Tag Archives: rejections

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.

Hang on a minute — writing is a waiting game

Perhaps somewhere there is a cogent essay by William James or Mark Twain about waiting, but I’ve never seen it. And this seems strange to me because one part of the writer’s life that seems to be a constant is waiting for responses on what has been written. You hear about actors waiting for the phone to ring and how excruciating that can be for them. But consider this: actors, at least when they’re plying their trade and often when they’re auditioning will get feedback in real time. Whether the feedback is positive or negative is another matter. Writers, who often are very private individuals, might not have the courage to get such instant feedback. But if they want it, they don’t get it.  Writers are always waiting for the phone to ring. It is a part of the job, full time.

You write paragraph after paragraph with only an imaginary audience before you. Finish the job, and you may have some private readers who’ll take pity on you and look through the work. If you have a writer’s group,they may look at the prose and get back to you in less than a geological age. But, in my experience, friends and colleagues don’t rush to read your latest draft. You wait for them, sometimes in vain. (Collaborators are a different matter, which is one reason why I’m enjoying novel writing Susan.)

One kind of waiting is relatively new for me. I simply avoided it in the past. This is taking a manuscript and putting an aside before revisions. That can’t be a problem if you never do it. And for a long time, I didn’t. What would I see next month that I couldn’t see today? A lot, as it turns out. There really is value to letting a manuscript “cool down.” This self-imposed wait is now part of the mix for me.  I’m still trying not to be grumpy about it.

And consider what happens next: You take that finished manuscript, and you send it out to someone who has the authority to buy it. When I first started writing, there is only one way to deal with this. A self-addressed stamped envelope was the link between writing and feedback. Okay, so we’re talking snail mail. How bad could that be? Pretty bad. I don’t recall ever getting feedback from any editor in less than six weeks. I’d say six months was more the norm.

Today of course, there are some publications (although these don’t tend to include most of the prestige, high paying markets) that will except electronic submissions. There is an improvement here, for sure. The last story I had accepted got a response in 23 minutes. To a writer, this is about as immediate as can be imagined. (I did have one story that was read in a workshop with an editor present. After getting the usual mixed review from my peers, the editor gave a positive response and ended his critique with, “and I’d like to buy it.” That may hold the record for quick feedback for me.)

But although the response in the electronic world can be fast, it usually isn’t. As I look back through my notes, I find that typically I don’t hear back from an editor and less than two months. So the electronic world saves me stamps and a little bit of time, but the experience of waiting for feedback hasn’t much changed.

Nonfiction, of course, is different. Often sales are made on proposals. The promise of a check and seeing your work in print will precede the actual writing. The waiting experience is tied mostly to getting reactions from audiences. With my current book, Innovation Passport, there’s a different layer of waiting. I need to get PR and legal approvals. There’s a special agony associated with that, especially, as is true right now, when PR is saying that perhaps they will block the publication of an 82,000 word manuscript. I’m not sure how common this experience is. I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy.

In any case, fiction involves a similar wait for audience reaction. and I think that the response to fiction is always a mystery. How your story will connect or not connect with readers can’t really be predicted. For my own work, people seem to either like it or hate it. And the same people who really like one story are apt to really dislike another. And vice versa.

Okay. So writers have a lot of opportunity for waiting, waiting, waiting. How do you handle it? The classic answer is to get to work on something else. And I have to say, having a lot of material in the pipeline can be wonderfully distracting. Works in progress, manuscripts “cooling” and the number of pieces in the hands of editors at the same time does help. At the very time that you send out the latest story that you know everyone will love as much as you do, you get a response back about one of your earlier favorites. It hardly matters whether the note from the editor is an acceptance, a rejection or one of those nice letters that tells you that you just missed and they’d love to see more. It’s a reaction, and it really shifts the focus so that a new work can be done.

So, is the secret to overcoming the problem of waiting as simple as this? Not really. it’s just a balm that keeps the itching from driving you crazy. No matter what, I think a writer maintains contact with the works that have gone out into the world.  It’s not much different from being a parent whose thoughts return to the kids every day, even after they’re grown and out of the house. I’m used to this. It’s part of the package. But this last week or so has been one of the toughest for waiting because a number of things hit their due dates almost simultaneously.

By the end of last week, I was supposed to get feedback on a couple of short stories and the four plays. I also had a commitment from PR for an answer on the book, and I only got half an answer, which was tentative. The waiting experience was further exacerbated by purported deadlines in non-writing areas. I was supposed to hear about a job interview and about my admission to some graduate courses. All this was not simultaneous. Deadlines passed in and out like sniper fire. And I wasn’t very good at keeping my head down.

Some of the issues have resolved. Most are still pending, with a few late enough to require my sending out some plaintive e-mail. Waiting, waiting, waiting. For all the groaning about writer’s block, I think this is the worst part of the writer’s life. Ultimately, both waits and blocks are mind games, or rather mind puzzles that it’s up to the professional to solve. It’s humbling to realize, at this late stage of my career, that this is still a problem for me. But it’s good to have articulated it and have a better understanding of what’s in play. One thing’s for sure, I’ll be keeping my eyes open to see how other writers have dealt with the problem of waiting.

Note: Due to popular demand (or dreams thereof), I’ve added a listing of my more recent published/accepted fiction to the About Peter Andrews page.  I’ll put a bit on nonfiction real soon now.

Recalled to Life

I feel like I had the great welcoming into the drama group on Monday night.  I’d met a few people in the other sessions, but everybody made a point of introducing themselves to me this time.  I’ve been working very hard at providing useful criticism, and I make a special effort to understand what the writer intends with the work, rather than what I would do with the same material.

It’s all about respect, which can be scarce in drama groups, given the egos involved.  By giving respect, I’m getting it.  I think you learn a lot more from listening than from getting your point across.  And three people actually came to me separately after we broke up to ask me to bring some of my writing in.  (They mean plays, and I don’t have any plays at the moment.  That’s a hard thing to confess.)

Anyway, the six lines topic was one I introduced, “That’s a great question.”  People worked wonderful twists on this (including setting up “To be or not to be” as the great question.  With my own topic, you’d think I’d score big, but I didn’t pull out anything.  I’d done three scripts with very strong situations (death of a politician as explained by the son who is running against him; drunk, naked, newly tattooed kid explaining his situation to his dad; breaking the bad news of where we are to a new arrival to hell).  Unfortunately, none of them were well-written.  And in a night of really enchanting stories, they would have branded me as a loser.

Oh, and I’m recalled to life because, as Anne Shirley would say, “My life is a perfect graveyard of buried hopes.”  I’ve had more rejections since my last lamentation.  Including two no comment ones from markets that usually give me encouragement.  But today, I pulled myself back together and sent out two and put Waverley into the Baen mix.  (The Charisma Plague is still being chewed on, so version four is not posted yet.)  I’m always better when I rise up, shake my fist and take some steps forward.  Once I got a rejection notice with instructions on how to fold it into an origami swan.  Now those were the days.

Putting work out there is important, but actual writing separates the writers from the wannabees. The work does continue.  In addition to getting big chunks of Charisma done (mostly added scenes I don’t feel I need by the group says I do), I have a complete draft of Whinging.  It does everything that a story needs to do, in my opinion.  Now it needs some rewriting.   Something new?  I’ve got a time travel police piece (say that five times).  It’s on hold at the moment while I get some research from cops.  But I won’t wait very long.  My goal is always to be working on something new and something old.

Best news of the week was from an artist friend.  We talk weekly about writing.  He told me that he has pinned a note up in his workspace, “It’s supposed to be fun!”  It’s a mantra he credits to me, and it’s quite an honor to be quoted by a successful artist.  Take inspiration from wherever you find it.  (And you can quote me on that.)