You Need a Thick Skin to Be a Writer

I bounced into October with high expectations.  The editor had promised to give an answer “soon” on the Lucky Numbers proposal (and the first draft was finished).  I got some sales of short stories.  This blog had started to pick up some followers.  I had a copy of Innovation Passport in my hands, and I was headed for Atlanta to promote it.  And I got into an online script writing workshop, where I could finally get some real feedback on Warriors.

Since then, I’ve gotten a rejection from the editor.  A sold story needed to be cut by 1000 words.  Warriors was chewed up and spat out.  Don’t get me wrong. Good things happened, too, with a few freelance checks.  But the world seemed to be saying — for fiction at least — have fun writing your 10,000 words a week, but don’t expect to sell anything until you learn to plot, edit yourself and write more clearly.

Warriors has been the locus of most of the pain.  Several attempts at explaining white hat hacking and avatars were dismissed soundly by readers.  In fact, I keep fumbling in my online script workshop — everything from coming off as too critical to getting the syntax wrong when I log my postings.  I’m definitely the problem child there.  If I weren’t paid up to December, I’d probably be invited to leave immediately.  (This could happen anyway if I can’t find a way to connect with the alien culture of Hollywood.)

Obviously, the honeymoon is over for my life as a freelancer, but so what?  As Hammett said to Hellman in Julia, “You can quit now.  It’s not like anyone would miss you.”  I won’t quit, but I’m making mid-course corrections.

For instance, while I haven’t lost my faith in seat-of-the-pants writing, I don’t think a good feeling about the work, even after a cooling down period, is enough of a basis for rewriting.  To respond to that insight, I just immersed myself in Robert McKee‘s Story (the book and the workshop), and I am putting in the time making index cards, analyzing scenes and otherwise delighting my left brain.

I have to be careful though.  I spent years doing the index cards and plotting thing and didn’t have the kind of success (or fun) I’m having now.  But it’s time for me to take a chance on adding this discipline back into my process.  Getting the balance right might take some time, but I have confidence I’ll figure this out.  I’ve already used some analysis to rework (for the fourth time) the first pages of Warriors.  They are now posted to my workshop, and I’m hopeful that better structure, along with a curbing of technobabble, will make for a solid start to this piece.  So that’s one lit candle.

As for Lucky Numbers, I’m looking for a second opinion.  And a third.  And a fourth.  And…  Well, before the ax fell, I already had various forms of it entered in eight different contests.  This feels brilliant to me now that my fingers are scorched from the rejection note.  I’ll get feedback in mid-November, and then in the beginning of December.  By then, I should have the perspective to rework the proposal and go after an agent.  So there’s a plan.  (The Charm Offensive is also out in the world of contests, with the first results due on Sunday.)

For my online group, I have a major tactic: Apologize and don’t screw up the same way twice.  It is the Anne of Green Gables approach, and it usually works.  Maybe not with this tough crowd, but who knows?  At the same time, I am hoping the rewrite of Warriors will move me from the “hopeless” category to the “not hopeless” category.  If it doesn’t, I’ll stop submitting it and move away from tech thrillers.  When I submit a romantic comedy I’m working on, I won’t worry about feedback that begins with “Nerd Alert!”

I did manage to cut the 1000 words form the short story, though it was painful.  It may be that the story is better.  I do miss the scenes that are gone, but  — to be truthful — the story still works without those words.  This kind of killing darlings is bloody and painful.  But maybe necessary.

The world is not throwing itself at my feet.  I shouldn’t be surprised.  But rather than running away, I’m sharpening my skills, mending my ways, getting work in front of people, changing my strategy and creating my own reasons for hope.  Watch.  Next week, I’ll have some good news.

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2 responses to “You Need a Thick Skin to Be a Writer

  1. I’ve been at it a decade. In the early days I had more rejections than Charlie Brown did for prom dates. I learned a little each time. Twenty or so revisions later there is serious interest from a couple publishers.

    drtombibey.wordpress.com

    • forgingthefuture

      Hi Tom
      Thanks for the experience. I could paper my wall with rejections for short stories. That seems to have turned around, so I remain optimistic that I’ll get the novel thing worked out. I’m still getting better at this.
      Good luck with your future ventures. Looks like you are living a life of many dimensions.
      Peter

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