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Rejection Before Breakfast

Opened my email this morning to have a rejection waiting for me. It was six AM. There oughta be a law.

But in seriousness, I’ll say that I don’t mind the rejections right now, because they are signs of life. I learned the other day of a man who had weathered 11,000 no’s — and he has published several books as well as short stories in literary magazines. Rejection is a sign of life, that you are out there, committing to the process, sending up flares and hoping for a lifeboat.

And if all that floats back is a little dross, that slimy seaweed that makes me screech when it wraps around my legs, well, remember that this means the ocean is teeming with possibility, and one day, the tides will pull me in.

Filed Under: rejection  

Rejection? Fight it With Aggression

“Writing itself, if not misunderstood and abused, becomes a way of empowering the writing self. It converts anger and disappointment into deliberate and durable aggression, the writer’s main source of energy. It converts sorrow and self-pity into empathy, the writer’s main means of relating to otherness. Similarly, his wounded innocence turns into irony, his silliness into wit, his guilt into judgment, his oddness into originality, his perverseness into his stinger.”
–Ted Solotaroff, “Writing in the Cold: The First Ten Years”

Thought for today: What is sometimes unhealthy obsession is sometimes good for the soul.

That would be writing. I love how Solotaroff understands the inner aggression of writers that drives us back to the desk. Some days, I feel the same competitive surge writing as I do when I root and holler for my favorite team. That surge is like the hunter’s instinct, like the athlete’s zeal, like the warrior’s will. In all these instances, there’s something holier about the motive when it is for a higher cause. When the hunter needs to feed the family and not just hang a trophy; when the athlete strives for his team and not self; when the warrior fights to save lives and not greed; then, you can’t say aggression is wrong. It’s a life force.

Likewise, when I write from a certain level of intensity, of not just belief in what I’m doing but assurance that there is a right, a wrong, and a need for what I’m doing, then there is something magical that occurs.

I can’t write from the desire to bring forth a bestseller (though I do). I must write from the desire to be heard. That’s the holiest reason. And not for the “I” to be heard but the story. The story is all.

I’ve written a story I believe in. It’s a tale that reveals horror, but I had to tell it. It’s truth as I see it. It has received ten rejections.

Today I received another rejection that read this way:

Dear Lyn Fairchild Hawks:

Thank you for sending us “________”.

Unfortunately this particular piece was not a right fit for _______, but we were very impressed by your writing. We hope that you will feel encouraged by this short note and send us something else.

We look forward to reading more.

Sincerely,

The Editors of _______

I was delighted. My story was heard. It didn’t fit this venue, but it was read. It will be heard by more than editors.

The aggression surges in me for a second, and now I’m back in the seat, strapped in, ready to roll.

Let’s roll. It’s on. Let’s write.

Filed Under: rejection, the writing life  

Rules for Rejection

Today’s Word Count for the Novel: 119, 178. 475 words added.

Page Count for the novel: 432

“I have always felt fortunate in having been strongly influenced by my father, a self-made man who is a living example that with hard work you can accomplish anything. Absorbing his worldview, I came to believe that people were neither lucky nor unlucky. Life was more like a game of odds in which you could increase your chances of winning simply by doing more than the next guy. It wasn’t about being in the right place at the right time but about being in a lot of places at a lot of times, showing up even when the odds seemed lousy. How this applies to writers is somewhat obvious, but I’ll belabor the point: submitting your work fifty times or revising it as many times as you have to may be what separates the sung from the unsung.”

— Betsy Lerner, The Forest for the Trees: An Editor’s Advice to Writers

It’s been two weeks of several rejections arriving within days of each other, yet I can’t say I’m feeling the pain. With what I call The System in place, a way to frame and catalog those no’s as they arrive, I’ve got a built-in palliative, call it prescription med, with thankfully no side effects yet noted.

I talk a great story, don’t I? But really, here’s how The System works.

1. Write a short story. Have at least one person I trust look at the second or third draft.
2. Let the story percolate a while, a month or more.
3. Revise again, this time working with at least two drafts in hard copy. (Amazing the number of errors I catch that way.) At least one draft should be read aloud.
4. Submit to three or four literary magazines simultaneously with the following plan:
a. Read guidelines carefully.
b. Submit online, saving money and trees, and to track progress. (Note that this process does prevent submission to several magazines that only accept hard copy.)
c. Always include a cover letter, using a query letter template.
d. Submit to at least three magazines simultaneously. Acknowledge your simultaneous submission.
e. Keep a Submission Record with a table: columns for date submitted, guidelines, and response. Color code all submissions under review with yellow (the yellow light of, Caution, wait and see).
f. When a rejection arrives, update the Submission Record (I color the entry red).
g. Identify another magazine and submit.
h. Wait until you have heard back on one story before submitting another to the same magazine.
i. Keep an eye out for other magazines to submit to. Read everything from author bios for writing conferences, writers’ magazines (submit and contest areas), to list-servs, to short story anthologies. Build a list.
5. Be led by the passion to revise. It’s an intuitive process, but here’s how I explain it: I know when I’ve received enough rejections (it may be two or it may be five) to say, Time to rewrite. Often three or four months have passed, which gives me a clearer eye.
6. Mark all acceptances and finalist standings in green, the verdant color of hope!

So you believe me when I say, “When a rejection arrives, I simply turn to my Submission Record and ask, “Where to?”

Did I say I was feeling no pain? Remember: if a person uses drug analogies, then maybe you shouldn’t hold her responsible for anything she says.

But seriously: The System helps, especially when no one out there hears my shouts. As Lerner says, success is the result of work ethic and not just talent. Sure, there are those gifted ones discovered scribbling in a café or blogging about their personal lives, book deals windfalling their way without sweat or tears. Sometimes it would seem writers would do better making a reality-show embarrassment of themselves before spending three quiet years writing. There will be those who are so gifted they produce brilliant first drafts. Meanwhile, my first drafts? Rough like a five o’clock shadow on one of my Italian ancestors; verbose like a Victorian romance novel whose narrator just won’t shut up. Not for the discerning eye. Yet when my third or fourth draft gets birthed, looking viable, but unbeknownst to me is weak and unable to breathe on its own, The System sends it back into the incubator where it can grow to maturity.

Can you tell my blogs are second drafts?

My System can also explain the rush of recent nos. I have four stories in circulation now at approximately twelve magazines. With increased systematization comes increased response.
Showing up even when the odds seemed lousy. Fifty times you should submit. The System, like Lerner, is there to tell me things take time. Look at each column and row of the Record, and I see worthy time invested, time it takes to get something done right. On the heels of four or five rejections the last few weeks comes a royalty check from a book I published in 2004, after years of labor and heartache. This book, The Compassionate Classroom, has sold not quite 1000 copies, but a few months ago, a publisher in Malaysia purchased translation rights. This deal raised my royalty check to something noticeable (noticeable in my realm of earnings!) The point is, five years later, I’m still seeing rewards — small ones, but rewards nonetheless. And a few weeks before, a colleague approached me to begin a new book project together. We’d enjoyed a good partnership before co-authoring a past book, so this was a nice confirmation new adventures await.

I look to my father, a role model for try and try again, not only with his novel but with every endeavor he’s attempted, and I know like Lerner where I get my worldview from. We share a hopeful stance someone out there wants to hear what we’ve got to say, and we follow it up with queries here, there, and here and there again.

Writing Goal: Finish hard-copy edits on 50 more pages and enter into electronic copy. My goal: 150,000 – 170,000 words and a complete fourth draft ready for editing by mid June. I am planning a writer’s retreat to consider the novel in a few days, to really get a glimpse of it as a whole.

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.

Elementary

A Time You Were Told No

Think of times you have been told no. Were you doing something wrong? Were you doing something you thought was right?

Describe each time.

As you describe the time you did something wrong, explain why you were wrong and why it was good someone told you no.

When you describe the time you did something write, explain why you were right and why it was not so good that someone told you no. How would you explain to this person now your feelings about what you did?

If you could go back to either time, would you? Why or why not? Would you do things differently?

Secondary and Adult

When is someone telling you no a good thing?

Think about a mistake you have made or even a good choice you once made where someone stopped you or told you no. Even if the encounter was unpleasant, looking back, you now see this person was helpful to you. Why? How? How can no be a good thing? Explain by describing the time or writing a letter to that person in thanks for what s/he did.

Filed Under: rejection  

What a Relief


“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.

Elementary:

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?
Secondary:

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.