With a Little Help From My Friends

I used to get discouraged when I would take a writing class or attend a conference and be forced to acknowledge that the world is full of talented writers who are as more driven than I am to create and tell stories.  It made my dreams feel ordinary and facing the competition was depressing.

Then, five years ago, I joined a writing group formed in one of those classes. I never felt that way again. I became invested in these people and the stories that they tell. I want them to achieve their writing and life goals and I believe that they will. I’ll be there with reasonably priced champagne when they do.

Yesterday, I got an email from a friend who is a former member of my writing group.  I mentioned that I had submitted a writing sample to another agent and that I was prepared for the statistical probable rejection that I will receive.  He replied with this message:

Final 2015 stats from an agency in Denver: 29k submissions. 130 requests for full manuscripts. 3 new authors signed.

You don’t get to be one of the final three without first being one of the 29k.

Writers are not your competition.  They are your fellow dreamers.  We all have stories to tell.

Sit down and email one of them right now.  I guarantee they will appreciate the encouragement.

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Perhaps I Spoke Too Soon

In my last post I bragged about having overcome the sting of rejection. I all but claimed the I was the Dread Pirate Roberts, and rejection was my iocane powder. 

Remember that story I spit shined and sent back into the world to take some cuts? Yeah, it took some cuts. Immediate and merciless cuts. 

When you submit a story and it takes a few months to get rejected, you get this idea that maybe you made it through a few rounds before it was tossed out of consideration. But when you get rejected with 72 hours there are no such happy delusions. They had zero interest. They would have thrown it over a shoulder if they weren’t reading it on an iPad. They may have rolled their eyes at my pitiful writing and probably didn’t get past the first page. But I definitely have no talent and should stop bothering these poor people by pretending otherwise. 

Most of the time writing is my passion and I know I will always write, regardless of whether I have any success with publishing, because I must. It is and has always been the way I make sense of the world. 

But sometimes writing is a second job that I took on which pays only in disappointment. And sometimes I feel well paid.

Reject

Lately my friend Gina and I have been talking about trying rejection therapy. It’s this game that I heard about on NPR. The idea is that you intentionally put yourself in situations where you know you will be rejected (like walking up to a stranger and asking for a ride to another city). Eventually you get rejected so many times that it stops feeling destructive.  

It seems like a good idea to me. Managing rejection is an important life skill. If you never experience it in your career or love life, well good for you. You are a Kardashian. The rest of us gotta deal. 

Then the other night I got an email that reminded me that I am already doing rejection therapy: I’m a writer. 

It wasn’t a suprise. It is story I’m proud of but the magazine was a reach for me. I’ll submit to them again in the future. They will get quite practiced at rejecting me, if I have anything to say about it. 

Here’s the funny thing that I noticed: this was the first time that the rejection didn’t illicit a pain response. When I first started sending stories to editors and began collecting rejections, it registered as a physical ache in my chest. Like the wound to my pride was so intense it rattled my rib cage and bruised my heart. The first two or three emails reduced me to tears and it took days to recover. 

Lately, however, when I’ve been mingling at conferences or workshops, I’ve been hearing how many rejections the other writers have received and I’ve started feeling like a poser. Or, at the very least, a lightweight. They have serious battle scars and stories from the trenches that make my experience feel like – not a war – but a paper route in a middle class neighborhood. 

“I fell off my bike and everything! And there was this grumpy guy who never paid on time. Also, he had a really nasty Pomeranian…”

I came home from the last one thinking “I have GOT to get some more rejections! I NEED these people to take me seriously!!!”

Notice, the thought wasn’t “I need to get more publications,” which should be the goal. It was “I gotta go get roughed up out there so I can say I paid my dues!”

I’m not sure that speaks well of me. But I can say that the morning after I got this recent rejection I gave my story a little spit shine, found another magazine that seemed like a plausible fit, pounded out a cover letter and sent that kiddo back out into the field to take some more abuse. And that seems like a good thing. 

So, thanks Rejection Therapy! I appreciate what you have done for me! And for the record: you can’t have a ride either. 

Halfway Down the Stairs: Tenth Anniversary Edition

Great news! I had a story published! It can be found here!

That is all.

Some Thoughts From the Conference 

I had such a great time at the writing conference in Ohio. I took a lot of notes and had a wonderful consultation on a writing sample I sent in. I won’t go into much detail here except to say that it was inspiring to spend a few days with a group of people who share this passion of mine. 

To summarize the biggest takeaways (none of them are profound or even new information, but helpful to me all the same):

  1. Everyone feels like an imposter. 
  2. Everyone gets rejected. 
  3. Writing is work. Next time I find myself brooding over how difficult it is to get traction in the marketplace and then slipping into a panic about whether or not I have something original to say and/or the talent to say it, I should stop, shut up, and get back to work. 

Cheryl Strayed gave a wonderful reading at the conference. I was lucky enough to get a minute to talk to her and get a book signed. (Swoon!)

A few days later I saw this post on her Facebook page (no I am not stalking her, why would you ask me that?). I thought “I can toss out my notes from the conference and just memorize this!”  

Or maybe I’ll just print it and put it on my bathroom mirror. I’m thinking it’s a little too long to be a tattoo, but I haven’t ruled it out yet. 

  

Career Advice From the Fella

I spent the weekend at a writing conference. I’ve been feeling a bit discouraged with the business of trying to find an agent so I decided I needed to get out and meet new writers and focus on the work instead of the rejection. 

While in transit I had this text exchange with my fella. It was good encouragement as well as a good reminder of why we are hanging out in the first place. 

   
 

Query Letters are Hard

I’m drafting a query letter to send to writing agents in an attempt to seduce them into asking for the full manuscript of my book. It may be the most difficult thing I have ever tried to do. It is definitely the most difficult 300 words I have ever written.

I’m really hung up on getting the voice right. I want to be authentic, obviously. But I’m selling a collection of humorous essays. The letter MUST be funny. But it is also a business letter. It MUST be professional so that they take me seriously. Here is an example of a sentence that is giving me some aggravation. I think it’s funny. The editor of my dreams should find it funny. It is NOT however professional, and I am therefore irresolute.

“I work in pharmaceuticals professionally and write recreationally, but I am working toward making a permanent transition wherein I would write professionally and do pharmaceuticals recreationally.”

See what I mean?

I’m in a no-win situation.

I have no more to say about the matter; I just needed to vent some frustration. And if there are writers out there who might have some advice, I’m all eyes. (Because it’s a blog and you would be writing back and I would read your comments… never mind.)