Confronting the Tornadic Winds of Rejection: How to Keep the Faith

Pasted Graphic 1
Photo courtesy of NSSL

Yep. It’s spring. Today it snowed, rained, cleared up and then hailed. I’m waiting for the dark of night so I can claim I’m a postman.

Spring is like that, a clash of two forces: winter and summer. The metaphor reflects the hardships of writing as well: a winter of rejection versus the summer of a sale.

In ancient times, the peak of starvation occurred during early spring before the newly plowed fields could produce and after the winter stores ran out. And this is precisely where new writers find themselves, right smack in the middle of early spring. They have written their pieces, and like seeds, they have planted them. Now, they wait for one to flower. Until then, how do they keep from succumbing to an emotional starvation, laying down their pens, unplugging their computers and quitting? They seek out their fellow writers, and we
all share our meager rations.

The Art of War for Writers, James Scott Bell explains how to tell the difference between a hero and a fool. “A hero gets knocked down and quietly regroups to write again; a fool gets knocked down and whines about it ever after.”

Bell suggests that writers are like a pyramid. The base is huge and is made up of wannabes. The next level is smaller and is made up of people learning to be writers such as those who take classes or participate in critique circles. Further up is the level of writers with a finished piece. This is the level where real writers start. Higher up still are those with multiple finished works and then finally, perched on the apex, is a Wheel of Fortune. It spins, and quite randomly, some author wins the prize of publication.

Wheel of Fortune Tarot Card

All the way up to published, a writer has control. After that, he or she does not. Addressing directly the new writer Bell adds, “Your job is to keep moving up that pyramid. That’s it. If you write, work your craft and keep submitting; some day, the wheel will land on your number.”

If you are a new writer, or an old hand having run through a harsh winter, hang in there. Just as the tilt of the earth inevitably brings summer, honing your craft and sending out your pieces will eventually bring you to a sale.

Betsy James Master Class and Homework

I’m taking a master class on speculative fiction for eight weeks with Betsy James via SouthWest Writers. I am having such a great time and have produced two short stories in just four weeks of class. I just wanted to tell everyone that if you get a chance to take one of her courses do so.

I was going to post a sample but it looks like I may have sold it! Woohoo!

Rejection Letters, Sexism and Women's Exodus from Science Fiction

I recently received an interesting rejection letter. It was nearly longer than my submission but that was not the most unusual thing about it. The short story I sent in was from the perspective of a 13-year old girl. The rejection letter waxed on about how tight the writing was, how it kept the editor’s interest, etc. BUT... and there is always one of those in a rejection letter, he couldn’t buy it because the story was about a 13-year old girl and he felt his readers would not identify with her. Could I make her a 17-year old boy?

After I stopped laughing hysterically, I responded, “No.” That was it. I decided I didn’t want to burn this editorial bridge. The rejection letter was really, one long pitiful rationalization for sexism. Obviously, the editor realized he was succumbing to a sexist view or he wouldn’t have blathered on for nearly three printed pages in his email. At least he understood that he was wrong.

I don’t know whether Mr. Sexist Pig Dog was looking for my forgiveness or absolution or just wanting to make himself feel better. But by droning on about how great my piece was and not buying it for such a terrible reason made me mad. If he had just said, “You suck” or employed the cowardly “this does not meet our needs at this time,” I wouldn’t feel as disheartened. But to attempt to defend a sexist decision with three pages of weak-minded, self-serving whining? You’re having a tough time keeping up your numbers? Really? I just checked my calendar to be sure. It does state 2011.

If I really wanted to get even, I would send a copy of his email to his wife. Then, I’d send copies to his daughters and daughters-in-law. It’s only fair that they know that he is part of the problem and not the solution.

Script Frenzy Stop Watching and Start Writing

What is Script Frenzy?

Script Frenzy is an international writing event in which participants take on the challenge of writing 100 pages of scripted material in the month of April. As part of a donation-funded nonprofit, Script Frenzy charges no fee to participate; there are also no valuable prizes awarded or "best" scripts singled out. Every writer who completes the goal of 100 pages is victorious and awe-inspiring and will receive a handsome Script Frenzy Winner's Certificate and web icon proclaiming this fact.

Even those who fall short of the word goal will be applauded for making a heroic attempt. Really, you have nothing to lose—except that nagging feeling that there's a script inside you that may never get out.

Goal Achievement: The Nibbled to Death by Ducks Methodology

I used to teach high school. It was one of the most important things I have ever done. What I liked most was the light bulb moment when the students finally figured something out. I like to think I helped facilitate many of those ah-has. High school students are energetic, curious and driven. Granted, most parents don’t see this and unfortunately, the students don’t always exhibit these characteristics in the classroom. But, when you get them talking about their life goals, the eyes widen and the lips won’t stop moving. I enjoyed watching them develop from clueless freshmen to seniors with a plan.

However, almost universally, the students struggled with converting their dreams into reality. I came to the sad realization that teenagers don’t change their personal goals more often than their underwear only because they are experimenting and trying on new persona. Sometimes, they change because their goals seem too large, too unobtainable and they reset their sights on something easier, closer. They do so because no one has shown them how to achieve the goals they set.

In the U. S., we have a bad habit of telling every kid that they can be anything they want to be. Then, we keep the “how” to ourselves because we really don’t want the competition. Over the years and in my own act of subversion, I developed an integrated method to help students identify, achieve and advance their personal goals. In so doing, I used myself as a guinea pig and still use the method today. To demonstrate this, I will use my new personal goal of moving from being a non-fiction to a fiction writer. As I explain on my About page, I no longer wish to talk about what is, but rather, what if.

Writing Books Part 6 Genre (Science Fiction)

Here is my sixth installment on the writing books I have read. Today, I will review Genre Books: Science Fiction. If your favorite book isn’t reviewed, I might not have read it yet. Go to my contact page and leave me a suggestion. This will be the final NaNoWriMo Book review. I will add other reviews later but not as specific sections responding to Wrimo requests.

Books on Genre Fiction


Writing Books Part 5 Writers' Notebooks

Here is my fifth installment on the writing books I have read. Today, I will review Books on Writers’ Journals. If a book is so hideous I want to sue to get my money back, I will not list it here. If your favorite book isn’t reviewed, I might not have read it yet. Go to my contact page and leave me a suggestion. This review is much shorter as there are only two books.

I have journaled for about ten years. My own journals tend to be in 9.75 X 7.5 Composition books. I used to like Mead but they have gone to hell. The paper is so thin a regular Pilot Rolling ball V5 now goes through not just one sheet but onto the next! We are talking two sheet penetration! So... by going cheap... they now have reduced the usefulness by 1/2 as a 200 pages is now barely 100 as you can only use one side.

Disgusted, I wrote them a letter and got an email back. Sounds good right? Wrong. They claimed that the specs hadn’t changed. Um... yes, they had. A week later, I got a Fedex from Mead. In it was a letter and a gift. The letter was written on thick paper (obviously NOT a Mead product) and in it the customer service rep admitted the specs had changed... duh. The gift was several packs of ruled index cards. Cards? Not kidding. Sounds nice, right? No.

Writing Books Part 4

Here is my fourth installment on the writing books I have read. As I’ve warned you before... if the book is so hideous I want to sue to get my money back, I will not list it here. I don’t want to give the perpetrator any publicity at all. If your favorite book isn’t listed, I might not have read it yet. Go to my contact page and leave me a suggestion if you know of a good book.

This installment is on
Books on the Craft of Writing. NaNoWriMo is over. Boohoo! After allowing the dough to rest, we must punch it down and make a book out of it. It might be worth reading some of these titles before attacking the behemoth written in November. Reward yourself. Read a book by one of your favorite authors and then one or two of these craft book and study how your favorite author reels you in. See how you can add more of that in your own work. GOOD LUCK!

Writing Books Part 3

Here is my third installment on the writing books I have read. Note that if the book is so hideous I wanted to sue to get my money back, I will not list it here. I don’t want to give the perpetrator any publicity at all. Obviously, if you favorite book isn’t listed, I might not have read it yet. Go to my contact page and leave me a suggestion if you know of a good book.

This installment deals with
books on editing. The end of NaNoWriMo is only four days away. Until then, all critics must stay locked in their boxes. However, after a break in December, most wrimos will want to start the arduous process of editing their first draft. These books will help you do that. If you are not yet finished with you NaNo novel, don’t look at these until you have! Read More...

Writing Books Part 2

Here is my next installment on the writing books I have read. Note that if the book is so hideous I wanted to sue to get my money back, I will not list it here. I don’t want to give the perpetrator any publicity at all. Obviously, if you favorite book isn’t listed, I might not have read it yet. Go to my contact page and leave me a suggestion if you know of a good book. This installment deals with books that are on the life of a writer. These could and do cross over to the inspirational side as well.

Books on the Writing Life

Terry Brooks

  • Lessons from a Writing Life (2005) This book is very similar to Stephen King’s and Anne Lamott’s and, in fact, quotes both. I found it very easy to read, good info and some great illustrative autobiographical vignettes. It contains a slightly different perspective on publishing and includes lots of praise for his mentors at Del Rey. I found it personally interesting because he was a lawyer and went through what I am going through now. The day job just doesn’t cut it anymore no matter how professional or tenured you are.

Inspirational Writing Books

We are less than halfway through the month of November and that mean less than the halfway mark for NaNoWriMo. Yes, Thanksgiving no longer dominates this month. Many of my Wrimos have asked me for advice on writing books. I have read dozens... literally. So I went through my annotated bibliography and will start uploading my reviews. This is just my personal opinion so don’t whine if you don’t agree with my assessments. Try a few and if we have similar tastes... or the exact opposite... then this list should help you. Today’s list will include writing books that have inspired me (or not but sit in that classification). Over the next few weeks, I’ll add my reviews on books in the following categories: Writer’s Life, Keeping a Notebook, Editing, The Craft of Writing and Genre Specific Books. I have already written a review of Jeff Vandermeer’s book on the business of writing here. ENJOY! Read More...

Writing vs. the Business of Writing

I recently read Jeff Vandermeer’s Booklife (2009). The book is split into two halves. The first half is dedicated to the external/public book life (goals, platforms, new media, blogs, etc.) with the second half addressing the internal/private book life. The book is based on new media blogging and is in the form of short essays. The information is very useful for writers who are already professionals with publications on their CV. It is less so if you don’t have a contract pending. Once you do, pick up this book and learn how you are required to sell yourself. This used to be done by the publishers but now you get paid $%^& and have to do their jobs too. Read More...

NaNoWriMo or National Novel Writing Month

National Novel Writing Month or NaNoWriMo occurs every November. It’s when 200,000 people from all over the world take on the challenge of writing a 50,000 word (175-page) novel in thirty days. It’s an anti-contest writing contest because there are no judges, the prizes are lousy and new and old writers alike bash out surprisingly good books in an absurdly short amount of time.

I have been doing NaNoWriMo since 2003. I have won all seven years and am hoping to make this year number 8! I have been a Municipal Liaison (ML) officially for four years and two unofficially before that. I owe NaNoWriMo so much. I don’t just mean seven bad first drafts and the wonderful camaraderie of my fellow wrimos. I mean the boost in confidence in my ability to write fiction.

The most common fears that hold back would be writers (as highlighted in almost every writing book such as this one by Ralph Keyes) include the fears that you’ll never finish, that you will finish, that you only have one in you, that you will be too lonely doing it, that you will become an alcoholic/drug addict, that you won’t be able to make a living, you’ll run out of ideas, you’ll suck, the rejections will crush you… the list goes on. The advantage with NaNoWriMo is that you blast through most of them in 30-days and you don’t have to pay shipping or handling or have your credit card available. Read More...

Rat Park and Deciding to Ditch the Career

First, let me explain what I mean by Rat Park.

We have all heard, in some apocryphal form, about the addiction experiments where rats would keep hitting the switch for cocaine (or some other drug) until they died. They chose the drug over everything else including food, water and other rat companions. In 1981, psychologist
Bruce Alexander ran a slightly different experiment. He noticed that in all the previous studies, the rats were kept in small, wire cages under very grim conditions. He wanted to test what the rats would do if they were housed in the equivalent of Rat Park. Would their behaviors change?

The rats living in Rat Park had lots of room, food and water, access to rats of the opposite sex and private places for their own dens. These rats eschewed the drugs. Those rats who entered addicted went out clean and those who were clean in Rat Park but moved to Rat Hell immediately started to drug up.

There are a lot of lessons to be learned here. Two examples come to mind: (1) bad experimental design and (2) correlation not equaling causation (i.e. rat suicide due to living in Hell as opposed to cocaine being all that). However, like all good addiction researchers, let’s extrapolate this behavior to humans.

OK... who's messing with the fourth dimension?

I used to work 90 hours a week. I didn’t do anything else. In fact, at one low point, I was yelling at the microwave oven because five minutes was too damn long to wait for dinner. Then, I quit. I listed 27 reasons in my exit interview. I will save that story for another day. The point is, despite my distinct lack of time, I was still able to produce a novel a year. Now, that I am “retired” from that career, my productivity has not improved. Why not? I’ve got 40 more hours a week… in theory… So I want to know, who’s been messing with the fourth dimension?

Occam’s razor posits that the simplest explanation is most likely the correct explanation. (Simplest is defined as the introduction of the fewest assumptions.) Ergo, there must be a contraction in time because there is only one assumption. Someone’s shortening the hours in my day. However, my scientific training will not allow me to force my data to fit my theory but rather it propels me to examine all the data and let that analysis determine the theory. Read More...