The other day, I rejoiced for several hours at someone else’s good news. It was fantastic and well deserved. A friend who has labored long and hard got his brass ring: a publishing deal. His humor, wit, and intelligence have finally been recognized by gatekeepers who know what can sell. I had some flashbacks to our shared misery over the last five years while we both strived after agents, publishing contracts, and our work to be known. Recently he told me he wasn’t sure he could survive another slew of rejections. Now with an advance in hand and a two-book deal, he can finally say he’s arrived.
As the joy has faded, I’ve felt twinges of wistfulness for the road I hopped off and what it might have offered me if in 2012 I’d said, “I’ll stay the course.” I wonder what it would be like to work with distributors that could get my book easily to brick-and-mortar stores. I’d love to give a publisher’s name to ensure a book signing. I’d love to have a marketing team set up interviews, conferences, and events.
I chose a different route. I decided after 14 months with an agent to blast myself into the self-pub universe. I’ve had nothing but fun and autonomy doing this, with a lot of blessings from good friends, family, and strangers who took the chance to invest in my work. I assemble a support team for all projects and make all the decisions. I’ve got a great website, good reviews, and a monthly newsletter. I have a beautiful book trailer. I’m blessed with the remainder of my “advance”—a grant from the Elizabeth George Foundation—that allows me to plan to self-publish my next book.
My sales remain small and occasional because I rarely promote. With a fulltime job and a family, I only have time to write my next book. I have a 10-year plan, one that involves writing several more books, playing with prices to give my readers good deals, and hiringa publicist in order to increase my reach. All in good time, I keep telling myself when vaulting ambition threatens to flagellate me and when others’ good news makes me wonder if I’ve chosen the wrong road.
Over a decade ago, I went to a dear friend’s baby shower that happened the same week as another dear friend’s wedding. In a weak moment, I confessed to one of them, I feel you all have moved on. It felt very childish to admit at the time, but I couldn’t help myself. Sometimes, a lot of change hits all at once, where you think everyone else is grown up while your own future stays blank and unscripted. There are moments where you not only can’t predict the future, you sometimes think there might not be one to get excited about. My friends’ news didn’t leave me wanting something different for them, just for me to join them in the same headlines.
The self-pub lifestyle is a lot like being single: in order to survive it, you gotta build your own tribe. Just as I left these celebrations and got back on Match.com and made plans with friends, today I have to hire editors, graphic designers, filmmakers, book formatters, and web designers so I can publish a book. In the same way I couldn’t magically expect a social life to appear, I can’t expect a book to be born on its own. I can’t feel sorry for myself if sales don’t happen; I need to regroup, strategize, and keep working.
I never would have predicted that three years after the wedding and the baby shower, I’d be married at 37 in a boots-and-jeans wedding with a pig-pickin’ to follow. I couldn’t imagine that my beloved friends would suffer sorrows I’ve never had to bear. During that week of celebration, I could have told you they had a better deal than me, with a case of grass-is-greener kind of sadness. I can tell you now, I was foolish to focus on what I didn’t have and believe others had their happiness set.
My friend’s good news meets me wiser today than I was in 2002, when I believed there was a timing and momentum in life that I must follow or else I was somehow less than. My friend’s great news assures me there is justice and reward for some who keep trying at the traditional route, and that good stuff does indeed make it into print. My friend’s amazing news gives me hope that legacy publishing might be a route for me to someday try again, that perhaps could get me the agent who is that awesome advocate, brilliant negotiator, and savvy adviser. This event in someone else’s life reminds me to stay my current course with persistence and integrity, check my gut when necessary, and never say never to self-pub or traditional success.
I trust in the rightness of what is right now. The joy I have for my friend mirrors the joy I feel when I open the file to my manuscript in process. Isn’t this fun, my whole body says. For in this moment, I get to write.
I would have never imagined a year later I’d have already published a collection of short stories and be on my way to launching my debut novel. That after almost a decade of work on the former and three years on the latter, I’d be enjoying an adventurous, never-a-dull-day year of publishing on my own terms.
I might say I’ve found my true north.
The idiom captures the difficulty of knowing one’s right direction in a world of magnetic forces that would have us wander this way or that. I spent two years of my life querying agents, working with one for over a year, and revising the manuscript constantly according to potential market specs. There were some dark moments of staring at a screen in a panic (my words have failed me!); arguing on a phone (you think the point of my novel is to get 16 year-old girls of bland suburban tastes to read it? Who ARE said girls–I don’t know them!); or questioning my own instincts about Wendy’s character (are you clinging unreasonably to her beliefs and obsessions?). I wondered if I’d deluded myself that I ever had a chance in this business.
I had to regroup and let my faith rally, and I had to remind myself that I am a writer, first, last, always. Not a second of that wandering and wondering was a waste. Every moment taught me skills and strengthened muscle for the moments I live now, full of trust my words are beginning to have a reach I’ve dreamed about.
No, my numbers haven’t knocked the Kindle best-sellers out of the park. But slowly, surely, great news trickles in daily, after two months of only a Kindle edition. A friend 3,000 miles away wants a signed copy of the collection, now that my paperback came out last week. A group of high school students will be discussing “Midrift.” Eight wonderful reviews are up on Amazon. Kind, unsolicited emails arrive from readers. An interview will happen next week on a nationally-syndicated radio show.
I’m having a lot of fun, too. I’m sharing my cover design with friends, family, and a support team, seeking people’s gut reactions and design eye. I’m talking sales and marketing with my dad, and getting requests for images and URLs from my web designer. I’m arranging head shots with a former student, Teresa Porter, who is pursuing her dream of photography–now a busy professional winning awards and penning a blog that’s gone viral, because she’s speaking her true north-truth.
“Can you believe we’re here?” she said to me the other day. “You getting published, and me with a photography business?”
My first reaction was to laugh with delight. Those who know the intense type-A worrier that I am can attest this is not my typical first reaction to things. Which tells me I’m true-northing it right now, truly.
I am also very excited about a co-operative venture I and two other devoted students of Doris Betts have recently undertaken: True North Writers and Publishers. Bob Mustin and Dave Frauenfelder, my partners in this venture, are passionate, gifted writers with whom I’m honored to be associated. We encourage one another’s work, promote it, and plan some exciting events for signing and sharing this summer.
Our first precept is Scribere quam videre scribere. To write rather than to seem to write. (If you know the North Carolina state motto–Esse quam videri, To be rather than to seem (to be)–and if you try to write regularly, you know what we mean!) We’re NC writers sharing authentic writing for the New South, and we will keep each other honest in this endeavor.
My ship sees its way clear right now, the waters glassy with calm, the lighthouse straight ahead. My compass doesn’t waver. I know that when the clouds gather, the sky roars, and the swells rise, I’ll have to grab a little bit tighter to that instrument and trust, trust, trust. But for now, I’m loving the peace and the joy of following my true path. So grateful I’m able to be here!
“I don’t know how you keep track of it all.” — from a colleague in reference to my workload
I like being a chef with multiple burners heating multiple pots, simmering full of somethin’ good.
I’m a concrete and a random worker, moving easily off one project onto another then to another, then back to the original. I’m also good at hanging in for the long haul. A writing workshop leader once told me I was an INTJ on the Myers-Briggs Inventory, which is a good profile for finishing a novel. Today’s writer can’t just be the lone warrior in the garret if she wants to be published. And while I’m not an extrovert who gains energy from others as much as I gain energy from being alone, I have just enough “I” to labor late over my writing tasks and starting early every morning.
Here are the six sections of my to-do list:
NEW NOVEL IN PROGRESS (REALLY, THE OLD ONE, PREQUEL TO ST. MICHAEL)
NOVEL CONTESTS, ST. MICHAEL (2ND NOVEL)
Each has at least two if not four bullets of tasks.
You have to find the joy in each demand. You have to love starting a new project like revising my old novel as a prequel or taking on a brand-new novella for NaNoWriMo. You have to love binding up a manuscript with huge rubber bands for the Bakeless Prize or Dana Awards, and you have to love scouring Poets & Writers for the latest information on literary magazines. Give your all to every bit of the process.
In “Why We Write: The Pressure of Young Promise” (latest issue of Poets and Writers) Laura Maylene Walter shares her long, arduous journey as writer without reward. If you slog and struggle daily toward your writer’s brass ring, you must read this meditation and then see the inspirational Editor’s Note.
Just this week, my former student and current friend, Teresa Smith Porter, felt her spirits flag. She’s a successful photographer (My Friend Teresa Photography) who labors to get the best shot and make her clients shine. But it was one of those days when she was tapped out and struggling to see the horizon. Then she got the call. She had won 1st Place in the Wedding Photographic Society Competition, Photojournalism category. Then she got another call: to do a spread for a magazine. Now it was one of those weeks you dream of. She’d had weeks like this before, but in between for every artist is the labor, the unglamorous, exhausting, driving toil. Bleary-eyed and dehydrated, she has posted at 3:00 AM on Facebook out of the sheer joy of loving her work. Now that’s my kind of crazy.
Do you love it? Writing. Do you? If you do, then make your list and keep your head down. Your spirits will lift, I swear by it.
“Stone crumbles. Wood rots. People, well, they die. But things as fragile as a thought, a dream, a legend, they can go on and on. If you can change the way people think. The way they see themselves. The way they see the world. You can change the way people live their lives. That’s the only lasting thing you can create.”
— Chuck Palahniuk, Choke
After doing some July 4th musing about my goals, I proudly declare a hopeless addiction and utter dependence on writing. I’d do it even if I weren’t paid.
As a person who earns royalties for three books, payment for articles, and fees for editing, I get that writing deserves lucre and have no trouble calling myself writer. What I need to do is get to a place where I accept, sans guilt, that I am utterly dependent on writing.
There’s a picture on my web site of me at age eight, hand poised over a notebook, interrupted in the act of writing. No doubt I was busy crafting an imaginary world where runaway kids sought justice, where mouthy girls confronted vampires, where elves built little houses on their elvish prairies. I read voraciously and wrote constantly. I didn’t finish much at that age, but I started many a frabjous tale. I intuited then the unreal is pretty powerful for me and worth pursuing. I never questioned that need nor how much time to spend in the pursuit.
Then the Little Girl becomes a Big Girl and every day must walk the adult tightrope of balance, balance, balance, not sacrificing too much for the art but giving just enough and some days, her all.
There’s that tension and another that Society whispers around every corner to just about every artist.
We’re all wired for something. I am wired to write, and yet the Big Girl + Society tend to question the daily sacrifices for the craft. Others will place that call to a friend, knit that rug, water that garden, and they don’t ask why do these things. But to the writer in the corner, both self and Society say, “You sure you need to be doing that right now?”
Why do adult concerns of bills, relationships, and tumbleweeds of cat hair quash the wisdom the child already knew? Perhaps because there’s something the world deems selfish and showy about writing. Writers’ acts are unadulterated communication. A carpenter or a gardener creates and their works may speak to us, but not in the same obvious, billboard way.
When the Lascaux mystery guys and gals scrawled on the cave walls, they scrawled to be seen. I have to believe they saw their work less like a personal journal and more like history’s scroll or maybe even a bible. These humans hoped to record, to remember, to reach, and to teach. They hoped to uplift their lives and others’ with their art.
I don’t write to tuck it away. I write for my words to be seen. I write for what’s seen to create change and touch lives.
There is nothing wrong with total dependence on writing. There is no wrong in daily following the lead of my hardwired DNA.
Say it ten times, and say it like you mean it.
That belief is a must-have if you wish to make your art known. That belief is a must-have if you’re going to query again and again. One glance at author Victoria Laurie’s stats is enough to help a hopelessly dependent one as myself keep the faith. She received 100 rejections, and it wasn’t the first novel, either. These stats come courtesy of the agent who asked her for revisions and who has partnered with her through 22 novels.
I like the goal setting questions at Shrinking Violet Promotions. The process has helped me shape passion into logical plans.
Yes, Virginia, methinks there will always be doubt some days haunting my art. Yet I have found money and a room of my own. All that’s left is to silence certain voices.
Do you declare dependence on writing as the work you’re born to do?
“I take rejection as someone blowing a bugle in my ear to wake me up and get going, rather than retreat.”
— Sylvester Stallone
Today’s Word Count: 269,313 (675 words gone!)
Page Count: 1006 (Okay, so I didn’t make my goal of cutting 1500+ words. See my rationalization at the close of this post)
It’s August 17, 2008, and that means Relief Journal is publishing Volume 2.3. Guess who’s in there?
My short story, “Midrift,” thrice rejected, is now published, official and bound, for real. This stopgap story has given me so much hope. Now I join a long list of authors who made it past the marathon route of rejections to catch their breath with a “yes”! I like author and illustrator Debbie Ohi’s list of hope.
“Midrift” had an inauspicious start back in 2004 when my writing group challenged the first draft. Members asked whether I had the right to write this story. (I’m contemplating writing a “Right to Write” post to explore that controversy.) But I am grateful for their questions because the scrutiny made me edit relentlessly and drew me closer to my character and subject. I decided with the ire of a rejected writer I did have a right to write and must finish it.
Over the next few years the story was rejected by three other literary magazines. Each rejection sent me back to revision before I submitted again.
Then I submitted it to Relief. I received no response. Eight months later, I summoned the courage to try the journal, noting in my cover letter I’d read about a brief glitch in the online submission system and I wanted to make sure my work had been received.
Within two months Relief sent me a “You’re on the short list” e-mail, then a congratulations e-mail four months after that, and then I was editing galleys this past July.
This has been my experience – some time spent shouting into a void, and later, an echo back. Rejections have evolved from form letters to personal encouragements, perhaps because every rejection inspires rewrites and a requisite lapse of time to wrap my head around what the story’s really about.
The first draft of my story “3.0” received this message from editor Linda Swanson-Davies of Glimmer Train:
“Although your work did not make it all the way to the top 25 list, it did make it a long way through the January 08 Family Matters judging (top 5% of about 1,200 submissions!) and was indeed a finalist. It was an excellent read… Thanks again for letting us read your work—we will look forward to more in the future!”
And then there was The Missouri Review’s response to a new draft:
“Though the piece was short, it was still vivid and emotionally resonant. The premise was incredibly fresh — a granddaughter re-imagining her grandmother’s life, and through her contemplations learning about her own life. We’d like to see more from you based on the strengths of this piece. We wish you the best of luck publishing your work and hope you’ll consider sending us more in the future.”
Now “3.0” awaits a response from a Writers’ Group of the Triad Sixth Biennal Greensboro Awards contest, and if it doesn’t win there, I’m off to a few other journals, including Zoetrope all-story.
I write these stopgap stories for several reasons, not the least of which is I have no other choice but to tell tales as they come to me. But I see other benefits such as the toughening of my writer’s mettle and the need for relief – read, communication with the outside world to know I’m heard, I’m heard! – whenever the novel and I lose momentum.
And my rationalization for not cutting the 1500+ words? In the latest pages I haven’t stumbled on a scene that feels like a boulder in the road; everything I’m editing now has headlong momentum. That may not be the best reason to leave scenes in, because “headlong” can translate to “hectic” and “frantic” writing when I’m striving for something else. I also have to weigh the fact that I stopped reading Ian McEwan’s Saturday the other day when the story got too steep for me. It took emotional effort to stay with it, not because the writing isn’t brilliant, but because I wasn’t ready. That reaction speaks about me much more than it does McEwan’s story. I need a day or two, and then I’ll continue the climb along with him.
Perhaps rejections and acceptances should be viewed this way: as gifts to the public and the writer who are ready when they’re ready and not before – and not when we think they should be.
Today’s Writing Goal: I didn’t meet my last writing goal by 825 words. I’ll cut that by the next tally and continue to strive for greater connectivity among scenes. I’m currently backtracking through the places just edited, linking scenes better and beating the bushes for dead words. They keep tumbling out.
Writing Prompts: Please note that writing prompts should always be pursued in emotionally-safe environments with the supervision of someone who interested in encouraging good writing, self-awareness, and reflection. A wonderful resource is Pat Schneider’s Writing Alone and With Others.
© Lyn Hawks. Writing prompts for one-time classroom use only and not for publication in any form elsewhere without permission of this author.
Have you ever tried to be someone’s friend but the person didn’t want to be yours? Have you ever been picked last for a team? Have you ever waited for someone and the person did not arrive? Think about a tough time when you felt rejected. It may hurt to remember it, but sometimes, we have to think about difficult times to understand how to get through them.
Tell the story of what happened, just as you remember. Include what you felt and what was said. Describe the place where it happened.
Now, tell another story. Choose between two options:
Tell the story again. Tell it the way you wish it happened. Share your feelings, what was said, where you were. OR
Tell the story of a time when you rejected someone else. Tell the story of what happened, just as you remember. Include what you felt and what was said. Describe the place where it happened.
Share your story with someone you trust and talk about how to feel better after a time of rejection. If you have rejected someone else, can you do something to make the situation better?
Use the elementary prompt or the following:
There is power in faith. It takes two forms – saying yes and saying no.
I Believe Manifesto
Write a manifesto listing ten things you believe. Do you believe in love with honesty? Do you believe in silent cell phones? Do you believe in organic produce? Whatever you believe, from the sublime to mundane, list it.
Then write the yin to this yang, the I Reject Manifesto. Write a list of ten things you reject.
Let one of the lines from either manifesto inspire the beginning of a piece of writing.