Submissions, Rejections, and Moving On

I feel like this is a post I’ve probably written before, in one manner or another. But the truth is, that if you’re a writer, actively seeking to publish your work and/or build up your resume (let’s call it a ‘platform’), you’re going to have to deal, at some point in your process, with rejection. Hell, humans in general have to deal with it in all facets of our lives, and as we mature and gain experience we learn (or don’t learn) how to cope with it and move on.

*I should add a disclaimer: I’ve seen it happen, on the rare occasion that someone’s first draft of their first novel gets picked up by a publisher, right away. I’m happy for those few among us, but they are very rare outliers. The exceptions. The kid that blew the curve in class. And since they’re probably not in ‘need’ of writing advice–they can go on with their charmed lives. This post is for the rest of us*

A rejection letter for our artistic work (the meat of our souls if you will) is often harder to take than getting passed over for a promotion or shot down by that guy at the club (or wherever a person tries to pick up someone–I’ve been out of that game for many moons). Writing is, in many cases, a work of heart. And it takes guts and faith, and an ounce of reckless stupidity to throw it out into the world for other people to read (judge, pick apart, mock, etc.) So when we put our (he)art on the line and it’s returned with a swift and almost cutting “thanks but no thanks” it can often feel like we’re getting a red pen mark right through our soul. They didn’t like it. They don’t like me.

So here’s where I tell you the few things I’ve learned. Not just about in dealing with rejection but also how to submit in ways that will expand your confidence and the chances that your work will be seen and appreciated.

I could pound out a bunch of statistics on how many times major publishers rejected some of our favorite and prolific authors. I could tell you that some of those authors when into their thirties and forties (even fifties) without ever finding success in the industry, and I could give you a sunshine-up-your bottom pep talk about not giving in.

But I’m here to help. And I don’t believe in false praise, false hope, or anything false when it comes to finding the system that works for you. What I will tell you is this:

1.) Rejection is important to our growth and the quality of our work.

And there’s a blade thin line artists walk. Where the sting and wound of rejection can, in fact, topple us over and we may never rise again. It happens. All the time. So, when you think about being a writer—I want you to think hard about this one truth—

Your work will be rejected. Your words and ideas, your stories and the depths of your heart on page, will be thrown back at your feet and declared unwanted. But here’s the secret. It does not matter if they believe in your work. It doesn’t matter if they find it worthy. All that matters, is that you believe.

Your work is not you. So your novel was rejected and, if you were lucky (yes—lucky I said) they gave you some scathing or tepid advice about why. I’m willing to bet the editors did not say “You’re shoes are dumb and your breath smells like coffee farts. Oh, and your momma was a Clydesdale.” And if they did—that editor was having a really shitty day and you should send them some flowers—back on point. You are not your work. Rejection of your work is not a measure of your worth as a person or as a writer. Everything in life that we want to get better at, takes practice, and the best practice includes mistakes and their inherent lessons. Your work is not perfect, but it is changeable. You are not perfect, and you don’t have to be. Rejection of your work means you are out there, in the business building a better story and standing behind it. Don’t take it personally.

If they do offer you any advice, cutting or kind, PLEASE respond with a heartfelt thank you for their time in helping you become better. Assure them that you’ll consider their input and try again as guidelines allow.

And your mother doesn’t look like a Clydesdale.

But she’s a pretty momma.

2.) Submitting your work gets easier.

I remember the first few poems, short stories, and novels that I submitted, and it felt like sending my babies out into a wild cavern full of hungry wolves. It was heart wrenching to wait and equally devastating to hear that they’d been torn apart and spit out. But, with the aforementioned advice on rejection I’ve learned that a rejection notice isn’t a ticket to give up and stop trying. It’s one opinion, it’s one grade, it’s one lesson. And there are too many more to try to waste the time fretting over the one.

So, keep trying–submit like a goddamn machine. Schedule it, prioritize it, research possible avenues for your work. Put aside time each week to find the right places for your voice. Record where you’ve submitted, when, the cost, the call-back date, and the work (this is especially important if no simultaneous submissions are part of the rules *see #3 below*). The more you submit, the wider the net you cast, the more likely you are to catch something. Don’t keep submitting to the same publisher/agent/journal/paper, with the same story/novel/poem/essay and expect different results.

3.) Read the Damn Guidelines and Follow Them As Though Your Life Depended On It.

Seriously, my pen pals, I cannot stress it enough. It irks the hell out of me to have a beautifully written story in a waste pile because you didn’t take the time to read the requirements, word count, genre, or editor’s rules. Sometimes one of the biggest filters any job/class/test/editor uses is the simple test of if the candidate can follow directions. So don’t be the douche that thinks you’re above jumping all the hoops. Show them respect by following the details. Then wow them with your work.

4.) Take the small wins

I don’t care if your local church newsletter published your tuna casserole recipe (how Minnesotan of you, Sarah!) or you had a haiku featured on a blog, or had a guest editorial in a nationally ran newspaper. Take it! Enjoy it, and pat yourself on the back. These are the small steps that help you understand that your perseverance leads to good things and eventually, bigger things. Don’t go resting on your church cookbook laurels though. Celebrate and get back to work.

5.) Think about your endgame and plan accordingly

There are a lot of readers in the world (Hell, I’m one! I know you’re one!) which means there are eyes and minds out there for every story. Whatever your endgame is for your writing, decide early. Are you doing this to build a platform for future projects? Are you submitting because you love that particular journal? Is it for the love of your story? Or is it for profit or prestige. TO BE CLEAR: NEITHER OF THOSE ARE WRONG. But the path to each will be greatly different. So steer your submitting towards what you want to be when you grow up, whether that’s a world-wide best selling author, a respected indie poet, or someone who’s work affects even just one other person.

Well–That’s all I’ve got this month for advice on submitting. Do it prolifically. Don’t take rejection personally. Stay true to your voice and purpose as a writer and author.

Until next week. Happy Writing.

The Beautiful Writers Workshop #16: High Emotion Words

…did no one else start singing Whitney Houston after that title?

“I get so emotional baby, every time I think of yoouooouu…”

No?

Well then go back to bed, get up again, and rethink your life.

Whitney
I don’t know why I like it…but I just do.

Today we’re getting off the poetry train (thank god, we thought it would never end!!!–ungrateful louts) and getting back into other aspects of writing, specifically word choice.

Now, I guess you could argue that this is related to poetry but right now I want you to think about words in terms of the emotions they convey and why using the wrong word can lead to either a tepid response in your reader or just plain confusion.

This is a good time to bring up the death traps of “very”, “really” and any “-ly” word you tend to over use. Chances are if you are using one of these precursors or the dangling adverb-maker, there is a better word out there for the emotion you are trying to evoke.

(He wasn’t very sorry. He was contrite, remorseful, ashamed. She wasn’t very pretty. She was luminous, stunning, bonnie or even fetching if you feel somewhat Scottish)

Remember, your ultimate goal is not to have your book or story be the one that readers want pick up because it’s an apt substitute for melatonin. You want them to not be able to put the book down, unless they need an emotional respite from the roller coaster you sent them on. So your word choice, in addition to being like an arrow to a bullseye, needs to light up hard or intense emotions in their brains.

I’m going  to offer an important disclaimer…I’ll even go so far to say as it’s imperious. Just like eating cake every day for every meal, or riding twenty rollercoasters back to back to back, too much of a good thing is NOT a good thing. When you overuse these impactful words, they start to over power the reader’s ability to keep up, in addition to that, you start to sound like a goddamn narcissistic douche bag.

“Watch me word, Underlings! Witness the power of my supreme expression of the English language! Cower to my mighty thesaurus and the power of my underused MFA!”

scholar
Sure, but it keeps him from licking his balls.

ahem…you get the idea. Overuse of ‘heavy’ or ‘flowery’ language will disenchant your readers and come across as dishonest (i.e. fake like a Kardashian’s talent).

Take a scene from your current book and highlight or “find” all of your adverbs and precursors. You don’t have to replace them all but particularly (yes thats a -ly word) pay attention to the ones that describe meaningful or pivotal scenes, where you want the reader to feel what your character feels.

Jane wasn’t very sad. She was decimated. Desmond wasn’t very angry, he was enraged. Katelyn wasn’t very happy she was glowing with a newfound sense of hope.

There you go. That’s your job for this week. Oh, and here are a list of heavy-emotion words if you need a little help. If you find one or two inspirational, meaty if you will, find a home for them in your work, where appropriate.

Positive:

Jubilant, elated, ecstatic, contented, serene, vivacious, encouraging, blissful, pleased, enchanted, warm, sunny, joyful, anticipation, admiration, exquisite, graceful, delighted, amused, amiable, dazzling, mesmerizing, captivating, invigorating, splendid, charming

Negative:

Oppressive, sardonic, overbearing, irritated, obnoxious, disgruntled, disenchanted, distressed, miserable, sadistic, resentful, aggravated, sour, crippling, debilitating, horrified, heavy, loathing, disgust, desperate, contempt, brutal, bloody, flawed

Others:

Evenhanded, indifferent, passive, apathetic, secretive, secular, pious, composed, awestruck, mysterious, ambivalent, horrified, pragmatic, cautious, accepting, reserved, pensive, vigilance, ancient, delicious, feeble, solemn, famished, puzzling, complicated, massive, skeletal, tremendous, efficient

 

Writer vs. Idioms

 

Biting the Dust and Chewing the Fat: A Word About Idioms

 

My daughter is learning about idioms in school. With new eyes on them, these expressions and figures of speech can range from all-out ridiculous to so over used that we barely notice them. Keep your eyes open, I’m about to idiom all over this place.

 

The conversation with my daughter got the ball rolling in my head, thinking about the idioms that pepper my own work. Writing coaches and how-to books tell you constantly to watch out for these little story killers, and with good reason. They dull your dialogues. They’re cliche, they’re drab, and boring and are the written word equivalent to a speaker saying ‘um’ and ‘uh’. Idioms are skipped over by the reader’s eye because they are so common as fixtures of language and culture. In other words, they’re time and space wasters.

bath-splashing-ducks-joy-162587.jpeg
Photo by Pixabay on Pexels.com

Now, I don’t want to steal someone’s thunder or throw the baby out with the bathwater because sometimes idioms can be useful. Occasionally a specific phrase used in dialogue can denote or solidify where your character comes from or give us insight into their personality.

 

Saying ‘that dog won’t hunt’ or that someone ‘doesn’t know shit from Shinola’ (oh, and ‘please excuse my French’) are phrases one expects from a certain region or even generation. But unless it is something your character is at home saying, or that paints them in more vibrant colors to the reader, avoid them like the plague. After all, do we really need to swing a cat in a room to see if it’s big enough to do so?

 

It’s hard to cull the herd of idioms in our language; to make our work more precise and original, but it is part of fighting the good fight. When editing, ask yourself if the line has a double meaning. Ask if it’s the best possible way to say what you mean. If it’s an obvious idiom, what could you use instead? Does it contribute to the scene and charm of the moment, or distract from it?

 

So don’t beat around the bush or cry over spilt milk. When the ball is in your court and you’re back to the drawing board, remember; although idioms can be a cloud with a rare silver lining, it is always better to hit the nail on the head and kick overused phrases to the curb.

 

Now, if I can get the use of the Oxford comma right and stop double spacing after periods, I may just level the playing field.

 

If it’s not one thing…it’s another.

 

What are some of your common (or favorite) over-used expressions?