One thing I’ve noticed as I continue to work more and more on my craft, is the different things that jump out at me. When I first started writing, I only noticed some of the hooks and tropes that other writers used. Rarely did I find the humor in the venting of an editor; rather I learned from the mistakes they vented about.
Now, I still learn from editors and agents venting, but I also laugh and laugh at the things they say. Sometimes, I see myself in those mistakes and know that I too am guilty. Other times, it just amazes me at how daft, clueless, or egomaniacal writers can be. For example, I don’t care for Ann Rice’s style and choose not to read her. But not in a million years would I tell her editor that I “write ten times better than that overrated hack” and they should print me instead. Nor, would I preach from my soup box about the great conspiracy the large printing houses have against new writers as a way of endearing myself to a small house.
Once, I did address a letter to an agency as if I were sending it to a publishing house and even went as far to say that I looked forward to their acceptance to ‘publish’ my novel. The crass rejection letter I received was well deserved. Several rules were broken that showed my lack of professionalism. One, was the form letter I used to inquire with this agent–form letters should never be used when trying to impress someone. Second, I executed the act so halfheartedly, that I managed to send my publisher form letter to an agent rather than my agent form letter. Third, I didn’t bother to make sure I was even following their specific guidelines and proved I ignored such important detail by using a somewhat obvious form letter.
Some might say, that with the great mass of letters we need to mail and with the great number of form letters we are going to receive in response, that it is just fine to give the agent/editor back what little consideration they give us writers. These things I know to be falsehoods. The agent/editors I’ve been fortunate enough to meet face-to-face prove to me time and time again that they give full consideration to every letter they receive. They want unknown writers to succeed. Every successful writer they find or discover helps them earn money; while every lazy or unprofessional author that blames everyone else for their lack of preparation or professionalism only waists the agent/editor’s time.
I know there is a lot of disappointment out there and I definitely have my share of rejection letters. There is no room for making excuses when it comes to advancing toward one’s dream and honing one’s art. It does lighten the load when someone on the other side, one who must do all the rejecting, shares their frustrations and aggravations with us. It reminds us that we are all human and we are also all in this together. Yes, you might be tired of getting the form letter that says you’re not good enough yet, but agent/editors are also tired of getting romance queries when they ask for horror or told that the writer is the next Stephen King yet they can see half the words in the letter are misspelled.
I guess, what I am trying to say is that the deeper I dive into this world that is my craft, the more I see things differently. The more I see things differently, the more I understand that rejection letters are not rejection, but encouragement to get better and show them what the next Stephen King or Ann Rice can really do.
Many people will agree that the hardest part of anything is the beginning. The first ten minutes I spend on the elliptical machine are always the most torturous, pulling the lawnmower out of the garage to cut the grass is the most difficult part of mowing, and avoiding the million-things-that-can-distract-you-from-writing is the worst.
I once read an author’s quote where he said that he left the house to write because if he didn’t he’d find himself “staring into the fridge as if it held all the answers to the world”, instead of writing. Boy do I know what that is like.
Currently, I have a full-time job, a family life, and some strands of a social life. These things I’ve groomed and attended to so that I might grow as a person, enjoy this time I’ve been given, and be whatever of a blessing I can to those around me. Sadly, by choosing life, I also at times have to refuse writing. After all, the balance between living life and a person’s art is often tenuous.
When I first embarked on writing as a possibility in my life, I believed I had yet to experience life. Such is often the lament of the young. Looking back now, I know I’ve had an interesting life. The decisions I’ve made have led me to discover many a myriad notes about myself and how the world works. All of these things infuse my art, inspire my words, and shape the soul for which inspiration sprouts. They also take away from the time available for which to voice that inspiration.
The dichotomy is both exhilarating and bothersome. It is so invigorating to know that I have so much going on that life is a little more because of me, but it is also so frustrating and sad to know that my creation, my voice, my counsel suffocates in the restraints brought on by the very thing which fuels it.
The night, when the moon swam across the velvet sky, my mind would hear stories in the silence and spill them upon the page. Now, night is a time to unwind from the day and relax; a time to reconnect to the family I’ve been away from all day. Soon, in order to bring the balance back between my art and my life I’m going to have to retreat back into the night. In the spring I vowed to get up early and work on my writing while the rest of the world still slept. Alas, my mind is too foggy in the morning, too geared toward solving the problems of the day ahead. Therefore, it is in the night, the time that exists when the waking world has turned to slumber, that I must seek to ply my trade.
A few weeks ago a professional told me to never give up. Christine Purcell saw something in my command of the English language and my use of it that she liked. She even said that despite my lack of formal training I used some tropes better than most at my level. Such words are inspiring. Such prase is encouraging.
I will then move my work from the random short spurts afforded me during the hectic daytime and into the night, where it will fourish once more. This is my time. This is my opportunity to work toward that dream that I dared not dream as a kid. My time to never give up.
ConClave 35 has come and gone. It was a fun and eventful weekend to say the least. Friday, the hotel buzzed with the excitement of arriving con-goers and psyched panelists.
The Writer’s workshop met promptly at 8:30PM. M. Keaton, Stewart Sternberg, Dan J. Hogan, Christine Devlin, Christine Purcell, and William Jones appeared eager to greet this years enthusiastic upstarts. Stewart took the helm of the conversation and queried all involved if they prefered to break off in one-on-one sessions or rather hold an open forum for the night and break-off into individual sessions Saturday. Very quickly a quorum was met and the open discussion ensued.
At this point, I must mention that the intensity and energy of the workshop tripled in volume. All panelists agreed to not speak names directly or to point fingers at the authors whose failings they lamented openly. The hope was to allow each of us to learn from one another’s mistakes.
Stewart again grabbed the lead in both of his meaty hands and looked directly at me. He said, “Characterization is one if not the most important part of a story.”
Every panelist jumped onto that subject and went into great detail on the why’s, how’s, and impact’s of good characterization. Eventually, M. Keaton and Stewart both broke the rule and talked directly to me and about the pages I had submitted. They loved what I had done, they were very happy to read it, but the way I dragged my feet building on my characters weakened my prose. Christine P. even piped in about how much she loved many of the lines I had written. She too was disappointed in having to read so many pages of inner dialogue before the story began.
“I liked the first paragraph, but then I didn’t care until four or five pages later when the other character came in. Then I didn’t want to set it down,” she said.
After an hour, the panelists transitioned to speaking about passive voice, not engaging the reader, and the importance of writer’s groups. Occasionally they found a way of wrapping back to me and commenting about a specific parts of my fiction they both loved and hated. Had I started the story at a different point, had I not led them astray for so long, they wouldn’t have anything to say to me at all.
To hear these words. To see these professional authors look at me like I was an equal. I still cannot find words for it. There in my chair, I just sat as stoned faced as always, as if we were having any other conversation about anything else in the world. Now, over 24 hours after hearing their praise and validation, I am still speechless.
Stewart–“You remind me a bit of Bradbury.”
Christie–“Some of your prose is the most beautiful I’ve read in a while.”
Dan–“You are the most improved author this year.”
Saturday’s individual sessions lifted my spirits even higher. Christine P told me to never give up writing because I was already there, I am publishable. Those words burned into my brain and rattle me to even think about. Not even a full month ago I was ready to walk away from my writing forever, to give up the dream as just one more hair-brained failure.
William told me he thought it was time I spoke to his editor at Elder Signs Press, Charles P. Zaglanis. “Making contacts like this is what conventions are for,” William said.
Sunday, we held an open forum to wrap up the weekend of critiquing, with the panelists touching on all we had discussed both openly and individually. Stewart commented that the panel he was on prior was such a waste of his time that he could have ran through the room topless and still not been able to get a word in edgewise. He was glad to be back with us talking about things that really mattered. We laughed together and bonded just a little more before the session ended.
Charles from Elder Signs Press came to this last meeting also. When I presented him with my novel he said, “Christine has said a lot of really good things about you.” He read the first few paragraphs at the beginning of the book and then said he wished to read the rest. I now have a novel under consideration via the connections I made at ConClave.
As I said before, it was a fun and eventful weekend to say the least.