Monday, February 25, 2013

Great Imagination

Happy Monday Everyone. I wasn't sure whether to write this post or not, but considering that this blog is after all recording my journey in writing, good and bad, I had no option. Two weeks ago I was deliriously happy to receive several delightful comments about a short story I had written. The comment that stood out and meant the most to me was the statement, "Well Written." I cannot tell you how that touched my heart. As a late starter, I began to write full-time at the age of 44, I constantly doubt whether this is what I should be doing at all??? Therefore receiving a compliment that mentions the writing as opposed to the story made me feel elated.

Last week though I received feedback on the first three chapters of my YA novel and I couldn't find one compliment in the whole appraisal, not one!!! It would be easy to call the person all the names under the sun, to scream in my head well she's just wrong, and to deny her opinions. But the hardest part for me was the fact  I have spent three and half years writing and re-writing and there was nothing in the critique I could hold onto that I could say well at least she thought this part was good. There was nothing. To say I was deflated was an understatement. I read through the lady's overall report and I felt shocked that I'm still so far away from where I wanted to be at this stage.

For days I simply couldn't muster any will to even acknowledge her words or reply. I'm going to reply today and I have several questions I would like her to answer, but if I'm honest it's hard to pick yourself off the floor when your work is totally slated. In her disclaimer she states that it is her view and that might not be the view of others, but I have grown to respect this author and therefore cannot reject her comments.

To be a writer you have to learn to accept criticism otherwise you will never get any better. Today I am digesting her points, taking on board those I believe are valid and will endeavour to work harder at perfecting my craft because that is what I believe I need to do in order to get my work published. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy isn't that the saying ???

I also re-read her email and took the only praise I could see,"  I see in this writing evidence of a vivid imagination, and I would like to see you bring that to fruition through the written word."

Today as the sun peeps out every now and then from behind the cloud filled sky, I smile, pick myself up off the floor, and realize that just as I have climbed a mountain,( which is what I consider I have done over the past three years) when you get to the top it is only then that you can fully see how many more mountains there are out there that you need to climb. The question of course for a struggling writer is do you continue onwards or do you head home with your tail between your legs???   I cannot truthfully give an answer quite yet, but after watching the Oscars last night I took this quote from Ben Affleck's acceptance speech and I'm going to run with it.

"I want to thank them and I want to thank what they taught me, which is that you have to work harder than you think you possibly can. You can't hold grudges. It's hard but you can't hold grudges. And it doesn't matter how you get knocked down in life because that's going to happen. All that matters is you gotta get up."
                                                                        Ben Affleck

I also read this on, Dealing with Rejection by Ellen Jackson

This is what I've learned. Stories are like people–imperfect and flawed. If your work is competent, some readers will hate it; some will like it. You have to find a way to believe in yourself, even if others don't. A writer puts her heart on the line and it gets stomped on again and again. You may think successful writers have some special talent, some magic potion, that allows them to avoid all this heartache. They don’t.

So what’s a writer to do? How should you handle rejection? How do you find the strength to believe in yourself when your writing is rejected?

I have no secrets, but I do have a few thoughts that have helped me over the years:

1. Success as a writer depends more on intelligent persistence than on raw talent. By "intelligent persistence" I mean the ability to learn from mistakes, to figure out what you’re doing wrong, and then to change it. I know a talented writer who gave up after one rejection from one editor. I know another writer–with very little natural writing ability--who writes and rewrites and gets rejected over and over. The first writer has never been published. The second writer has published more than thirty children’s books. As James Michener said: "Character consists of what you do on the third or fourth tries."

2. If your manuscript is rejected, it may have nothing to do with merit. An editor once said to me, "If people only knew the trivial factors that determine which books get published and which don’t, they wouldn’t take it all so seriously. Yesterday I turned down a story about a cat because we had just bought a cat story. Sometimes I reject a perfectly good girls’ story because we’re trying to buy more boys’ stories–or vice versa. A week ago I rejected a story about spiders. It was a great story, but spiders just aren’t my thing."

3. Plan for rejection before it happens. Not long ago, I received six rejections in one day–probably a world's record. O.K. I was a little discouraged. But I wasn’t devastated because I had a plan. I sent two new stories to two of the rejecting publishers (my way of getting back on the horse that had just bucked me off). I also popped the rejected manuscripts into pre-addressed, ready-to-go envelopes and sent them out again. In fifteen minutes I'd moved from disappointment to hope.

Rejection is part of the process, so be ready for it. Or, as Jonathan Winters says, "When your ship doesn’t come in, swim out to it."

4. If someone gives you specific criticism, regard it as a gift. I always thank the person who gives me criticism–whether or not I agree (and even if I’m tempted to have a temper tantrum). Unless the feedback is deliberately hurtful (For example: "Your story is so boring, I’d rather read about manure."), I assume that the reader is trying to be helpful. If I agree with the comments, I make the suggested changes. If I’m neutral about the comments, I still might make the changes as long as they don’t violate the integrity of the story.

If I disagree with the criticism, I usually check with someone I trust to see if the comments have any merit. For example, an editor once told me to change all the human characters in my fractured fairy tale CINDER EDNA into pigs. Pigs?!! The characters seemed just fine to me. But a friend helped me see the real problem. "The story’s nice, but sort of ho-hum," she said. O.K., now I understood. The story wasn’t funny enough. I solved the problem by making the people funnier, not by turning them into pigs, and eventually I found the right publisher for it.

5. If you find yourself in Nobodyland, explore the terrain. Why are people afraid of rejection? Because they don’t want to live in Nobodyland. The people in Nobodyland, are slugs and worms. They’re invisible–or worse than invisible. Have you ever lived in Nobodyland? Most of us have at one time or another.

But don’t be afraid of Nobodyland. It’s your best source of material, especially if you write for kids. Think about it. Children, by definition, are powerless and lack control in their lives. Being in Nobodyland can help you remember what it's like to be young, powerless, and afraid. Rejection helps you empathize with those who have no voice.

6. Rejection-proof your manuscript. Write from your heart. Everyone is looking for a little bit of wisdom to help them get through life with courage and grace. Do you have wisdom to share? Is your gift humor? Can you make a child laugh? Can you tell the truth in a new way? What was important to you when your were a child? Make the clear expression of your passion your primary goal. Then show your writing to friends who know you and will understand what you’re trying to say. If one person "gets" it, you've planted a seed. Your writing is successful–no matter how the rest of the world judges you. The rest is just ego.

Never give up. And most importantly, be true to yourself. Write from your heart, in your own voice, and about what you believe in.
Louise Brown

Nothing on earth can stop people writing the books they want to write. It’s a matter of   desire. Don’t be down-hearted.’ VIctoria Glendinning

1 comment:

  1. Lots of truths in this post. I especially like the "pig" story - how an editor suggested you change all your characters into pigs. What I love about this story is that although you didn't make the change to please the editor, it triggered your imagination into finding another way to improve your story. That ability to rewrite in the face of criticism - that dedication to our story, and to improving it for a reader or an audience, is what separates the wheat from the chaff - the real writer from the one who just dabbles with words.