When A Writer Gives Up, Part 2

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Not me, but it might as well be.

It took me so long to get back to this that you probably thought I’d given up. Not so. Well … not yet, at any rate.

Last time, I wrote about letting go of an idea–or having it leave you; of recognizing that an idea’s time has come and gone, at least for you. Sometimes those once-exciting ideas can be resurrected, but sometimes not and that’s okay. Someone else will write that story. God knows there are plenty of ideas to go around.

This time I want to speak to those occasions–and I think most, if not all, writers experience them, but I can only speak for myself and the writing friends who have shared their frustration with me–when the time and effort you put into writing become too much in the face of continual rejection; when you can’t catch a break no matter what. When you wonder if it isn’t time to call it a day as a writer.

“It’s not fair!” you cry.

Know what? You’re absolutely correct. But as the Grandfather in Princess Bride (played flawlessly by the inimitable Peter Falk) remarks, “Who says life is fair? Where is that written?”

Unfortunately, he’s absolutely correct, too.

Inferior writers get published for any number of reasons, many of which elude me. (And I ain’t namin’ names here, so don’t ask.) Celebrities–who may or may not have 1) actual writing talent, and 2) written the book with their name plastered on the cover–get published because they’re A BIG NAME and that name/notoriety “guarantees” sales, which of course is what the publisher is hoping for. Sometimes, a rejection is merely the result of timing. I once sent a short story–what wound up being a contest-winning short story–to a well-regarded science fiction & fantasy magazine, only to be told that they liked it a lot but, unfortunately, they’d just bought a story on the same topic. (See how ideas come to more than one writer?)

It’s a rough market out there, and getting rougher by the day. Your competition is fierce, and many of them are just as good a writer–or, let’s face it, better–than you. Do you write to what you hope are market trends, or doggedly go your own way? Is there a time when it’s best to concede defeat?

Don’t look to me for answers. I don’t know, and can’t know, what you’re thinking and feeling and experiencing. I can only know what I believe, and think, and observe. If I sometimes sound a little bitter about this topic, it’s because I am. I’m dealing with my own set of writerly frustrations and, yes, there are days when I think, “Enough.  They win. I give up. I’m too damned tired to keep at this.”

There are days when I believe it, too.

But not today.

Today I take a deep breath, rally the interior troops, and keep fighting. Today, I keep believing.

 

How to Keep Writing in the Face of Rejection

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Photo via Visual hunt

   If you’re a serious writer–and by that I mean someone who writes damn-near every day and consistently submits work in hopes of making a sale–you’ll receive rejections.

And if you’re in the game long enough, you’ll likely reach a point–probably more than once–where the latest rejection is the one that makes you consider giving up forever.  

I hit that wall this week.

I’m not a candy-ass when it comes to rejection; it’s part of the game and I don’t take it personally. I’ve cultivated broad shoulders and a thick skin. Anyway, it’s only one person’s opinion of one piece of writing. No editor can accept everything they’re sent. 

Does rejection sting? Of course, it does. No one likes having their child kicked to the curb, but in the face of all the competition, it’s inevitable. The heartbreak of receiving one rejection after another wears on you, eroding the sand of your self-confidence. But if you’re going to write–if you’re called to it–you’d better come to terms with that reality and accept it as part of the game. 

*******

I love the work involved in writing. I’m the sort of sick individual who takes pleasure in editing–honing, cutting, tightening a narrative, killing my darlings (those lines or scenes I love, but which accomplish little)–for the sake of crafting a better story. What drives me mad, is when the issue with a piece of writing is something I can’t address.

Case in point: 

My agent, Bonnie Solow, is shopping around a book of mine; narrative nonfiction. Over the past few weeks, several editors have expressed interest. Exciting times! One editor in particular was on fire about the project. She really loves it. She presented it to her editorial group, and they loved it, too. But issues arose because I don’t have a “platform.” What that means to you non-writers out there, is that I’m not a noted authority in the field, a celebrity, a household name, or have a blog or website or Twitter-feed with tens of thousands of followers, i.e, a ready-made market.

It’s a sort-of catch-22. To be published, I need to already have a market, but I can’t grow a market unless I’m published. Frustrating? You bet. For the editor, it means she has to turn down a book she believes in, a book she wants. For readers, it means that the circle of books made available will grow smaller and smaller if the chief criteria is whether or not the author is already popular. For me as the writer, it’s maddening to know there’s little I can do to remedy the situation. A manuscript issue would be easy to fix, but this?

Can I build a following? Theoretically, sure. (See the catch-22 above.) Problem is, I have difficulty blogging or tweeting just to hear myself talk. I’m no good with idle chit-chat. I’m weak in marketing know-how, I admit, but willing to learn if someone will give me the chance. This book is my baby, and I’m ready to work my butt off to see it succeed.

The frustration of being told my book was good, but … (the second time this has  happened to me), made me wonder why I bother; why I persist in the face of what often seems insurmountable odds. The truth is, I keep going because I’m stubborn. And because I’m tired of being told what I can and can’t have.

But the biggest reason is because I was born a writer. It’s who I am, and what I do. To not write would be to commit suicide of the soul.

There are no guarantees, but I’ll take the odds. I can do no less.

Emerging

Apparently it wasn’t enough that I’ve been battling “le crud” for nearly three weeks. The universe also felt it necessary to shoot three more book rejections across my bow, plus a short story rejection.

On the other hand, I was guest blogger on Jeanne Melanson’s “Animal Bliss,” writing about our recent experience with canine epilepsy, and received this most welcome  note from her:

“Hey Melissa!

Your Canine Epilepsy post was included in a “Favorite Dog Articles of the Week” roundup post on Puppy Leaks (.com). Your post is mentioned in one of the blog comments as well.

Bravo, girl! Oh, how fun.

Woo-hoo!

Jeanne”

And, as a response to the rejections, that short story has gone out this morning to another magazine. Never say die.

Medic!

I’ve been laying a bit low these past couple of weeks. You’re familiar with the drill: the hoopla of Thanksgiving leading to the crest of the hill you barrel down until you smack into Christmas like the landlady in Kung Fu Hustle sailing into the billboard. (Click the link; you’ll see what I mean.)

Add to this that I’ve been a bit tense … anticipatory, really … because the proposal for The Man Who Loved Elephants had gone out to a few editors before the Christmas publishing holidays. I feel strongly about the quality of this book and its historical value, as well as its hopeful look at the future of elephant conservation.

So far, the editors haven’t agreed with me.

I’ve been writing long enough that I take criticism and rejection on the chin most days. You can’t be an artist or performer of any kind and maintain a fragile ego. The two just don’t go together. Still, receiving five rejections in a single day was a bit … disappointing.

These were not “thanks, but no thanks” rejections. The editors took time to write out their thoughts about the book and give actual reasons for turning it down. This is a courtesy I truly appreciate, though it didn’t make the sting any less.

I’ll be honest – I cried. For about fifteen seconds. Then I heard THAT VOICE rising from the back of my brain. You know the one, the monkey-mind that snatches opportunities like this one to remind you of how worthless you are. I heard her start to open her big mouth, and I said, “Phyllis, shut the hell up.” (Well, I didn’t say hell … And, yes, I’ve given my deprecating inner voice a name so that when I tell her to can it, she knows I’m speaking to her.  It works.) (And, yes, if you want details as to why I’ve done something that on the surface probably sounds wonky, shoot me a message and I’ll tell you.)

Anyway, she did as I asked. And in that silence, I heard myself say, “Screw them.” (No, I didn’t say screw, either). “I’m not giving up.” I gave myself permission to feel my bruises, and then I went to bed. I slept soundly and woke the next morning to plunk myself back at the computer because THAT, dear friends, is what it’s all about.