On Fear and Rejection

This is what an editor looks like, right?

This is what an editor looks like, right?

Image from Dreamstime

 

I went to When Words Collide, a local writers and readers conference, this weekend.  I attended last year, and enjoyed it enough to attend again this year.  Of course, we put on a NaNoWriMo panel that went really well (much better than we anticipated), but there were so many other highlights that I couldn’t even begin to share them all with you now.  Maybe in the coming days, as I have time to process all that I have learned, I will be able to summarize some of the key lessons.  Most of the best information was actually shared by Kevin J. Anderson and his lovely wife Rebecca Moesta, and I suspect that I will be telling you a little bit more about those lessons as well.

 

The theme of this weekend seemed to be taking risks.  First off, I signed up for a blue pencil cafe (a one-on-one with an author or editor to review the first few pages of a manuscript).  Sadly, mine was a little rushed, because another author had to cancel so they tried to shove us all through, but I still got some valuable feedback.  Second, I decided somewhat last minute to attend a Live Action Slush Pile (more on this in a bit).  Finally, my partner was brave enough (and ready enough) to try pitching to a local publisher and was asked to submit a few chapters.  So positive news all around.

 

What I really wanted to talk about today was confidence.  I’ve blogged before that I’m new to sending my work out for others and a little worried about rejection.  I’ve only submitted one story to date, and that was for a writing competition (I wasn’t even long listed) with no harsh letter or feedback on the other end of it.  So when I submitted my first page to the Live Action Slush Pile on Saturday night, I was nervous.  The point of a Live Action Slush is for editors to listen to a bit of your manuscript and decide whether they liked it or when they would stop reading if they were reading from a slush pile at a publishing house.  My poor first chapter only made it through two paragraphs before three of the four readers stopped.

 

At first, I was crushed.  I worked hard at that opening paragraph, and I thought it was pretty good.  It didn’t help when the two entries after mine were writers that I know and were read all the way through.  I tried to brush it off, but it was pretty clear to me that it still needed a lot of work.  In what was perhaps a backwards sense of timing, on Sunday I decided to attend a panel about fighting fear and rejection.  While it didn’t reveal much to me that I didn’t already know, at least superficially, it was positive to hear that everyone else had some of the same problems with confidence as I do, especially at first.

 

I learned that emotions (especially fear) can colour how you receive a response, that I need sounding boards beyond friends and family (maybe my critique group is good enough?), and that it’s okay to be upset about a rejection, like I was the night before.  The most important thing that I picked up, though, was that we are in the business of no.  99 times out of 100, the answer will be no.  And although that’s hard, that’s the nature of writing.

 

So I’m going to try and look at my submissions a little differently from now on.  From now on, I am a rejections collector.  I’m going to collect as many rejections as I can and get more than anyone else that I know.  And eventually, maybe after the first 99 NOs, I’ll finally get a YES.

 

How do you handle rejection and disappointment?

The Zone

Originally posted January 29, 2012 (before the disaster)

 

I woke up today, filled with determination

 

 

dreamstimefree_3193230 Photo from Dreamtime

 

I was ready to take on the world!  Or, more importantly, the mess in the basement…

 

My house has been more or less a disaster for the last year, ever since I got the brilliant idea of putting in hardwood upstairs (with only my dad and I doing the hard work!).  Finally, after thirteen months, I’m starting to put my house back in order.  With the help of my handsomer half, I’ve spent the last month organizing the upstairs, including getting a functional kitchen back again (yes, there’s still work to do up there, but it’s useable now).

 

The next task on the agenda?  The basement.  The place where all of my junk was dropped until the renovations were done.  The place that is small and tight with all of the furniture, boxes, piles, etc. in there.  The place where my office will be.

 

I spent four hours today setting up my new writing/crafting zone and, while it’s not yet perfect, it’s at least functional (I’m writing this very blog post from it).  I’ve even gotten rid of a few things I didn’t need anymore.! Now, I just have to keep going through the boxes, sorting through books, and hanging things on the walls.

 

Then I will take pictures to share.  Because what fun is completing something if you can’t share the result with the world?

 

Where is your special writing zone?

Learning to Let Go

Originally posted February 5, 2012 (before the disaster)

 

This week I did something terrifying…

 

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Photo from Dreamtime

 

… no, not that.  Although that would be terrifying too.

 

No, this week, I released some of my babies into the world.

 

Not real babies.  My stories.  I can’t believe you’d think like that!

 

Now, I don’t share my writing easily.  I guess I’m afraid of rejection, of being told that my writing is terrible and that I should give up on it.  Especially when it comes to my novels; I put a lot of time and energy into them, and to be told that they are absolute rubbish would really hurt.

 

But this week, I sucked it up, and sent a short story and chapter one of “Fighter One” out to my critiquers.  They are all nice people who wouldn’t deliberately try to make me feel bad, but I still worry that they will tell me that my novel’s broken.  The novel that I’ve had in my mind for over a decade!  I keep having to remind myself that they only want to help make it better, that the concept and world of the story aren’t as bad as I think they are.  It’s normal for me to lose faith in the concept at this point in the process (I’m at the 25% point of completely re-writing the thing.  Completely.  I think I’ve kept maybe three pages of the original document…) but that doesn’t mean I want to hear it from others.

 

This is a necessary evil and something that I need to get over if I’m ever going to be published, since publishing by necessity means that I’ll have to let complete strangers rip my babies to pieces.

 

My story babies, not my real ones.

 

So I read them over and made them the very best that I could, and then I held my breath and hit the “send” button.  It felt very freeing, but scary at the same time.  I know my babies are in good hands, and I have to trust that they’ll have the impact that I want them to have.  They have to be read to have that impact, after all.

 

But critiquers?  If you’re listening?

 

Please be gentle!

Camp NaNoWriMo: Take Two

Well, here we go again.  I’ve signed up for the second season of “camp” this year, because I’m just not crazy enough, apparently.  I’m doing things a little differently this time though, and I’ll explain why.

 

After seven years, I don’t have any problem pounding out 50,000 words in a month.  In fact, it’s gotten so (relatively) easy that I decided to volunteer to organize events for local wrimos, partly to keep myself challenged, but mostly because I enjoy the community so very much.

 

The problem with this is that the words I pound out are not good words.  It’s something that I’ve come to accept and embrace, but it becomes frustrating when it’s time to edit.  The last two times I’ve committed to the challenge, I have had a very detailed plan for the novel I was about to write.  This worked well, in a way, but the speed I was writing at pulled me away from the pace that I was trying to set for my novel.  Also, I found that I kind of missed the flexibility of “pantsing” (writing by the seat of my pants) that leads to all kinds of fun changes and interesting plot twists during the month.

 

What I’m attempting to do for this month of camp is to plan a novel.  I’ll be using the Snowflake method and letting abandon run wild!  Instead of 50,000 words my goal will be to plan for 50 hours or to finish the snowflake (whichever comes first).  If all goes well, I’ll be writing this novel during NaNo (or possibly early in 2013).

 

And now, to celebrate the start of camp, I’m actually camping with some very good friends and fellow writers.  I’ll see you back in this space next week!

Book Review: “Wrecked” (****/5)

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I was lucky enough to receive a review copy of “Wrecked” by Jeff Goins. It took me far too long to get around to reading it, but I’m glad that I did. At its heart, “Wrecked” is a book about being broken in order to grow as an individual and a member of society. Being “wrecked” in the sense that this book is talking about means seeing the sadness and pain within others and allowing it to touch us, to move us, and eventually to change us. Although most of the stories were about missions, one does not need to travel somewhere exotic and poor to witness and work against pain. Indeed, one can help people that live right next door.

 

People who allow their hearts to be broken for the brokenness in the world have something that most of us don’t. Compassion. Selflessness. Freedom.

 

As humans, we have conflicting goals. We want our lives to mean something, to leave a legacy and make others proud of us. But we also want to “have it all”, to live a comfortable life and feel safe. Unfortunately, these two concepts are sometimes mutually exclusive. This is why we get “wrecked”. Sometimes something (subconscious goals, God, fate, or what-have-you) drags us out of our happy life and shows us how painful life really can be. The goodness comes when we realize that helping others can help us too, and the change can make us stronger.

 

If you’ve ever traveled to another country, especially in the developing world, you may have noticed that you don’t see many moody teenagers. Young adults in the rest of the world aren’t like they are in America. Other cultures make a clear delineation between childhood and adulthood; there are rites of passages and initiation ceremonies to mark these transitions. People expect and are willing to expose young people to hardship and pain, because it helps them grow.

 

In the Western world where I live, there are few of these rites of passage. There are ceremonies, yes, but (at least in my experience) none of them involve true pain. We are so busy pushing our young through more and more levels of education that we forget to let them live. And then, strangely, we are surprised when they go into the workforce and find that it’s not as easy as they expected. Mentorship programs are rare, and even when a young adult is lucky enough to find a mentor, who has the time to spend helping another learn? I think that this is exactly what the end goal of being “wrecked” is all about: if you are not able to directly work to end suffering, you can empower others to do so.

 

Bodybuilders know that, in order to build muscle, we must first break the tissue down. This is painful and often is where we want to quit. Because it hurts! But the torn muscle tissue regenerates to be stronger. The same can be said for life: we can’t grow without pain. Some of the biggest changes in life (teething, adolescence, breaking a bone, or giving birth) are accompanied by substantial pain. Finding your life’s purpose can be just as difficult, and may require sacrifice, discomfort, or even danger.

 

Jeff told a story about his first settled job, where he quickly took on more and more responsibilities that he felt he wasn’t qualified for. He thought that he wasn’t good enough, in spite of the faith his boss had in him. Without giving away any details, I will say that I have felt like this too. I too have wondered why so many people believed in me, when I clearly lack the skills that I need. But, with so many things, that situation has passed. I have yet to discover if the pain has made me stronger yet, but I know that it has left me with a renewed sense of purpose. Maybe that was what I needed to learn from this recent experience.

If you feel you’ve been given more than you can possibly handle, take heart. This is the point where you learn to grow into who you’re meant to be. It’s when you’re in over your head that you start taking your work seriously, when you finally grow.

How I stop writer’s block in 15 minutes or less

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Image from Dreamstime

 

It happens to everyone at some point or another: you have an idea, but no clue where to start.  Or you have a daily word count goal and nomotivation.  Or you’ve written yourself into a metaphorical corner with no way out.  Writer’s Block: the bane of every writer everywhere.

 

Unfortunately, I face writer’s block quite often.  It’s a side effect of my current muse-less existence.  But sometimes I get a flash fiction prompt, or a vague idea, or even just a starting phrase and I need to flex my writerly muscles and get to work on something I’m not as inspired by or write something that I’m not 100% comfortable with.  When that happens, I have one surefire technique that I like to use.

 

Well, a few different techniques, but they’re all variations on the same theme, which is to shut off distractions, write like crazy for a set amount of time, and stop caring if it’s good or not.

 

For longer projects, the best way to do this, for me, is NaNoWriMo.  Writing 1,667 words a day (or more) given my already loaded schedule requires that I lock my internal editor away and stop caring quite as much about quality.  I don’t necessarily get amazing words out, but I get an editable first daft, and a few nuggets of pure gold that are enough to keep me going through the editing process.

 

On days when I’m struggling to focus, I need to shut off my access to the internet, otherwise I will keep checking Facebook, twitter, and various other sources of entertainment and amusement in an attempt to distract myself.  Sometimes it’s enough to turn off my WiFi for a while or use Freedom (my preference, because it comes with a built-in timer), but on really bad days, I sometimes have to pack up and move somewhere (usually a coffee shop or pub) where there is no internet, or where using the internet would drain my laptop battery (I don’t bring my charger)

 

And when I’m working on something that’s really not working or that I’m struggling to get ‘right’, I turn to the ultimate weapon: Write or Die.  Developed by the amazing Dr. Wicked, this web-based and downloadable program not only lets you set a time and word count goal, but it punishes you when you stop writing.  Depending on the setting this can be anything from a red screen to your words suddenly deleting themselves if you stop typing for a certain length of time.  Even if I keep hitting the space bar or start stream-of-consciousness writing, eventually I manage to come up with something using this program.  As Dr. Wicked says, it puts the “prod” in productivity, and it’s often the boot in the butt that I need.

 

Writer’s block hits everyone at one time or another, but I’ve found ways to combat it that work well for me.  What ways work for you?

Book Review: “Water for Elephants” (****/5)

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I received Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen as a gift earlier in the year.  Unfortunately, my life being what it is, it sat for a while before I finally picked it up.  I thought it would make a nice light camping read and, being a published NaNoWriMo novel, might inspire me to work extra hard on my own writing.

 

Unfortunately, it had rather the opposite effect.  By which I mean that I spent the entirety of the first day camping reading it.  I finished it quickly and read it again before the weekend was out.

 

At it’s heart, Water for Elephants is a love story.  There are darker undertones, though, of desperation, hatred, abuse, and greed.  It is a remembrance of things past, where perhaps the brighter spots are a little brighter and the darker spots a little darker than they might truly have been.  It is a truly visual story that leaves a mark on the reader: superficial at first, but eventually a deeper statement of love and compassion.

 

The story starts with a death – a murder.  The victim: a character that we feel no sympathy for and quickly learn to hate.  The perpetrator?  Well, that’s left a little bit ambiguous.  The mystery of the opening is soon pushed by the wayside as we live the memories of Jacob Janowski, a ninety-three year old circus veterinarian.  Alone and with nothing, young Jacob gives up his dream and inadvertently runs away with the circus.  There, he falls in love with the equestrian star, Marlena, a love that he must hide from her cruel husband.  But things grow even more complicated when the elephant Rosie joins the menagerie and Jacob finds himself trying to protect his two loves from the cruel force that seems intent on dooming them both.

 

The setting of the novel is vibrant and alive – it’s clear Gruen did her research.  It was that setting that really kept me engaged: I’ve heard that setting should be treated as a character, and this one definitely had a life of its own.  From the Depression-damaged towns to the sleazy sideshow and “cooch tent” to the glamours of the performer cars and a speakeasy, I truly felt present in the moment.

 

The interactions between the characters were equally believable, if occasionally a little flat and predictable.  The overall mystery of the murder and its fallout, as well as the side plots involving the injured Camel, older Jacob’s desire to visit the local circus, and the mystery that is Walter the clown kept me turning pages well into the time I should have been writing myself.

 

Water for Elephants is a thoughtful book, that I was able to read twice in quick succession and still glean more from it the second time.  I think it might be one of those rare books that only improves on re-visiting, although I will have to read it again to be sure.  I look forward to it.

Blind to her Beauty

This week’s flash fiction challenge: “Fairy Tale Upgrade” is courtesy of Chuck Wendig.  I hope you will enjoy my modern-ish version of the Ugly Duckling.

 

 

The orphans lined up along the street, begging for food like they did every morning.  It was Sunday, and the few churchgoers had been only slightly more generous than on any other day.

 

Cici looked down at the small pile of coins in her hand.  It might be enough.  Enough to buy something warm to eat and maybe even something to save for later.  It was never enough to buy everything: a safe home, a warm bed, enough food to fill her, and someone to look out for her.

 

Still, she had learned to get by on only a little.  There wasn’t much else that a girl with her looks could hope for.

 

It was still hard sometimes.  Especially in the winter, when the bitter winds blew across the land.  The crawl spaces under wooden porches were her favorite shelters – they were sheltered from the snow and the wind, and whatever piled up on top of the porch only helped to keep her warmer.  It wasn’t glamorous, but it kept her alive.  The Jones were the nicest folk she had found.  Either they didn’t mind her sleeping underneath their deck every night or they didn’t notice.  Both suited Cici just fine.

 

It wasn’t winter yet, though.  She could feel it in the air: a nip in the breeze that blew across the flatlands.  And her only blanket was worn and tearing.  Cici would have to find another, somehow.

 

It would be hard to get the money that she needed by begging.  There was always theft, but that always made Cici feel a little more ashamed of herself.  What would her sisters think of her waltzing into the general store and hiding a blanket underneath her skirt?  Not that they likely thought of her, but the thought still managed to stop her cold.  It seemed like she would always be trying to model proper behavior for sisters she hadn’t seen in two years.

 

Not that they would have listened to her anyway.  It had been painfully obvious to everyone that Cici wasn’t the prize of the bunch.  Far from it: she had a long nose that might have been better suited on a hound and her hair was thin and lank and dark, certainly not the golden curls that her mother had so praised in her sisters.  Her teeth were uneven and yellow, and her hips were too thin.  Most young men at home had looked away and whispered to each other when she passed.  It had taken her years to figure out why.

 

It was the same reason her begging results weren’t as good as some of the others’.  Cici was ugly, there was no getting around it.

 

When she had been little and still only homely, her mother used to tell her and her baby sisters stories.  They always ended the same way: the prince saved the princess and they lived happily ever after.  “There’s a prince out there for all of you, duckies,” she would say as they drifted off to sleep.

 

Cici had once thought that her prince would find her someday, but as she aged, she had come to the sad realization that it was not to be.  She would be alone, until the day the Jones’ porch didn’t provide enough shelter to get her through a winter.

 

Most days she was okay with that.  Today, though, it only made her sadder, as she slunk through the door into the tavern.  There was a pot of something delicious smelling on the fire, but she headed straight for the bar for two loaves of yesterday’s bread.  It didn’t smell or taste as good, but the price was right.

 

The tavern was unusually busy, so she lingered near the fire for as long as she could before the innkeeper’s wife ran her off.  There were no free tables, but she didn’t much care: near the fire was by far the warmest place in the room.  Most of the clientele seemed to be from another state, perhaps drawn here by the promise of a busy harvest.  Cici didn’t pay attention to the farms, only to the weather and the sheriff’s rules.  Growing things didn’t interest her.

 

Singing, though, did and she softly joined in on the tune that filled the room.  It was a pretty song, though she didn’t know all the words.  Instead, Cici made up her own.  Whispered at first they grew louder as she got the hang of the tune.  Unfortunately, it wasn’t long before someone noticed the girl singing a drinking song.

 

“Hey, you by the fire.  The one with the beautiful voice.  C’mere.”

 

A boy.  He was maybe two years older than her and seemed harmless enough, with a soft wavering gaze.  At least he wasn’t staring at her budding breasts.  Cici debated for a minute but finally joined him at his table.  If she was lucky, she might wheedle a coin or two from him for another song.  “Yes, sir?”

 

“That was beautiful.  Do you sing often?”

 

“Whenever I can.  It’s hard when I’m not in the right mood though.”

 

“Your husband must love it when you sing his babies to sleep.”

 

Cici flushed.  “Oh, I’m not married.”

 

“A beautiful woman like yourself?  I find that hard to believe.”

 

“I’m just a girl, sir, and far from beautiful.”

 

“I find that very hard to believe.”

 

“Can’t you see for yourself?”

 

“No…”  His hands reached towards her, fumbling against her shoulders and sliding up her neck to her face.  The questing hands felt her chin, her forehead, and her nose and finally came to rest on either cheek.  “To the contrary.  With a voice like that and a soul to match, anyone would find you incredibly beautiful.”

 

She blushed.  He smiled.

 

“What’s your name?”

 

She cast her eyes demurely towards the ground just as she realized that he wouldn’t see the response anyway.  “Cecilia.”

Re-Organizing

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Image from Dreamstime

 

As I mentioned in my last post, I spent the long weekend re-organizing my latest novel.  I was unhappy with the way that it had originally been set up and so I decided to take the time and make the changes that I wanted to make.  It took over six hours, a lot of re-thinking and moving and copying and changing the point of view of several scenes and adding far more new scenes than I had thought I would need to, but I finally got it done.

 

So far, I’m pleased with the changes that I made.  The story seems to be much clearer and gets my intent across better.  The organization should fix some of the issues that my critique group had with the structure.  And, so far at least, it’s been easier to work with.  Now, I’m only still editing and haven’t yet gotten to any of the new stuff (with the exception of one new scene, everything that I am working on now is being edited or re-written), but I really believe that the time made the story better.

 

It was frustrating, to be sure, and sometimes I wanted to just give up and read a book for a while, but I’m glad that I stuck with it.

 

Next up: organizing my office.

 

Have you ever made a drastic change to a story?

R and R

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Image from Dreamstime

 

No, not rest and relaxation (although I did some of that too!)

 

No: re-plan and re-organize.

 

This last weekend was the Canada Day long weekend for me and I spent the time resting at a secluded spot by the river.  This is a very peaceful spot, completely unplugged, and very private.  I only brought one book (more on that in a few days) that I finished by 4:00 on Saturday.  What can I say: it was good!

 

The novel read, I turned my attention to the novel I am writing!  You see, I wrote the requisite 50,000 words during Camp NaNoWriMo, and almost got the book done (as it turns out, there’s only five chapters to go!)  As usual for a NaNo project, the words felt like they lacked a certain… punch.  The novel was lagging and the reviews I’d received from my critique group had given me pause.  I finally decided that the novel needed a little bit of re-thinking.

 

Nothing major, of course, just re-organizing some scenes into different chapters, changing some points of view, and adding some scenes where I felt like they were needed.

 

I managed to get down to 26 chapters (from 32), deleted about six scenes, and tightened some others up.  All told, it was several hours of work, but the basic framework should now be (relatively) solid.  I’m sure that things will change as I continue to re-work and get feedback, but I feel like I’ve clarified things a lot, even if only for myself.

 

The novel itself still needs a little lot of work, but at least I have a map for the editing adventure that will soon be upon me!  Now… to get to that little detail…

 

How did you spend your weekend?