Pen On Fire blog

Rejection is a drag

I thought I already wrote about this and even if I did, you can never say too much about rejection, because rejection is a way of life for a writer. It’s something to be gotten used to because if you don’t, you become paralyzed, never sending your work out, never entering contests that intrigue you or never going for writing jobs you desire.

I hate rejection. Everyone hates rejection.

Many of you know that Pen on Fire went through a couple of agents and a couple dozen rejections before I revised, revised, revised and found my current agent who then proceeded to sell my book. The magazine, Personal Writing, published by publisher that puts out Writer’s Digest, just published my essay called “Lessons Learned,” which recounts my book’s path to publication.

I almost tossed my manuscript and gave up forever when I thought I’d give it one more try. That one more try was the clincher.

I’ve collected hundreds of rejection letters from magazines, literary journals, agents and publishers. I’ve tossed most of them out except for a few very detailed letters from the New Yorker in which they actually told me why they were rejecting my stories and to submit again.

Having a book published doesn’t make you immune to the terror of rejection. I almost didn’t submit my book for consideration in the American Society of Journalists and Authors annual contest, but I was able to talk myself into it. What if I lose? I thought. This time I got lucky and won. Doesn’t mean I’ll be so lucky next time. See? The fear of rejection doesn’t go away and it doesn’t grow smaller.

You just keep on keeping on, because what else is there to do? Fold in upon yourself and dissolve? No can do.

I have a chapter in Pen on Fire about rejection, and I’m doing a talk at the Willamette Writers Conference this August on dealing with rejection. Our fear of it stretches back to childhood, to when we were rejected for something else, something unrelated to writing.

You can deal with rejection a lot of different ways. Burn those rejection letters. Or wad them up and throw them away. Or write a charming note to the editor or agent who rejected you (so says Carolyn See).

But I think the best way of dealing with rejection is to write your way through it. In my book, actually in the chapter on fear, I excerpted a few sentences from Dune, by Frank Herbert:

Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past, I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.

Those few lines have gotten me through, many a time.

Take heart and don’t let rejection stop you. Learn from it. Learn to decipher what the rejection letters are really saying. And move on, allow yourself to progress and eventually you will be victorious.

Draining your energy?

Jordan posted a comment: Is there a danger that the immediate gratification will dilute the energy and drive to get on with the book?

He was talking about giving your energy over to writing shorter pieces when in fact your interest is with a longer work.

I’m sure there is that danger, Jordan. I have so many things going on in my life (continuing promotion of Pen on Fire; editing The ASJA Monthly; teaching two private workshops and an online class with Gotham, beginning tomorrow; my radio show; working on a new proposal; writing a novel; my family; article deadlines. I know there’s more but I fear my brain is frying and I can’t remember what it is.

I just don’t know what to cut out–my ongoing lament. I enjoy everything I do. In an ideal world, what would I keep and what would I cut out? Would I quit my editing job, quit teaching? It’s an ongoing puzzle; I don’t know.

I think that’s a continuing challenge among all writers. How to prioritize? What to move to the top of your list, what to kick off?

When you’ve written a book, it’s to your advantage to continue to do promotion. One way is to do articles that keep your name before readers. It is more immediate gratification, and yes, it can be draining. But what is the alternative?

You can go on, write the next book and say screw it, let the publisher keep my book alive. But it just doesn’t work that way. Those days are over. Writers have to help keep their books alive and if it means not only working on books but working on articles, too, so be it.

Thoughts on books vs. magazines

Home, now, from New York and Pennsylvania. I was away for a week, and at the beginning of that time and even in the middle of it, it seemed like I wouldn’t be seeing my boy for such a long time. And then I was back home and it seemed as if I had never left.

The ASJA conference was great–such good panels with wonderful speakers. I met Andrea, the editor of Pen on Fire and she was just wonderful. Others, too, that I’ve only had contact with online or on the phone or via email–great to put a face to those people.

I want to respond to a comment Jordan made on a previous blog. He said, “I admit to being a snob, but having done so, where is your ‘writer’s mind’ now that your book is in the stores. A book, it seems to me, is permanent. Magazine and newspaper articles are transient things. Do you have any thoughts on this?”

I do have thoughts on this, Jordan.

Some people are book people, others seem to be more into magazines. While I subscribe to, and read, magazines, I’m definitely a book person. And every day I’m grateful that I have added my own book to the book population of the world.

That said, books can take a very long time to write. Writing a magazine article–or an essay or a story or a poem–and getting it published is much more of a short-term venture. I like seeing my work in print and when you do shorter works, you get that more immediate gratification of sending your work out and seeing it in print and knowing others will see it in print, too. And it’s always fun to deposit checks in your credit union account, too.

For an author, there’s one more benefit to publishing magazine articles: You can usually mention your book in your bio at the end of the article, which will hopefully garner more book sales for you–always a good thing. Promoting your book is ongoing, much as I’m sure you hate hearing the “P” work, Jordan.

New York: ASJA Writers Conference

Here I am, in my room on the 24th floor of the Grand Hyatt, taking a break before I go back downstairs to meet an editor from Woman’s Day. On Members Day, there are Personal Pitch sessions where you get to meet for seven minutes, maybe eight, with editors and agents. Woman’s Day readers have said their favorite hobby is writing and I’m trying to figure out some way to do an article or something for them. I just met one editor at lunch, and will soon meet another.

The big wonderful news is I won the ASJA book award for PEN ON FIRE in the Service category. I’m so jazzed about this. So, so jazzed. So I gave a very short speech that was quick and probably not very good.

More about the conference is at www.asja.org.

I love this room. The Hyatt has renovated…modernized.

More later….

Book tour tales: Pennsylvania, now

Right now it’s Friday morning and I sit in my hotel room while a girlfriend, Carol (Polite) Sanford from high school, and just after, showers. She and I hadn’t even talked since the late ’70s and last week got in touch through classmates.com. She drove down from New York for my book event and we decided to room together. We picked up where we left off. Interesting how that is.

Last night I did my Borders appearance in Montgomeryville, PA, near where I went to junior high through high school. Lots of relatives came and so did a few high school friends. A few people I didn’t know and one whom I met on Readerville.com. It was such a moving night, actually. My Uncle Jerry was there. Back in the late ’80s, after I published my first major travel article, Uncle Jerry started telling everyone that I was one of the highest paid writers in Southern California. Which is when I began to believe it might be possible to even be a full time writer (at the time I was doing something else for $$, besides writing).

Today I’ll drive to New Jersey to see my half-sister Sylvia, whom I write about in my book, the chapter that begins with the line, “Bigamy runs in my family.” Then to Manhattan for the ASJA conference. First, though, this evening, I’ll meet with my editor at Harcourt for dinner. We’ve had so much contact over the last 22 months since my book sold but we’ve never met. Sort of like dating someone, even marrying, without having ever been in the same room.

Writing about someone still living

A comment was posted in the Jan. 27 blog on fear that goes like this:

“Both you and Anne Lamott talk about writing as if your parents are dead. In my novel in progress, I write about my mother as if she’s dead. The problem is that she’s very much alive, we’re estranged, and the mother character in my novel is portrayed in a negative light. The fact that she’s a mother is an important aspect of the story, so I can’t just give her a sex change. If the book gets published at some point, I’m afraid of litigation. I’m not sure what to do. Any advice?”

Where to begin??!

So many authors who’ve written about dicey themes or based their fiction on someone still living have come on my show and when I asked how they did it, mostly they said, “I wrote it as if it would never be published.”

I would say, just write it and worry about it later. By the time you reach the end, it may be a very different book, so don’t censor yourself now. Wait. And write.

I don’t know if you’re writing it in the first person. If so, perhaps doing it in the third person would change it enough.

Some writers wait till the person is no longer living, if it’s that dicey. I’m working on a project right now where I’m encountering the same worry, but the story is important enough to me that I’m writing and putting off worrying till later.

So again, I’d say, go for it. You need to write this book, so worry about it after you have a final draft.