Pen On Fire blog

What is truth, anyhoo?

In the last comment of my last post on rejection, Valerie said, “We don’t need truth, we need hope,” and that got me to thinking, What is the truth, anyway, and what is hope, and what about when the two intersect?

Of course we do want the truth when we read reportage; at least I do. It is more and more difficult to believe what is written because more and more it comes out that a reporter embellished the truth or just made it up.

But here’s where it gets foggy, as regards truth vs. hope. When we hear how very difficult it is to publish your work in a respected journal or get picked up by a major publisher, we believe it and we take it to heart and we let it destroy our hope. Yes, it’s true; it’s difficult to get published. Did anyone say it’s impossible? No. No one’s said that.

Many things worth doing are competitive and achieving that which we desire can be difficult. But do we stop, do we roll up and die because it’s not easy? No, we don’t. At least we shouldn’t.

I was never a cheerleader in high school and still don’t quite get it, why women would want to do that gig, but I am a cheerleader when it comes to creative ventures because I believe that everyone has a creative streak; everyone just employs it differently. I think women–and some men–are so into shopping because, for them, it’s a way of being creative. We all have a drive to create; it’s one of the human conditions.

I know a few artists who have no need to make their art public or make a living from it. These are people, though, who have quite enough money to live on and just do their art because they love it.

But for most of us, we want to make it because we have to make money one way or another and why not make it by doing that which we love?

So, difficult, yes. Impossible, no.

And you have to hold onto the hope that it can and will happen, because if you don’t have hope, you’ve got little. Hope got me through a ton of obstacles.

So the truth is that hope brings with it energy–energy to continue to strive and achieve your starry eyed dreams. Does anyone out there know the book, Max Makes a Million

? I love this book. It’s a kid’s book by Maira Kalman, who does quite a bit of New Yorker covers, but I bought this book before I ever had kids, when I was working at what was then Rizzoli’s bookstore at South Coast Plaza, back in ’86 or so. Max is a dog who wants to be a poet and his dream is to go to Paris and write poetry there. Here’s an excerpt:

But do you think it is easy for a dog to pack a small brown suitcase, put on a beret, and hop on a plane? Ha! Plane tickets cost money. Mazuma, shekels, semolians. I have none. Because no one wants to buy my book. I’m flat broke. But someday fat families and skinny families around the world will be reading my poems. And laughing, and crying. I feel it in my bones. I want to say, before anything, that dreams are very important.

I won’t tell you what happens; read the book; it’s one of my favorites.

But I will say this, before I go, that dreams are very important. Dreams fuel hope and hope makes it happen.

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.