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Category Archives: rejection

You’re doing it right!

Hey everybody.

It feels like it’s been ages since I asked how you’re all doing. How are you? Really?

I don’t know how many new writers we have as part of our community, but I feel that what I want to talk about applies more to you guys, or those trying out new genres and new territory in you writing.

This month we’re taking it back to basics, which had me reminiscing about when I’d first started my writing journey. One of the things that stand out the most when I think about when I first started writing is a pretty simple question, and the feelings that went it.

Am I doing it right?

It’s such an inconsequential question but it carries so much weight, mostly with myself. Tell me I’m not the only one.

I carried this question with me while I wrote my first novel, and I’ll admit that it put a bit of a damper on the wonderful experience of putting my very first story down in words. I kept on worrying that I was doing it wrong, don’t ask me in what way, I still don’t know. But I worried about it. I’d spend hours at night staring at the ceiling thinking about it while I tried to fall asleep.

A few weeks ago I thought about this question again when I decided to write a genre that I’m not as familiar with as I’d like to be. As I spun my new story, this question poking around the back of my head, I took a moment and answered it.

Am I doing it right?

Yes, I am doing it right.

Why?

Because I’m doing it my way.

It’s strange what a difference the realization made. It’s relief and joy and stupid grinning and motivating and all the other wonderful things that go with answering a question that’s been bugging you for years.

This is stepping away from that comfort zone you’ve made your home and trying something new. Even if you do it wrong(which you’re not), you still did it. How can that be anything but right?

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Finish the Race

In the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games, Derek Redmond’s was a favourite to medal in the 400 meter sprint. Imagine working your whole life for one goal— to be an Olympic champion. You’ve done everything right, you’re on the pinnacle, in great shape, the favourite, all you have to do is give it your all and there’s no doubt you can do it. You’re on your mark, heart steady, muscles flexing. The sound of the gun explodes and you’re off, you can taste victory, and just as your about to cross that finish line, life throws you a curve ball.

 

Derek didn’t finish first that day, he didn’t even finish second or third, he finished dead last. His dream of Olympic gold shattered, but he didn’t give up. He kept going, he crossed the finish line despite everything that had been thrown in his path.

Being a writer isn’t as gruelling as being an Olympic athlete, we don’t compete on a world stage or against other writers. We compete against ourselves, working and striving to become better than we are as we learn our craft. We don’t win gold metals, but we all dream of crossing that finish line. Traditional of self-published, we all dream that one day our stories will be on shelves or on Amazon ready for readers to pick them up and get lost in a new world.  We spend our days hunched over a laptop agonizing over sentence structure and story arcs. We sacrifice sleep and free time to pursue our passion, and we send out queries and get rejections and race ourselves to the ultimate finish line of publication. But does it matter how fast we get there? Does it really matter if we are first to the finish line or last as long as we get there? I started writing and querying over fifteen years ago. I accumulated stacks of rejections, some personal and some not so nice. I had near misses with magazines articles and with one devastating, hamstring snapping, close call with one of the big six. A call so close I could almost taste the paper and ink of the finished book only to fail at getting the gold in the end. I could have quit. I could have said forget it, I give up, time to try something different. I never gave up. It took me another five years to get my gold medal, and it doesn’t even matter how long it took me to get there. I crossed the finish line and so can you.

Writing is not a race. I know it feels like it sometimes, like you have to cross that line now or you might never get there. It’s hard to be patient, it’s hard to keep focused and keep striving forward when all you want to do is give up, to call it quits, but you’re not alone. There is someone out there who wants you to cross that finish line. When you’re down, call on them. Never give up. Stay strong and write on.

Has there been a time when you’ve kept fighting for something? Have you crossed a finish line despite the odds? I would love to hear your stories.

 

Giving and Getting the Most Out of Critiques

Best critique partner ever — Sebastian

There are so many awesome blog posts out there about critiquing, and I encourage you to read all of these posts–you won’t be disappointed. Earlier in the week, Jamie posted about Being Emotionally Prepared for Critiques. I also have a wonderful friend, and fellow YA author, Sarah Ockler, who has written a few posts on critique groups: Evaluating Critique Groups: Six Crucial Questions, and Are you an Ideal Critique Partner?. Brian, from Descent into Slushland, wrote a post How do you Find Critique Partners, and I told him he inspired me to write a post about critiquing, so here goes.

Critiquing — it can be terrifying and exhilarating all at once. I love my partners like they are my own family. I’ve gotten to know them and know about their life, and the friendships I’ve made are everlasting. But no matter how much you love you partner(s) or critique group, it can still be stressful.

When critiquing, there are some things that are helpful, while others simply…aren’t. Writers are full of passion. Yes, you know you are. That passion is crucial to the creative process, but we oftentimes need to keep that passion in check when critiquing for others.

  • Keep it constructive. Sometimes we may not necessarily like a sentence, or maybe a character isn’t working…for YOU. Ask yourself, “Why isn’t this working for me?” Is it simply because you would have written it a different way? Is there a problem with character motivation? Does the wording read awkward? The sentence not tight enough? What kind of image does it bring to mind? Is it the image you think the author is trying to convey? Don’t just tell someone you don’t like something and not tell them why. That isn’t constructive. That is YOU giving a personal opinion.
  • Try to keep the word I out of the critique. Sentences like, “I hate this. I don’t like this character.” Don’t belong in a critique. A critique is serious business. You have to instill and generate a tremendous amount of trust in someone before you can take them seriously. The moment you stop being constructive, the moment the defenses go up.
  • Help diagnose the problem, don’t fix it. It is so easy to want to write someone else’s work for them, because, well, it’s not your work, and we can fix someone else’s work better than we can fix our own. That isn’t your job as a critique partner. If you think the author could say something better (and it isn’t working for you…don’t offer suggestions to something that is working for you), write something like, “Maybe you could try something like this…” Give a suggestion, and then tell them why you’re giving them the suggestion. Sometimes editors and critique partners are good at diagnosing an issue, but we may not have the best solution for fixing it.
  • Ask yourself, “Does this really need to be fixed, or is this just not how I would write it?” This is big. Sometimes we want to rewrite words/sentences/paragraphs/pages when they don’t necessarily need to be rewritten. Everyone has a different writing style–if we didn’t, then no one would read because reading would be boring if everything was similar. It can be easy to try and rewrite things because you think you could write it better. Again, not your job as a critique partner. Just because you would write something one way doesn’t mean it needs to be rewritten at all.
  • Take all feedback into consideration. Not all feedback will be useful. You’re the writer, it’s your story. Sometimes we read something from our critique partner(s) that we disagree with–and that’s normal. You have to have confidence in your work to know what feedback to use and what not to use. BUT, consider all feedback. Even if you’re not going to use it, think about it. Sometimes a comment can spark a thought that leads to an epiphany with your work. Maybe you never would have had the epiphany if you wouldn’t have read the feedback.
  • When two or more. Some people have one critique partner, some have more. Personally (notice I said personally, this isn’t what everyone does, but I’ll tell you why I feel it’s important), I have three (sometimes more–I’m fortunate to have some amazing ladies who read my work) people who read my work for me. Here’s why–when two or more people identify that something isn’t working for them, chances are, you need to go back over that particular thing and rework it. This ties in to taking in all feedback–if one person says something isn’t working for them, but the other two don’t have a problem with it, I still consider it, but I’m not as focused on it as I would be if two or more have a problem with it.
  • Keep a schedule. This is crucial to the success of your work and the relationship with your critique partner(s). Hold one another accountable. If you say you’re going to submit so many pages by a certain date, then make sure you do that. Next, make sure you both agree on when you’ll have them back to the other. Make a schedule that works best for everyone, and keep it.
  • Goals. It’s important to find someone who has the same goals as you. How can you expect someone you’re working with to take your writing serious if they don’t take their own writing serious? If you find someone who is also actively trying to seek publication, and you are actively seeking publication, you can do wonders for each other. You can motivate, encourage, and help the other prepare.
  • Be happy for each other. This is a touchy subject, and I know none of us do this intentionally, but keep that green monster in check. Chances are, you and your critique partner(s) will be at different stages in your writing. One may be further ahead than the other (in terms of being ready to query, not skill level or anything). Encourage them, be happy for them. Querying is a nightmare. There are rejections, second guesses, and lots of emotions to deal with. This is your biggest dream for crying out loud. Be supportive of one another. Offer a shoulder or an ear. Don’t bask in someone else’s misery because you aren’t ready to query yet. Be genuine. It makes a difference.
  • If you have an issue with a critique partner(s), talk it out. Don’t let something fester. If someone says something that hurt your feelings, tell them. They probably didn’t do it intentionally. You have to open up to one another in order for the relationship to be effective. It is a relationship. A big one. Just like any other relationship, you have to put some work into maintaining it. You’ll only grow closer when you do this.

Loki — Sleeping and critiquing

There are a million other things one could write about critiquing, finding critique groups, and being an effective critiquer, but I’ll stop here. What are some things you look for in a critique partner?

 

I Accepted my Rejection

My story sort of starts with rejection, and if I’m honest with you and myself, it was the right way to begin my journey. The experience wasn’t a pleasant one, but I’m getting ahead of myself…

There isn’t a time in my life that I can’t remember not being a reader. For the first seventeen years of my life I was an army brat, and being extremely people shy, growing up and trying to find my place in the world offered a lot of challenges. So pleasant, most not so much. Reading was my escape, and sometimes excuse, not to talk to people. It’s and escape/excuse I still use a lot 😉 and now I’m not even ashamed to admit it.

With that reading came one massive imagination. Or is it the other way around? It doesn’t really matter, the two go hand in hand. Before long I found myself not just reading the stories but experiencing them as well. Now that I think about it, experiencing and being the characters of the books I read might have been the start of my love for first person POV. Maybe it chose me instead of me choosing it.

My first attempt at noveling went okay. It started out as an epic fantasy and reach the fantastic amount of 10 000 words. I still have the printed out pages close to my writing space. I can’t remember why I stopped, but I think it was because I started my studies and there was no time for anything else. Insert a few personal tragedies here, life happens, and a year or so later found me writing a short story for one of my university classes.

It was the beginning of a new year and my lecturer wanted us to get our creative juices flowing and gave us an assignment.  Write a fairytale short story. The best one gets a prize. Of course I jumped onto the assignment, it’s the kind of thing I love. I wrote the story and won that prize, R50 I used to buy myself lunch 🙂  After I won I was full of writing love. I had stars in my eyes, ready to pull out that epic fantasy I’d started and make something of it.

And then a friend offered to read my short story. I’ve never been critiqued in my life when he offered this. It was before I knew other writers, before I knew what being critiqued entailed, before I knew how to handle rejection. I was greener than you could ever imagine. He read it and completely ripped it apart, and I was devastated. I’d poured my heart and soul into this little story and he’d found nothing right with it. It had been a hard blow. It’s worth noting that most of the things he critiqued as being wrong with the story, were the things that are trademarks of short stories, but I hadn’t know it then. I also didn’t have a decent grip on what subjectivity meant.

After that critique I stopped writing completely for four years. FOUR YEARS! That’s about three years and 364 days too long. I can’t remember what went through my mind then except utter devastation.

But that devastation told me one thing, something I’ve come to realize over the last couple of years: Back then I wasn’t ready for what it meant to be a writer. Not the work that went into writing and completing a novel. I wouldn’t have had the courage to send out my novel to be read, and I definitely wouldn’t have been able to handle the critique I would have received. If crits from a friend stung that much, image what I would have felt when they came from a stranger.

Back then I wasn’t ready. It’s as simple as that. I’ve grown a lot since then.

Yes, I wish I’d started earlier. But then my story wouldn’t have been a journey. This is mine and I accept it for what it is.  Every now and then I wonder where I would have been now if I hadn’t stopped writing. It’s only natural. Guess I’ll never know, and I’m okay with that.

I still receive rejection on a weekly basis. It’s a part of life and in everything we do. It’s in the queries that get rejected, the contest where our pitches don’t get picked, the novels we send out to be read and then hear nothing from the readers(Yes, this has happened to me more than once. lol that novel must be a really bad one :D), when somebody doesn’t respond to a blog comment or a tweet. It’s in the negative reviews we’ll receive. All of those are forms of rejection, no matter how you look at it, and there are plenty more. All us writers possess a smidgen of neuroticism, we’ll find rejection even if there isn’t any.

But you know what? Rejection makes you stronger. You understand. It teaches you how to handle things and commiserate with fellow writers. You get to say you know what it feels like and actually mean it.

Since my first rejection I’ve written plenty of novels that I myself have rejected, and I’m okay with it.  My worst rejection was also my best rejection. Everything after that I can handle.

Rejection doesn’t dictate my life and mood like it did back then. I accept it. It’s part of life and I know I’ll end up where I’m supposed to be.

Helpful agent rejections aside, have you had any that helped for the good? It doesn’t matter from where it came.

 
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Posted by on July 11, 2012 in Personal Experience, rejection