What a Relief

Post Date: August 17th, 2008


“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.

8 Comments

  1. Anonymous says:

    Lyn:
    Enjoyed your latest post as I can relate to it. I sent out 25 query letters/synopses following the standard guidelines, blah, blah. I can say with not hesitation that I received 25 rejections.
    Since I’m so old, the scar tissue from past rejections is too thick to cause any permanent emotional harm. So I plod on.

    I, like you, am cutting, hacking and recuting my “War and Peace” monument. So far, I have cut 103 pages and 27,000 needless adverbs, redundant phrases, useless descriptions, and now I understand why I got rejections. See even us old farts can learn after 60+ years.

    I will resubmit after rewriting my query letters and give it the old college try once more. I like you am getting my MFA by reading both “how to” books and the real works. Currently I’m enjoying Larry McMurty’s “Lonesome Dove” and Clyde Edgerton’s “Bible Salesman”

    I recently struggled with “Saturday” and enjoyed it. But it was a marathon. No skimming this one.

    Keep up the relevant posts.

  2. Anonymous says:

    Lyn:

    Just learned about your new blog. What an inspiration for new and experienced writers.

    Have you thought of sending this to your former students whom you taught at your various schools in California, Durham, Cary.

    All creative writing teachers should participate in your blog. You could become the Huffington Post of Creative writing.

    Think about it.

  3. Lyn Hawks says:

    Hi, Anon,

    Those 25 rejections need to be worn like badges of honor, battle wounds; and yet you’re re-enlisting! I’m impressed.

    What will you do differently in these queries?

    Lyn

  4. Lyn Hawks says:

    Hi, Think About It,

    You are encouraging me to follow through with an idea I’m considering: a Back-to-School e-mail encouraging teachers to visit my writing prompts. I will create a special link for teachers, or at the very least, a continually-updated list of prompts. Thanks for the suggestion!

    Lyn

  5. Randy Yale says:

    Lyn,

    Great, just what I need more Must Read stuff from your family–lol! This blog is great–just like our many talks over the years. I am constantly inspired by your commitment to your work. Thanks for adding blogging to your busy life. Randy

  6. Lyn Hawks says:

    Hey, Randy! Thanks for “stopping by”! Yeah, the family’s known to be wordy and quick to hit “Send.” Good thing you’re a wordsmith and a patient correspondent! What I want to know is when that script of yours will get birthed. But no pressure. Your greatest works of art, the bambinos, should be the big focus right now! 🙂

    Lyn

  7. Anonymous says:

    Latest count: Cut 126 pages and 32,500 words with about 50% done.

    Boy do I have a lot of unnecessary verbage. Why is it that after reading the same page over and over you can still reduce it even more?

  8. Lyn Hawks says:

    Hi, Anon,

    I think we change every time we approach the page, which is why we can get the words to fall away. And thankfully with enough space we can get just a bit more distance — without losing that passion, hopefully! Congrats on continued success at thinning the thicket!

    Lyn












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