sub·jec·tiv·i·ty [suhb-jek-tiv-i-tee] noun, plural sub·jec·tiv·i·ties for 2. 1. the state or quality of being subjective; subjectiveness. 2. a subjective thought or idea. 3. intentness on internal thoughts. 4. internal reality.
I never know how much to say about anything because sometimes you learn lessons too late, after you've already made mistakes and I don't like the idea of wrecking something for myself before it even happens. Every rejection letter that you get probably has some variation of the phrase "please continue to send your work out as my opinion is subjective". You try really hard to believe that; to tell yourself, it's just not right for that agent. Sometimes though, it's hard to keep going when that subjective opinion seems to be shared by more than a couple. It's important during the times that you feel like this to reach out to the people that will push you forward. Also, to remind yourself why you write. You also have to keep telling yourself that it really, really, truly, absolutely IS subjective. Even though I let myself believe otherwise last week, here's a look at my week to show you how I was reminded.
Monday: a kind letter from an agent saying that I write well but she didn't connect. Okay, I can handle that. I can focus on the "you write well".
Tuesday: a "your work isn't right for us" letter. Okay. Fine. Played on Facebook, connected with writer friends to remind myself that this industry is subjective. Was asked to do a review by someone I respect immensely. Okay. Because I can write. Right?
Wednesday morning: a "thank you for submitting to us but your work isn't what we're looking for" response to an email I sent YESTERDAY. Wow. Okay. Um. Maybe I need a new hobby? Or I can just read. All the time.
Wednesday evening: letter in the mail (like in an envelope and everything) from Blue Mountain Cards. The letter told me that one of the poems I had written had been chosen ("among hundreds") to move onto the next stage.
Moral? It really is a subjective industry. Overwhelmingly so. What can you do? If it matters to you, keep going. Keep writing. Connect with other writers because they have the same stories that you do. If you want it bad enough, you have to keep pushing ahead. Remind yourself of what you have done. Write it down and look at it so that the next time you wonder if you don't understand the meaning of subjective, you can read over this list of achievements and feel good. Because regardless of anything else, if you're writing, if you're connecting with other writers and improving, learning to be better, becoming better, then you are succeeding. And eventually, that persistence is going to serve you well.
Know your limit. Write within it.
It's possible that last summer I may have had a little problem...an addiction of sorts...to all things contest and query related. In fact, there may even have been an element of longing to get noticed or validated. In addition to this, I was also suffering with need-to-write-every-single-second-so-that-I-don't-lose-my-chance syndrome. I believe I caught this from Twitter, where you can find writers galore, contests galore, and constant updates on which writer raked in the good news of the day. Like a good game of poker, it's exciting to be sitting at the table, trying your hand, and seeing if you can stay in the game. It's exhilarating when someone "calls" (or favorites your tweet). There's strategy and technique in crafting the perfect query letter, ensuring that your submission is strong. There's luck in finding the right match for yourself. But there's also the necessity of knowing when to fold. When to back down and realize that the stakes might be 'too rich' for you. It might even be necessary to walk away from the table. Until you're sure you can handle being there. Until you understand that it's not a high stakes, winner takes all game. And until you understand that you, may lose a lot of hands before you finally win.
When you start querying, entering contests, and "showing your cards", you learn what you're made of as a writer (and a person). It is not easy to go from the rush of someone wanting your work to the edge of your seat waiting for them to read it to the hard landing of rejection. It may build character but it also leaves a mark. It is incredibly hard to make yourself understand that they are rejecting your work, not you. Because of course, our work feels like part of us. If you can't face the reality that not everyone is going to love your work, that not everyone is going to want it, or you, even if you thought they might, then maybe you're not ready. Or at least, that is what I learned. I wasn't prepared for the slide down. The attention is wonderful and validating, but the time in between scoops out your self-esteem. And it becomes a cycle. If you let it. If you're writing to prove something or because you think you have to, then you're writing for the wrong reason and it won't be authentic. You have to write because you can't not write. Because it's part of you. If you feel this way, then you'll know, or come to know, that sitting out a round, standing on the edges for a bit, doesn't pull you out of the game. It just lets you breathe.
I sat out the last twitter contest and I thought I would be sorry but I'm not. I like the conclusion that I've come to in the last several months: if I slow down it will not make me disappear. If I don't get an agent, it will not make me stop. But if I had entered the contest, when I finally feel like, okay, I can just breathe and write at the same time, I would have thrown myself back into the cycle. And right now, it's not where I want to be. The point is, you have to know what your limits are, what you can handle, and what you can give. This leads me to my second decision.
I've decided not to participate in the A-Z challenge, which I think looks incredibly cool. Writing a different blog every day for 26 days is a fantastic way to be motivated, be part of something special, and be creative. And I signed up. I even chose a theme (a good one) and organized my drafts file to get myself ready. But then I asked myself, "why"? I have been welcomed into a small community of gracious, funny, and talented writers. I have a support system and a couple of critique partners that I respect. So was I pushing myself because I wanted to just play one more hand or because I felt that this hand would be a building block for the rest of the game. Right now, my building blocks include co-authoring a romantic suspense novel, waiting on agent responses to another romantic suspense novel, being a critique partner, and writing things that I enjoy. I'm putting less pressure on myself to do it all. It all sounds great...but this is how you burn out. It becomes overwhelming and emotionally exhausting if you push yourself past your limit or worse, if you don't recognize you have a limit.
Sitting out and opting out are hard choices as a writer. You feel like, even though everything is moving slower than you ever would have thought humanly possible, there's so much happening around you, without you. And it can become nerve wracking. A friend of mine said this week, "Unless you have an editor breathing down your neck, write for fun or what's the point?" I don't have to spread myself thin trying to be a part of every challenge and every contest. But last summer, I had myself convinced that I did. That if I didn't play every hand, that I'd lose for sure. Really, the only thing I was losing was sleep. And maybe some sanity but that may or may not be tied to writing.
In the last year, my writing has become infinitely stronger. But so have I. By taking away the urgency, I've side-stepped the pressure that I was putting on myself. I've stopped telling myself I have to enter everything I can (though I highly recommend many of the fantastic contests and pitching events you can find on twitter). Instead, I'm telling myself to make what I do write, what I do query, the best it can be. In the process of slowing down, finding balance, and gaining some insight, I may even have become slightly less annoying to those who have to put up with me when I get a little too caught up. One of my favorite quotes is below. That's what I'll aim for. As a person and as a writer.
The fine print
I am in no way an expert on anything...like anything at all. But I have learned a few things in the last couple of years that I wish I had known when I started thinking I wanted to get an agent or publish a book. Most of the things I've learned seem like common sense, but surprisingly, in the excitement of getting recognition for something that is so personal, we often forget what we know is just good etiquette. Along with that, I've fallen into a few 'things' that I've been fortunate enough to have far smarter people than I help me navigate my way through. So here's a pieces of not-advice-but-something-like-it from someone who is still finding their way.
If you wouldn't say it to someone's face, why would you say it online? You would absolutely think that this is just an accepted truth. However, the internet gives us a certain anonymity (or so we THINK) and there are times when people type before they think. Don't do that.
The only way you get better is by listening to the advice of others. Not everyone, but someone. You have to choose a tribe of people that you trust. That you know want what's best for you, will be honest with you, and can handle you at your worst. If you have people like that, who will read your writing and be brutally honest, with the best of intentions, then trust them. At least enough to truly consider what they're saying.
No agent is better than the wrong agent. This one sucks but it's true. These people are entering a relationship with you. Would you go into a bad relationship, JUST to be in one? There was a time I would have said yes, but as you get older, you learn to care more about your own well-being, Writing is no different. You want someone to be your champion and I am completely convinced (most days) that the right agent is going to be worth the wait.
As in life, envy gets you nowhere. It's easy to be jealous when you hear an announcement from other writers or from agents you stalk- I mean follow. But the thing is, you don't know their story. You don't know how hard their fight to get to where they are was and most of all, if they got there, then they probably had some pretty phenomenal writing. It's too hard to get somewhere in this world if your writing doesn't rise above. So they deserve it and it doesn't make you deserve it less. And, their success doesn't lessen your chances or your talent.
Go with your own style. I've been trying my hand at plotting and it just doesn't work well for me. For the co-authored book I'm working on, yes. But for my own writing, I just can't do it. At least not yet. I like to get lost in my writing and having to plan it all out first, throws me off track. I can always go back and edit and make plot points along the way. As much as I hate the term, I'm a pantser at heart. That's not right or wrong. It's just what works for me.
There's more. There's always more. But that's it for now. Nothing we do is foolproof. There's no list or step by step manual to succeed. There are things you can do to make the ride smoother but basically, you have to do what you should be doing in your life: be who you are, to the best of your ability and hope that good things come to those who wait...politely.
Keep anxious and carry on
Keep Calm and anything doesn't really suit my nature. I mean it when I reply to people who tell me, inanely, to 'relax' that "this is me relaxed". My brain works on overdrive all the time. A situation that would bring a few questions to mind for most people, generates hundreds of questions in my head. So, as you might guess, waiting patiently is not my thing. I think maybe, in some alternate universe where I try to see the good side, having to wait for answers about my writing is a good thing for me. I'm slowly learning that everything does not need to happen RIGHT NOW. My friend sent me a beautiful quote that, oddly enough, did making me relax a little.
I always feel like I just have this short window of opportunity to start and complete something but this a self-imposed window. I box myself in by creating deadlines or telling myself that I have something to prove. This works against you in writing. There is no time limit here and this needs to be remembered. Also, it's true when you're told that this is a subjective business. So far, for my current query, I've had a few "it's not right for me" but "perhaps another agent", rejection letters. It is hard to have someone turn down something that matters to you. In fact, I sent my best friend and husband a text earlier this week that said something along the lines of:
I don't want to do this anymore. I can't keep sending my work out there.
I, with my inability to WAIT for anything, got a little down when I entered a very cool pitch contest on Brenda Drake's website and had no immediate responses. I felt that if I got some requests, I should keep going, but if I didn't, I should take a break. Here's the important thing though: I can't take a break from writing. The words and characters won't stop forming in my head so, in the end, whether I get published or not, if my work is requested or not, it's part of who I am. Keep calm? I have to write to do that. I have a tendency to obsess and need immediate results. This is not a good combo in the writing world. Fortunately, I have a strong support system that is used to me, ignores my defeatest texts, tells me to take a breath and doesn't mock me, too much, when I send a follow up text about an hour later that reads:
Disregard last text. Just got a request. Still bring pop, please.
Actually, I got three requests from the "Pitch Party" and I am thrilled and excited and feel like I'm starting at the bottom of the roller coaster, again. However, I think it was a good little learning curve for me because it reinforced what I've already said: you have to write for you. It's where your best writing comes from. You have to be willing to listen and accept feedback and critiques AND rejection. If you decide to pursue the path to being published, you have to be willing to move forward, fight for it, get your writing out there and understand that it is a subjective business. It's like anything in life, I suppose, you have to really want it and the harder it is to get, the more you'll appreciate it when the good moments come.
A writer's toolkit
When I was little I would get out some paper and a pen or pencil and call myself a writer. What more could anyone need if they wanted to write stories? When my daughters want to write, they ask if I can get off the laptop, if they can use the iPad, or go onto the desk top computer. Lots of times, I tell them that they have to use the old fashion method of paper and ink. I think there's power in this for them. As a writer, there is still something that moves me about writing the words that fumble around in my brain down on a piece of paper and reading over it, realizing that it's become something more than jumbled words. We can backspace and delete on our laptops but I believe pen to paper will always have value. That can be another post.
When I was in high school I got a very nice Smith Corona typewriter. When something really mattered, I'd type up a final draft on that. In University, I purchased my own computer and parted ways with my pen and paper unless necessary. As I've waded into the waters of "professional" writing (sharing with an agent, getting an agent, being on submission), I've come to realize that there are many more tools necessary for today's aspiring authors. It's more than just the medium we use to get our words down; much more.
In teaching (I teach elementary), we need to be very aware of (and hopefully utilizing) 'best practices'. This means that we are up to date on current research and information on how to facilitate student success. It is very similar in writing. It is not just paper, pen, a list of agencies to query, and some stamps anymore. What does today's writer need in their toolkit?
What else? What's important in your writing toolkit? What makes you stronger or more confident as a writer?
Crazy little thing called faith
While playing the game of Life with my oldest daughter yesterday, she said the simplest and sweetest of things and it reminded me that, sometimes, you just have to let it go, let things work themselves out, and believe.
She was beating me mercilessly, as usual. I had four children, lost my job twice, got sued, and went on a $35,000 vacation. She, in turn, had bought a mansion, found treasure, and got a book deal. She wasn't gloating though, so she clearly takes after me more than her dad.
When she landed on the "You signed a book deal, collect $200,000", I commented, in passing, "I wish that would happen to me."
While collecting her money, she says, "It will. But for real, not just in a game. You'll see."
Just like that. Now, I do hope that one day my book, which is on sub, gets picked up and has success. It's a fun story. However, I in no way think that I'll become rich in any way. From what I've learned about the book/publishing industry, you write for the same reason you teach: because you love it. Which is fine; more than fine.
What struck me is the simplicity of her statement and her conviction. When we're young, we believe in fairy tales, happily ever after, and ourselves. Sometimes, we lose that along the way. As the truth about fairy tales and reality, we let go of that blind faith in things we cannot see. I don't consider myself a jaded person. I believe in people, that good things happen and that good triumphs in the end.
But I can't tell you how good it made me feel to know my daughter believes in me, even when I forget to. That simple show of faith reminded me that, in the real world, believing in something (like yourself) can't be measured by time, accolades, or even your definition of success. Believing in yourself, and in turn, in your writing, needs to be a constant. It's what keeps you moving forward. I read an excellent quote the other day:
“Sometimes your only available transportation is a leap of faith.”– Margaret Shepard
This could not be more true. We need people in our lives that will remind us of this when we forget. I feel grateful to the people I have in my life that do this for me.