Rejection: Tempting the Fates

So, I wrote a post about Michael Phelps last week and how he used rejection and ridicule (who's laughing now, twitty teenagers who made fun of him?  Huh? Huh?) to spur himself on.  I mentioned that perhaps we writers could take a page from ol' Michael's book and use that same technique when we get rejected ourselves.

Ah, the universe is such a trickster.

Because it was only a few short days later that I got a rejection from an agent. 

This wasn't a nice rejection, where the agent makes a few pithy suggestions about how to improve the novel.  It wasn't even a rejection that was signed by the agent.  It was a flippin' form letter. 

I haven't gotten a form letter rejection in ages.  To make matters worse, this particular agent is known for representing many of the mentors and alumni of the MFA program I attended. 

And I get a flippin' form letter from her.

The funny thing is, I found the letter in the stack of mail and I knew.  First of all, the  SASEs are a dead give-away and immediately recognizable.  But I swear, the energy of the rejection was contained on the envelope itself, and I knew without even opening it what the result was going to be.

I whined and moaned a bit on Twitter and my tweeples cheered me up.  And then I realized I'd written that post about Michael Phelps and loftily suggested we all emulate him when it came to rejection.

So now I'm going to.  Watch out New York publishing world, cuz I'm mad!  I'm angry, and I'm inspired and, just like Michael (I think we can all call him Michael now, don't you?) I'm going to use this anger to fuel my success.

Oh, there's just one drawback that occurs to me.  Michael can train harder, swim harder, eat more calories for breakfast and go out there and break records all by his little own self.  I can write harder, write better, send my novel out more, obsess about eating too much for breakfast, and I still can't necessarily achieve success all by my little own self.  I need an agent. 

That's the rub about the publishing industry and the film biz–you can put your heart and soul into it and still you have to rely on someone else to recognize your brilliance. 

So I guess all I can do is do my best and work my hardest and let the universe, trickster that it is non-withstanding, make things happen.

And be grateful I don't have to spend hours every day swimming.  I love my man Michael, but I'm the worst swimmer in the world.

Patting Myself on the Back

And may I now direct your attention to the right of this post, to the brand spanking new sign-up box? 

I'm very excited to offer you a free report, 100 Questions to Jump Start Your Writing, when you sign up for me newsletter.

There's good reason to do this, because it will be full of information about upcoming events, writing (ya think?) and also news about forthcoming products from moi, such as an Ebook I am about to publish called Set The Words Free.

The main reason I'm patting myself on the back, however, is that poor little ole un-techy me actually figured out how to create an autoresponder and sign-up box all by myself.  I subscribed to Aweber, and if any of you need to create newsletters, autoresponders, or marketing campaigns for your sites or blogs, I highly recommend them.   They have great, clear, step-by-step directions that you can print out and follow along.  Trust me, if I can do it, anybody can.  It actually was kinda fun. 

Now I really love getting emails saying that people have signed up so humor me and do it.  I promise, promise, promise that your information is safe with me and will never get out of my clutches.  They'll have to kill me before I divulge your information, I swear it!

Okay, I might not be willing to defend your email address to my death, but close.

Please note: if you signed up on the old sign-up form I had, please re-sign-up.   Aweber is very picky about what addressed they will let you import, as well they should be, so it is easier just to start fresh.  Besides, though it pains me to admit, there weren't that many of you.

Now that I'm offering something for free, I feel certain you will sign up.  Right? Am I right?  Prove me right!

Robin’s Publication Day!

This is an exciting day for my friend Robin Gideon.  Aspen Mountain Press is releasing her novel,
Silky Sins: Cassandra's Story.  Its a sizzling contemporary erotic romance and you can download it in ebook format and get it immediately.

Robin is absolutely amazing–she has an incredible list of books coming out over the next few months, and I personally, am a very bright kelly green with envy.   Robin and I met during my brief stint as an erotic romance editor.  I plucked Silky Sins out of the slush pile and knew immediately that Robin was a winner.  Her subsequent success has proven me correct!

Stay tuned for reviews and interviews with Robin on Bookstrumpet.  And go buy her book, it'll make your weekend.

Do You Think He Needs A Ghostwriter?

Michael Phelps is writing a book.

I'm guessing, just a wild stab, that somewhere near Baltimore a ghostwriter hit the jackpot and will spend the next month hanging on every word Phelps says.  They are getting this baby out in time for Christmas, so its obvious Phelps is not going to write it himself. 

The book is going to be called Built to Succeed, and it'll outline his philosophy of training as well as his life being raised by a single mother.

By the way, that single mother is to blame for a wee little shopping spree I took yesterday.  Women of a certain age, such as myself, are greatly enamored of shopping at Chico's for a variety of reasons.  Chico's clothes have a certain, highly recognizable look to them.  Every time I saw Debbie Phelps sitting in the stands, I'd think, she's wearing Chico's.

Well, I was right.  And the company figured this out, too, and immediately put together the Debbie Phelps Collection on their website.

Pretty brilliant marketing, don't you think?

I was reading about that yesterday and thought, hmm, Chico's, its been awhile.  And I have coupons, too!  Maybe I could just take one tiny little look at the website….

And thus a shopping spree was born. 

I justified it by telling myself I need clothes for the upcoming orientation weekend at the Loft in Nashville, and its true.   And by the way, while I'm speaking of the Loft, our next semester kicks off on September 12th in Nashville.   There's no better way to learn to write than to study one on one with a mentor.

And I'll be stylin', too.

Take A Hint From Michael Phelps

I adore Michael Phelps almost as much as I love his mother.  I think I just love seeing the two of them together because it reminds me of my relationship with my own adored son, Lewis.  There's just something so unique about that mother-son relationship.  Of course, the mother-daughter relationship is special and unique also but that's for another post.

NBC had an extended interview with Phelps this evening, first with Phelps, his coach, and Rowdie Gaines (do we love that name or what?) and then with Phelps and his mother, who it turns out is a middle school principal in Baltimore. 

This interview was particularly illuminating because Phelps and his mother talked about how he was made fun of and bullied through much of his school career.   The other kids mocked his ears, mocked his dedication, mocked his "nerdiness."  But instead of this having a detrimental effect on him, it was actually quite the opposite.  It fueled him to work harder, swim faster, win more.

And this motivation continued throughout his career.  Every time people from other teams (especially those pesky French) talked trash to him in the run-up to the Olympics, he didn't let it get him down.  Instead, the comments motivated him.  His coach figured this out and handed him the articles, with the best quotes highlighted.  Michael would post them at the back of his locker and read them over and over again.

Now, me, I might hear the comments of those trash-talking French swimmers and wither.  I might decide that they are correct.  But Phelps took the opposite tack and we all know the result–8 gold medals at this Olympics only, 14 overall, the most ever by an Olympian. 

Just think about how our writing careers might take a huge leap forward if we used rejection as our fuel and motivation.  If, when you got a rejection from an agent for the novel you have loved and slaved over, you posted that rejection and read it every day and used it to fuel your determination to get your novel published.

I have to admit that I, for one, do not do that.  Instead I think about how stupid that agent is for rejecting me and then I start to wonder if maybe she is really smart and I'm the dumb one for submitting my novel in the first place.  And then I think some more and realize that my novel is such a huge piece of idiocy that even the post man was embarrassed to have to handle it and that I will never, ever, as long as I draw breath on this planet and no doubt any others, publish a novel.

So, hmmm, Phelps' approach or mine, which is the more useful?  Gosh, that's a no-brainer.

So I am going to try the Phelps approach to rejection and adversity.  I'm going to celebrate my next rejection because I will know that it is fueling my efforts to move forward and publish a novel.  I'm going to post that rejection on my bulletin board over my desk and read it often, instead of hiding it in a file cabinet, or burning it.

By the way, just in case, the universe or creator or source or God or goddess is reading this post, can I just say that I would really prefer not to have to put this to the test?  That I can live just fine without another rejection?

But just on the off chance there's another rejection in the offing, I'll let you know how the Phelps Theory works out for me.

I’m Writing, I’m Writing, I’m Writing

I'm back home in Portland, and its hot.  Like over 100 hot.  Every day.  I do not like this.  My office is upstairs and as we all know heat rises and hot damn it gets hot up there.  My computer does not like it either.  It tells me this by bluescreening and then fading quickly to black. 

So at the moment I'm working from the one air-conditioned room in the house, the family room, which is the wee-est bit problematic because other people have this crazy idea that they want to share this space with me.  No matter how much I snarl and bare my teeth at them they persist and before I know it, the TV is on and I'm absorbed in the Olympics.  Yes, water polo is too fascinating.

Despite these problems I have valiantly pressed forward and managed to complete the entire introduction for a ghostwriting project today.  And this situation has made me think back to the days before I was a professional writer.  I wanted to be one so badly, but I had two small children and little clue how to go about it.  I'd graduated from the University of Oregon with a degree in journalism in the post-Watergate days when everyone wanted to be a newspaper reporter (now a quaint occupation), the main reason being that all reporters looked like Robert Redford, of course.

To work at a newspaper I would have had to go to a small town to get a job and since I was painfully shy (I'm not kidding, this is true) then, I just couldn't see myself doing this successfully.  So instead I did the logical thing for women who graduated and didn't know what to do–I got pregnant.  

My two children are lovely, amazing adults now, and I love them both beyond all reason.  But dear lord they were a distraction when they were little.  I was not one of those together super-mothers.  My house was always a mess and I was always frazzled and out of it, and I didn't even have a job outside the home.  Things were less organized and frantic back then than they are now so I could get away with this.  I look at all the things young mothers do now and I'm grateful I'm not trying to raise kids now.  I'd be shunned for ineptitude.

Through it all I desperately wanted to write and once in awhile would take little snippets of time to try, try being the operative word.  Finally the wee tidbits got a bit bigger and for whatever reason I landed a job writing a book.   To this day, I can't remember how.   I set up a desk in a corner of the bedroom and wrote the whole thing on a typewriter, which now barely even seems possible to me.  Who watched the children while I was doing this, I have no clue.  Hmmm, maybe that's when Lewis got that scar on his head?  Kidding, really!

What I do remember is sitting at the typewriter writing and being thrilled to my core.  Just sitting there, typing away, thinking, I'm writing, I'm writing, I'm writing.  It just didn't get any better than that, even though my "office" was one little corner of the bedroom and I had as little clue what I was doing writing a book as I did raising children.

All these years later, and here I am, sitting in the family room, with people wandering in and out, and still I'm writing.  The typewriter is now a laptop computer, but still sometimes I catch myself as I complete a project, thinking, I'm writing, I'm writing, I'm writing. 

And I'm thrilled to the core.

But I Get To Write About It

Reason Number Gazillion why its great to be a writer: because no matter what happens, you get to write about it.  When your heart is broken and life sucks, at least you get to write about it.  And the worse the things that happen to you, the better story they will make.  What other enterprise offers such a fabulous inverse proportion of bad to good?

In writing about it, you will distill it down and see what the true story is.  From this, you'll be able to make something of the experience.  The solace of this is immeasurable, and I'm not sure how people who don't write exit without it. 

Even if the experience doesn't make it directly into the pages of my journal, odds are good that it will be transmuted into a character in a novel or a story, or somehow filter into a blog post, or even color what I write to a student.  One way or another, writing is alchemy.

The only thing I remember from Natalie Goldberg's Writing Down the Bones is the anecdote she tells about a fellow writer about to get mugged on the streets of New York.  "Don't hurt me, I'm a writer!" the friend yelled.   I imagine the writer friend said that because she needed to write about the experience.

I just remembered another thing from the book (Reason Number Gazillion and One to write: it helps you remember things): how Goldberg, or one of her friends always said that writers live twice.  You get this, of course, but I'll explain it anyway.  Writers live twice because we experience the event and then we get to write about it.  Sometimes it is difficult to say which is the more pleasurable.

So, in these precarious times, give thanks that you are a writer.  And, when the check doesn't come in the mail, the man doesn't email, the weight doesn't budge, the words won't flow, the figures don't add up, just remember: at least you get to write about it.

The Writing Process

The thought occurs that reminders about the basics are a good thing.  I know for certain that I forget things about writing all the time and then when I remember them I feel like I've discovered the fountain of youth or the secret to cloning Brad Pitt.  No, wait, I hear that Johnny Depp is the current hot boy.  Well, you can clone Johnny and I'll clone Brad.

One of the things that is easy to forget about is the writing process. Or, perhaps we should capitalize it, The Writing Process.  It sounds official and mysterious but really it is the easiest thing in the world because basically all you have to do to partake of The Writing Process is write.

Sounds easy, and, um, logical, right?

Too bad we silly, wonderful humans allow ourselves to get bogged down and forget how easy it is to write.  Instead, we get mired in the muck of perfection.   We may begin to think that every sentence or even every word must be perfect before we move on.  We decide that we should know every single thing about our main character and her arc and every single scene we are going to write and every detail of it before we move forward.  We convince ourselves that this is how we are supposed to write, and we also convince ourselves that the "real" writers produce sterling prose the first time out, without ever having to revise.

Not even.

The most prolific writers follow The Writing Process.  It is damn difficult to be prolific when you are obsessing over every word that must come from your brain, through the fingers, onto the page.  It is really hard to get a lot of writing done when you are locked in a war with yourself about perfection.

On the other hand, there's also the trap of putting words on paper as they occur to you and assuming your are done, that your genius needs no revising.  This is most often seen in beginning writers.  There's that rush of creation and it feels so damn good that it is difficult to believe that the slightest thing could be wrong with your creation.

Steer a middle path through these two extremes and you'll find The Writing Process, which allows you to alternate between the two extremes.  Here's a rundown of it:

  • Rough draft.  Some people call this the discovery draft, because you are discovering the story.  You start writing at the beginning and push on through to the end, without stopping to revise or edit or make the changes your critique group told you about.  Even if you make a major change mid-stream, you keep writing.  At many times throughout the process you may feel lost, but once you get to the end, you'll know much, much more about the story than you did when you started.
  • Second draft.  This one is going to be a bit shapelier, but still not gorgeous.  You'll be looking at big issues this time around, such as how the plot functions and if the character arcs work.  You've learned so much from writing a rough draft that you'll be applying all those stellar ideas to this draft.
  • Third draft.  Probably more of the same, unless you're really good or you've made a deal with the devil.  Every draft that you do will allow the novel to unveil itself to you, and you'll get to a deeper and deeper level with it.
  • Fourth draft.  In reality, you'll probably do so many drafts that you'll lose track, but for the sake of the story, let's assume after the third draft you're satisfied with all the big issues and ready to move on.  Now you look at style, such things as using active verbs and varying your sentence structure, making sure you don't overuse the word "that" and so on and so forth.  I once had a mentor tell me to spend an hour per page in this stage, but I've never been able to manage it.
  • Fifth draft.  The fine-toothed comb draft.  Every word, every comma, every semi-colon, is up for consideration. 

After all this, finally, you will have a draft you can be proud of and eager to send out.  And then the real fun begins, as you navigate the dangerous waters of the publishing world.  And that is a topic for another post, or more likely, another person with more expertise than me.

Those Who Tell…and Those Who Don’t

Or maybe the title of this should be Those Who Remember and Those Who Don't.

I'm talking about writing, of course, and those who remember and tell every aspect of their current story while they are working on it.  I had dinner with my screenwriting friend last night and he went back through every scene of every act of his current script which he is turning into a novel.

I'm in awe of this, because I can't remember a scene five chapters ago in my current novel.  I take my work to my critique group and they start to talk about "when Riley said this" or "Emma Jean left the motel and went to the bookstore" and I'm drawing a complete blank.  Same thing happens with my blog posts, too–someone will tell me they enjoyed my post and I'll ask, "What did I write about?"

I realize this makes me sound like a complete dim-wit, but I've heard other writers say the same thing and so I thought it worth exploring.  I've heard writers say they'll be out on book tour, signing books, and a reader will comment on a specific scene to which the writer draws a complete blank.  By this time, said writer is deep into the next book.  The last one has been released onto the world.  She's onto something new.

I console myself with these reports from other writers and also with the thought that its because I write so much and so many different things.  Its not age, which is usually a worthy scapegoat, because this has been happening for a long time.

I suspect it may also have to do with how we process information.  Years ago I had a friend who was developing a machine that tested whether you were primarily a visual, auditory, or a kinesthetic learner.  He hooked this machine up to the computer and you had to identify first photos, then sounds.  I blew the tester out of her seat with my facility for identifying the photos correctly and quickly.  I have this knack for taking in an entire computer screen in a glance, or an entire paragraph.  Doesn't work with sounds, though.  After two of them I was hopelessly confused.   I process information nearly completely visually, which is why if you tell me a phone number you have to say it very slowly and carefully.  And it is why I write everything down.  Don't necessarily have to refer back to it, just need to write it down.

And this, I suspect, is why I don't tell my stories out loud and why I tend to forget them.  I'm not a story teller, I'm a story writer.  If I tried to tell you the plot of my story I'd get as hopelessly confused as I was during the sound test.  But give me pen and paper and I'll write you a fabulous synopsis.  (This is also why email was invented just for me.  I'd be happy if I never had to talk on the phone again.)

So I admire Brian and his facility for spinning tales as I drank my wine and picked at my fried fish sandwich (strange combination, but good).   But don't ask me to try to mimic him.  And don't ask me what the subject of this post was tomorrow.

Ah, LA….

where it is illegal to look different from anyone else.

It is a requirement here that you be thin, tan, have long hair, wear sunglasses and pout, AND be young.  Thus if you are not young it is required that you go get plastic surgery really, really fast.  And then you look like you are trying hard to look like everyone else, even though everyone knows that you went under the knife to do it.

Ah, LA.  I love it so, and I'm not even sure why.

Being here always makes me muse on the nature of identity and true self.  These are important topics for writers because letting that ole true self out in words is pretty much the key to it all.  You will find success only when you find your voice and you find your voice by writing enough that you can let it rip, and open a direct line from your deepest inner being, through the arm, out the fingers, and onto the page.  Or keyboard.  Or digital recorder.

My friend Deidre, who lives in Silver Lake, says that everyone in LA strives to look alike and act alike and be alike and then the one person who is not like everyone else arrives and they are the one who makes it.  So why does everyone else persist in attempting to be like everyone else?

And once you hit 40, forget it.  Actually, it might even be 30.  Soon it will probably be 20.

Lat night I had drinks with a friend who is an entertainment attorney and he says its a hellish culture of youth here  (my words, not his, but they have a ring to them, no?)  As an attorney, he is expected to be wise and mature so he doesn't have to worry about the the age thing, but if you are flailing about on the creative side trying to make it, you gotta be young.

The hell part is, of course, that everyone ages.  Even Hollywood Goldenboys.  Then they have to dye their hair and pretend they are still young.

I realize that none of this is news, yet it continually perplexes me every time I come down here. Why do we all persist in trying to make ourselves just like everyone else, when there's only one of each of us in this whole world?  I'm veering dangerously close to getting teary eyed and talking about snowflakes here so forgive me, or better yet, explain it to me.

I'm reading Harriet Rubin's latest book, The Mona Lisa Stratagem: The Art of Women, Age, and Power, and she talks about how if a famous actor is on stage and a cat is on stage, all eyes will be on the cat. Why?  Because the cat is uniquely, gloriously, himself, no matter what.  Animals just are.  (This might help to explain why the most popular photos on my yahoo home page are always of animals.  So we're not as simple minded as I feared.)  Its the same thing with babies.  Ever notice how nobody can keep their eyes off them? 

Somebody ought to tell all the 20-something wannabe actresses that story.

And yet, despite my horror at the preponderance of clones everywhere and the cult of youth here, there is something about this place that keeps luring me back. 
Maybe I like coming here so much because I can flee back north to
Portland, where everybody seems desperately determined to not look like
anyone else, ever. 

Or maybe its just the palm trees.