Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The Highs and Lows of Rejection

Summer is over, the kids are back to school, and once again my house is filled with the sweet sounds of silence that mean only one thing - time to get writing again. Mug of coffee at the ready, check. High carb salty snacks with a chocolate chaser. Check. Inspiration and motivation. Now where'd I put that again?

This is an interesting part of the journey for me. I started writing Band Geek a year ago at this time, and every day the words flowed as if channeled from somewhere else. No writer's block. I felt certain when I started writing again, this book would come the same way, but no, apparently not. Instead, two stories showed up, each fighting for my attention, one middle grade and one YA. I started one, then flip-flopped to the other. Now I'm writing both simultaneously, and trying to maintain my sanity while awaiting the response to my partial and full requests that are dangling out there. It's daunting to start a new project without the first one having been sold, let alone agented. It eats at my resolve, especially each time my inbox lights up with another rejection, and I have to remember, this is part of the process. I can do this.

At first, the rejections felt personal - how could they not? I tried to remind myself that writing is subjective, and just as I do not fall in love with every movie or book that critics love, so will it be the same for my own work, but I have to have faith that one day, someone will read it and connect. Instead of making a bonfire with rejection e-mails and toasting marshmallows and throwing myself a pity party, I realized that maybe these rejections were actually doing me a huge favor. Maybe they were forcing me to take a step back and put some time and distance between me and my book and let me come at it anew with fresh eyes and a list of comments and suggestions from those few agents and fellow writers who had graciously taken the time to offer them up.

Recently, I went to a meeting of my local SCBWI chapter, and one of the authors there said that "Your book is never done. Even when it's published, it's never perfect. You can always find things you want to go back and change." True that. Just because my book is "done" doesn't mean it's ever really "done". If an agent falls in love with it, chances are they will have a take on what they feel it needs to make it even better, and the publisher will have an even bigger list. In many ways, rejection almost has more value than praise for a writer. I think it makes us BETTER writers. Sure, it feels good for someone to say your work is wonderful, don't get me wrong, but when someone really takes the time to tell you what DOESN'T work, that is actually the greatest gift of all. It gives us the building blocks to rework our stories in ways that can serve to make them stronger that we may be too close to the work to see.

I'm thankful for each and every person that has had the courage along the way to be honest and take time out of their busy lives to help me make my work the best it can be. The old saying goes "That which doesn't kill us only serves to make us stronger." Well, I'm still alive and kicking, and though I may be down for the count momentarily each time a new "no" comes, I know if this is what I want, if this is what I'm passionate about, if this is what I MUST do, then I always have to get back up again.


So don't give up. Keep writing. Keep moving forward. There are many stories within each of us.

Monday, August 2, 2010

My first SCBWI conference...a.k.a. What It Felt Like To Be A Real Writer For 48 Hours

It's been awhile since I've posted as summer has hit and I've been in mommy mode rather than up to my neck in query letters and writing and revising (and revising again) the synopsis and the novel. At this moment, I am entering week 8 of a 6-8 week window of hearing back from an agent who has my full manuscript, and got to meet him at my first SCBWI conference and told him "Dude, you owe me a manicure - I've bitten off all my fingernails," which, thankfully, made him laugh.

The SCBWI conference was amazing. I met so many incredible authors doing exactly what I want to do, and hearing their individual stories of the road to get where they are today echoed my own, which gave me lots of hope. I attended some amazing panels and breakout sessions led by bestselling YA authors and top agents, and garnered information that was invaluable and I will put to use every time I sit down in front of my computer to write for the rest of my life. But most of all...for 48 hours...I felt like a real writer. I cannot recommend this experience enough to any writer at any stage of their career. The people I met were so welcoming, despite the fact that they were all published and enjoying their respective successes. They were absolute cheerleaders for where I was at, having been there not so long ago themselves. A couple offered up referrals to their agents, which can make all the difference in the world for getting one's foot in the proverbial door. The key to any real success, the kind that really matters and makes you well respected within your community of peers, is remembering the importance of paying it forward. Sitting amongst a sea of 1100+ people, all doing or wanting to do exactly what I've wanted to do all my life, I felt exhilarated, inspired and all the more motivated to thicken my skin and press on, because if they can do it, why can't I?

I woke up today and sent out six more query letters (and got one rejection back right off the top but that's okay!) I realized I can't just sit around waiting for things to unfold, I have to press on and be proactive, and much like throwing pasta against the wall, eventually something is bound to stick.

Now my mind is swirling with ideas for the next book. Originally I intended to write a YA romance/road trip book but now my mind is buzzing with ideas for a middle grade story, as that seems to be the newest trend the marketplace is hungry for. That said, I'm not one who ever really wants to chase trends - I write because I can't not write. I write the stories I want to read, the kind of stories I loved as a kid about real kids in contemporary settings that I could relate to, that made me laugh, that made me root for them, that gave me hope. When I wrote as a kid, I never wrote for others - I wrote for myself, and the words flowed. It's tempting to write for others - but at the end of the day, I think we need to write for ourselves, the stories we NEED to tell and want to tell, because that authentic voice will shine through.

Monday, May 24, 2010

The waiting is the hardest part

5/24/10

Hi everyone! I decided to join this century and set up my own blog to help chronicle my road to publication (positive thinking!), discuss great new books I've been reading, music I can't stop listening to, links to writing tips and websites I think are invaluable for the writing process, and most of all, a place to vent! Welcome!

So as anyone who has known me for a while can tell you, I've wanted to write since I'm about three. At 13, I wrote a novel that I submitted to the then editor-in-chief of the children's division at Putnam Publishing Comapny, and that got me a meeting with her in New York. I remember walking into the marbled and esteemed lobby of this incredible place with my mom, thinking myself very dressed up in a tan blazer and pleated cords, overwhelmed by just how much I wanted to be a part of the writing world. The editor told me I was not quite ready for publication but handed me a stack of books by writers whom she said wrote in a similar style to myself, and suggested I read them and study for them, and above all else, keep writing and feel free to send her anything I wrote without even a query from that point on. Naturally, at that point I was a teenager, and shortly thereafter became more interested in boys and a social life than writing, so I sadly let this opportunity slip away. The dream of being a writer, however, remained a constant. It was just simply...dormant.

I wrote here and there over the years, went through the UCLA Screenwriting program and completed a screenplay, but when I finished it, I was nearly nine months pregnant with my daughter Katie, so I opted not to shop it around, and then once again, life had other plans and I devoted myself to being a full-time stay-at-home-mom. However, I turned 40 last year and it was like something hit me hard. It was time. This could no longer be back-burnered. It was time to stop dreaming about being a writer and do the work. A famous writer friend of my parents once said that "You're not a writer unless you're writing." I didn't like that answer, and so it helped to propel me forth and face my biggest fear in the whole process - rejection.

I started writing "BAND GEEK" in the fall of 2008. I wrote the first 11 pages and put it away. I took it out again in the fall of 2009 and committed myself to a writing routine of writing Monday through Thursday from 8:45-1 while the kids were in school. It worked. I completed the novel in seven months, and honestly, I never once experienced a day of writer's block. The words just flowed. I think part of the reason was because I'd never had a story idea delivered to me in one piece like this before - characters so clearly developed, a unique hook and an ending. Ironically, as I wrote the book, the ending changed, and I hope the one I came up with will satisfy the reader far more.

I started making revisions, passed it around for feedback, and when I felt it was tight and solid, began working on the dreaded query letter. Oh. My. God!!!! Writing that was waaaaay harder than writing the actual book. It was so incredibly daunting to boil down 303 pages to two paragraphs and include all the key details, let alone figure out how to format in Apple Mail from a Microsoft Word document, which apparently remains one of life's greatest mysteries along with where the other missing sock went , so I'm in good company. And then...the synopsis!!!! Hang me from the tallest tree right now. That was even worse!! And the most frustrating part is...these two documents, which barely capture the flavor and voice of the book enough to do it justice, are what will win over an agent and/or an editor. I've got basically 45 seconds to wow them and then they turn off my spotlight.

I got my first rejection a record 43 minutes after I sent the first query (thank you Nathan Bransford!! I still think your blog is awesome!!!) and several others followed suit ranging in response time from hours to weeks to the dreaded not at all. And so...I wait. I continue to query, I sit on my hands, I bite my nails to the quick, and I hope beyond hope that my chance will come, that someone will believe in what I wrote and think it's fantastic. At least, someone that isn't a blood relative