rejection slips on a nail on his wall, has made it a goal to get 100 rejections this year. Because, with rejections, come acceptances. I think that’s a pretty great attitude.

So, instead of being upset by this latest rejection, I’m just going to add it to my collection, and see how many I can get this year. Last year I got 15 rejections and 1 acceptance on short stories. This year, so far, I’m at 14 rejections and 1 acceptance. Considering we’re only at halfway through the year, I’ve done 100% better than last year.

Now I just need to keep up the good work.

Related posts: Being Perfect, Accepting Criticism, and Generally Getting Over Myself

When Writing Isn’t Going Well

IMG_9029I have this great novel idea. I’ve been nurturing and taking notes on it for months. I know my characters, I know where the story is going and how it gets there.

I sat down at my computer to start this novel recently. And suddenly, it’s like my brain is coated in molasses.

This will be my third (hopefully good) book. I wrote my first (bad) novel in high school. If I’m counting all the way back that far, when it’s complete, this will be book number seven (I think). So I’m no stranger to sitting down and writing 70,000 words or so.

But for some reason, this one is just fighting me, and it’s making me wonder: should I be writing something else right now?

For weeks, I’ve been sitting at my computer, forcing myself to write 500 words or so, and then when I felt battle-weary, I’d get up and do something else, hoping that physical activity, organizing, cleaning, would jar the words out of my brain.

It hasn’t worked though. Oh, I feel ready to sit down and write, but the minute I do, it all dries up again, and the molasses is back. I thought about taking a break from this new book, maybe starting something else. But abandoning a book is the reason I have approximately 1,356,791* unfinished novels on my computer.

So, with my last two books, I forced myself to finish, and I think they turned out pretty good. With this one, I’ve decided to abandon the beginning. I almost always rewrite my beginnings anyway. (Why are beginnings so hard?) I’ve skipped ahead to the first plot point, and am writing from there. It seems to be working at least somewhat better.

Sometimes writing is so much fun! Sometimes it’s easy! And the ideas flow! And the characters speak to me and we have tea parties and share secrets!

And sometimes writing feels like walking forward into a hailstorm when the wind blows you backward and turns your umbrella inside out. Sometimes the characters have locked me out and hung up a sign, “Fictional People Only.”

But I still love it.

Does that mean there’s something wrong with me?

Fellow writers, what do you do when the writing is not going according to plan?

*This number is slightly exaggerated.

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?

My Best Is A Moving Target

img_6739I have a friend who doesn’t want to submit anything for publication that isn’t his “best work.”  I can understand the thinking there.  I’ve read enough published stories that are terrible, in need of more editing or someone to clarify the ideas, that I appreciate the sentiment.

At the same time, I recall reading a book by Dean Koontz years ago, and later learning that he hated it, was actually “ashamed” of it and wanted it to not be published anymore because it wasn’t very good (in his opinion).  I remember being puzzled, since I liked the book immensely.

It helped me understand that my best should always be a moving target.  This goes for writing, but also everything else in life.  Today I want to be a little bit more patient than I was yesterday.  Today I want to be a little more understanding than I was yesterday.  Tomorrow I’d like to be even more understanding.  And obviously, I’d like to tell a better story.

Of course, I want to do my best, but as I learn and grow, what my best is will change.  I’m not going to limit myself today because I hope that my best will be better tomorrow.  I also endeavor to value what was my best in the past, if it was really my best work then.

I look back at the person I was, the things I wrote, and I’m not that exactly person anymore.  That person didn’t have the experiences I’ve had today.

When I read stories I had published a few years ago, now, I can see the places they would have been made better through editing or different word choices.  Instead of feeling bad about that, it makes me feel good.  It’s a tangible reminder that I’ve grown and changed.  Isn’t that always better than standing still?

How Long Does it Take to Write a Novel?

insecure2bwriters2bsupport2bgroup2bbadgeI’ve joined the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. On Wednesdays, we all post about our… well… insecurities.  Like the group name.

How long does it take to write a novel, anyway?

I’ve been working on mine for the last two years.  Give or take 20 years.

I first got the idea when I was in college, and though it’s evolved quite a bit since then, some things haven’t changed.  I’m working on writing it and editing it and all those novel-type activities.

I start to doubt myself when I realize how long I’ve been working on it.  It shouldn’t take this long, should it?

If you ask George RR Martin, he’d say between 1-6 years.  Stephen King comes out with a new book once or twice a year, plus short stories.  And Nora Roberts?  Four or five books a year.  Wow.

So, I guess the point is that it takes as long as it takes.  I’ve written several (bad) practice novels.  Each time, I get a little better.  Since joining a writer’s group, I’ve made a lot of progress with my writing.  More than I had with online writing groups.  It’s tempting to just want to be done with it, to say that it can’t possibly be good enough if it’s taking this long to write, but that’s just not true.

I really believe that failure only happens when people give up.  And I’m not ready to give up.

“I hope that in this year to come, you make mistakes.

Because if you are making mistakes, then you are making new things, trying new things, learning, living, pushing yourself, changing yourself, changing your world. You’re doing things you’ve never done before, and more importantly, you’re Doing Something.

So that’s my wish for you, and all of us, and my wish for myself. Make New Mistakes. Make glorious, amazing mistakes. Make mistakes nobody’s ever made before. Don’t freeze, don’t stop, don’t worry that it isn’t good enough, or it isn’t perfect, whatever it is: art, or love, or work or family or life.

Whatever it is you’re scared of doing, Do it.”

-Neil Gaiman

O is for On Writing

Unknown-2On Writing, by Stephen King, is probably one of the best books on writing that any writer can read.

It doesn’t matter if you like Stephen King’s books; what he has to say about writing applies to everyone.

The book is part memoir, part writing instructions.  I like much of what Stephen King writes (I’m a horror fan, after all), but I think that this book would appeal to people who aren’t fans of horror.  He talks, at times, about where different ideas for his books came from, which is interesting.

Some of what he talks about is basic (like avoiding adverbs) and some is more advanced, but all of it is a good reminder of how to write better.

This was the first writing book I read.  I was doing a lot of reading online, trying to find advice on how to improve my writing.  There’s so much writing, and while a lot of the advice is repetitive (like avoiding adverbs), some of it ends up being contradictory.  No one can deny that Stephen King is a successful author, so he must know something about what he’s talking about.

I think what struck me most about it was how simple some of the advice was, but what a huge impact it made on me.  Not only was it a good book about writing, but it was also entertaining and encouraging.

“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid or making friends. Writing is magic, as much as the water of life as any other creative art. The water is free. So drink.”

– Stephen King

C is for Christopher Pike

There were several authors who wrote young adult thrillers when I was growing up, and I could probably write about any of them.  Christopher Pike was unique, I think, in that his books had more of a horror feel than some of the others.

His books were hit or miss for me, in that some were wonderful, and others were just meh.  Slumber Party was the first one I read, and it hooked me.  It was the first book I ever read with such a huge plot twist, and for the next several years, everything I wrote had a bad plot twist.  (I’m not saying that his plot twists were bad; I’m saying that my imitations were.)

I enjoyed his other books, but my favorite of his is Remember Me, about a girl who dies and has to solve her own murder.  This one also had a plot twist, but what I liked about it was the fact that the main character was dead.  I know that sounds kind of morbid, but most teenagers go through a phase where the grapple with the big questions on life and death, and this book was a semi-lighthearted way for me to think about it.

remember-me1

The inclusion of a main character who was dead, no tricks or miracle rebirths, was creative and unusual in 1989, before the current cultural obsession with dead girls as main characters.  I still read this one every couple of years.

“Relationships are mysterious. We doubt the positive qualities in others, seldom the negative. You will say to your partner: do you really love me? Are you sure you love me? You will ask this a dozen times and drive the person nuts. But you never ask: are you really mad at me? Are you sure you’re angry? When someone is angry, you don’t doubt it for a moment. Yet the reverse should be true. We should doubt the negative in life, and have faith in the positive.”
― Christopher Pike, from Remember Me

Road to Nowhere actually inspired a short story I wrote.  My story was a cheap ripoff, but I think that imitation, in early days of writing, is a good thing.  It’s a way for young authors to practice writing and try out different things until they find their own style.  At least, that’s what I tell myself.  My ripoff story stuck with me, even though the original version was awful.  Some of the characters from that story took on a life of their own to become something much different than the original.

That’s the beauty of falling in love with a story.  Everyone who loves the story will take something different from it.  What I take with me, I’ll carry with me for the rest of my life.

Any other Christopher Pike fans out there?  Which was/ is your favorite?