ATGGT…

When I was in high school, I got a scholarship to attend a private school along with several other kids in the Horizons-Upward Bound program. One of those other students was a musical prodigy who played several instruments and was a talented singer. She wore a leather bracelet on her wrist like they make at Cedar Point at that leather making shop that read “ATGGT.” Given her interests, it didn’t take me long to figure out what it meant: And the Grammy goes to… It served, I believe, as motivation for her to keep pursuing her dream of becoming a recording artist and getting that top industry honor.

As I’ve watched her journey through websites, the occasional IM chat, Facebook & Instagram posts, I’ve often thought about that little scrap of leather and whether or not she still looks at it for inspiration. Is it still like a talisman, a physical reminder of her dreams, or is it just a piece of leather shoved into a drawer and forgotten? Is it even the phrase she dreams of hearing her name attached to anymore?

With the recent Oscar ceremony (that always falls around my birthday) and Leonardo DiCaprio’s latest brush with the golden trophy, I’ve been thinking about success and almost getting there but somehow landing just shy of the mark. Someone I follow on twitter said it best: even though Leo has four Oscar nominations over twenty years, he still has the same number of Oscars as I do. Ouch. It must hurt to have worked so hard and end up with the same result as the girl sitting home on the couch whose never even made the attempt.

Well, I can say assuredly that it does, in fact, hurt. Yesterday I received a very lovely rejection letter from the editor I submitted Delivering Justice to a couple weeks ago. Even though she had many positive things to say about my writing, she didn’t think it was a good fit for them. Even though I had crafted a good enough pitch to get an editor’s attention and wrote well enough to garner a few points of praise, I was still just shy of the mark for closing the deal. I now have the same number of manuscripts purchased as the person in living in the jungle who’s never seen a book. Ouch.

Here’s the thing: I can choose to drown in the negative, put DJ away and never submit a manuscript again, or I can focus on the positives of the situation. Since the latter is the only choice that will add to this entry’s word count, let’s go with that one.

During the last six months, I’ve entered three writing contests, wrote and revised a full manuscript, wrote three successful pitches, learned to write a query letter and synopsis, made a ton of writing friends, joined some writing groups, found critique partners, and written more than I have in years. In less than six months of taking this writing thing seriously, I got a full request for a manuscript for an imprint of my dream publisher. Instead of getting a form rejection, I was complimented on having a great premise, snappy dialogue and a well done heroine. I think I’ve found my voice; now I have to find my place.

I told the online writing community of my rejection yesterday. Twice a week we share ~100 word flashes from our current WIPs dealing with a specific topic. I suggested that we do a flash on rejection. The group agreed and the flashes have been pouring in. What I realized in reading and commenting on the flashes is that a) everyone experiences rejection b)rejection comes in many forms, and c) our characters suffer far worse rejections in our stories than we do of our stories.

I’ve decided to put DJ in a drawer for a while and not look at it (although I may allow my beta reader to read a copy of the version I sent out to the editor; she’s earned it for reading through the awful first attempts) until I’m ready to try it again. I’m stepping away from writing new words this week. Instead, I’m unearthing old words–words from when I was a teen and pre-teen and just wanted to get the story on paper. Words from when my classmate’s bracelet set off dreams of NYT Bestseller, Pulitzers, and the Nobel Prize in Literature for me. Words from when nothing was out of reach.

How do you deal with rejection? What keeps you going in the face of rejection?

XOXO,

Erica

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Year of the Writer

Fall 2006- Fall 2007 was supposed to be the year of the writer for me, but I think it’s safe to say that seven years later has shaped into that year for me. I have managed to make a lot of progress on my goal of being a writer. I entered a contest, finished a first draft, have started revisions on the first draft, almost finished a non-fiction book, thought up two series that I think will be wonderful, and have generally kicked butt in the writing arena. I have a few more goals for my writing life to achieve, but I’m making great progress.

I don’t have time right this moment to take an exhaustive look at my year in writing, but I can’t wait for the opportunity to do so shortly. How has your year turned out, writing-wise? Anyone publishing for the first time, received the call, or just gotten serious about writing this year?

We Had a Good Run…

The results are in, and your illustrious writer…did not make the top 50. 😦

Although this news was disappoining, I wasn’t exactly shocked. I’m glad that the contest brought me back to this story that I love so much, and got me up at 5am to get words on the page. I’m glad I was able to add nearly twelve thousand words to my manuscript in just five days–and quality words, at that. I received some very encouraging comments that confirmed my strengths–characterization, description, dialogue–and made me more aware of my weaknesses–shifting POV at random times, not starting the manuscript in the right place, etc. I’m grateful for my personal cheerleaders who are STILL proud of me and are still sure they will be getting an autographed copy of my book when it’s released someday.

I still have hope that maybe one of those editors saw something in me that has intrigued them, that they will reach out to me once the competition is over and ask for a full or partial. The editors have gotten the email addresses of people they want to follow up with from whom they were strongly considering requesting a full manuscript. The major takeaway for me was that I put my work out there to be seen by 50 editors and I didn’t die. I wrote my first pitch and I didn’t die. I don’t know how far I got in the selection process before I was cut, but editors sat around somewhere discussing my story, my characters. Hopefully the story and characters stick with the right person and I hear something, but if not, I have gained a few tips for revising from some of the tweets and posts of the editors in the last few days.

Another great takeaway from this experience is to follow my instincts. I wrote in my last post that I wanted to have the manuscript start somewhere else, but I didn’t have time to revise it before I posted it. I wasn’t as confident in where it started, and I knew I needed a couple of days to make it the best I could. I even contacted the contest help people to see if I could revise the first chapter if I was picked to submit a full because I knew that the opening this book needed wasn’t the one it received. I was right. I now know that I should listen to my instincts. I’m a really good writer. Years of awards and A’s on English assignments can’t be wrong. I can be impulsive and occasionally get somewhere because of it, but I know that revising wisely is what takes my writing to the next level.

Yesterday in the shower (where all the best thoughts/ideas originate), before the finalists were announced, I remembered something my favorite English teacher Mrs. Jackson said to me about a paper that was eventually published in Prize Papers. I gave her my initial paper to critique for me, and she laid into it. I had never seen so much red in all of my life. I was so dejected. She wrote on that paper “this is good, but you’re a better writer than this. Go deeper.” She said that I was holding back and wasn’t being honest. I walked around with a sour face for the rest of the day, but I knew she was right. So I rewrote that paper and not only received an A, but the teacher asked if she could share it with the class, and encouraged me to submit it to Prize Papers. In the shower, I realized that there were still some depths to plumb in this story. I needed to go deeper. Now I have that chance.

I say all of this to say, I am not giving up hope. I’m using what I’ve learned to make my manuscript better and I’m pushing forward. I hope that anyone else who has experienced rejection or didn’t make the cut will do the same. Revise. Rewrite. Start over. Go deeper. Do whatever it takes. Just keep going.

XOXO

Erica

The Buried Life, Examined

I don’t know if it’s because of the introspection that turning a year older always induces in me, or because the ideas I’m working on for my memoir are causing my brain to divulge all of its secret treasures, but the past couple of weeks have been full of memories coming up that have me going “I completely forgot about that!”

I recently recalled my experiences with Tai Chi, a slight memory of golden apples on a ceiling that spawned a creative non-fiction piece “Creative Visualization.” Just today, I was twice reminded of other memories: one directly related to my memoir, and one of a grade school trip to the state capital. I’ve never had a problem remembering things, and I don’t know why it surprises me that the memories are still in there, somewhere, waiting to be knocked loose by an image or a thought so they can float to the surface. It’s just amazing how the cosmic shifts inside of me caused by my birthday have opened me up to such mundane memories. It’s equally amazing that these memories, upon reexamination, are so rich in meaning and appropriate for the projects I’m working on.

I’ve been sort of dreading this birthday more than most. I will be past the prime publication age I held so dear. I’ll never appear on a Top 40 aged 25 and under list of up and coming literary voices. The year that I was twenty-five will be recorded as one where there weren’t many triumphs. I don’t feel any closer to the goals I’ve had for myself or the things I’d always imagined I’d have by the time I’m 25-26: house, husband, heirs…, yet:

  • I’m writing at a higher level than before.
  • My blog(s) are developing a good following and inspiring discussion.
  • I’ve erased some of the old habits and debts that have kept me back.
  • I’m finally ready to seek publication again.
  • My writing voice is more fully developed than it was last year.

Since I’ve stop pushing back memories of my life, stopped thinking my life is uninteresting and uninspiring, I’ve come to see so many jewels of wisdom and insight. I’ve realized I have something to say, not just as a fiction writer, but as a non-fiction writer. I’m realizing I’ve accomplished a lot, much more than I give myself credit for, and I still have a lot of life left (hopefully) to accomplish over and exceeding everything I’ve ever imagined. I’ll get there in my own time, when the time is right. I just have to trust that I’m going to get there, and keep walking.

The Gift of Confidence

Medieval illustration of a Christian scribe wr...

One of these days, I'll at least have a writing desk like this! Image via Wikipedia

I again sat and read the beginning of my NaNoWriMo novel (which is in need of a better working title) this past week. I was expecting to be bombarded with mistakes and plot holes, to be blindsided by changes in tense, and to find that the way I manipulated time in the story was confusing instead of opening up the possibilities of what could be done with the story. I wasn’t expecting to find much useable material.

As I sat on my floor (still need that writing desk/computer desk), editing my work in the reading mode of Microsoft Word, I was pleasantly surprised to find there were many strong points in the story. Even though I’d felt I had a good story as NaNoWriMo was underway, I expected to feel differently about the writing once the rush was over. I didn’t have an excessive amount of filler words that were written just to meet the requirements (which is probably part of the reason I fell short). It gave me a boost of confidence in my writing to see how well it’s held up to proofreading.

Even though I’d promised myself not to proofread until I actually finished a first draft, I’m glad I broke my promise. I know now that there’s a reason to continue. I didn’t do any extensive editing, just fixed a few typos and let the material stand as; I suppose this was an effort to compromise with myself over editing.

On a sad note, one of the pages of the handwritten draft is missing. It’s a page I hadn’t transcribed yet. Hopefully a good organizing of paperwork will yield the missing page. I hate when I misplace pages and have to recreate things. Either I don’t remember what is missing or I can’t recapture the magic of the moment. It’s much easier to get the jist of a thing down and craft it out of this rough material than it is to start from scratch with only a general idea of what the jist might have been.

It’s going to be easier for me to go forward with my writing goals in this new year because I’ve restored a bit of my confidence in my writing. I’ll share my writing goals with you as it gets closer to the New Year. I hope everyone finds the courage and the confidence from somewhere to continue to persevere in their writing.