Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Reflections on A Writing Life

It's always a little complicated to come back from a writing retreat. In my normal daily life as a writer, I actually write all the time, as in definitely every day, and mostly every hour of every working day, Monday through Friday. This has been good because writing is really the only thing I do well, and I've figured out ways to squeeze some spinach out of my abilities.

No part of my paid writing is very meaningful, of course, or very good for that matter, but I take a certain pride in getting it done to the satisfaction of the people paying me. Of course my creative writing is very meaningful, at least to me, and we'll see how it goes with the rest of you in November. In the minutes between being paid to write, I've always found spare time to work on my own projects: novels, stories, essays, occasionally even a book or two. It's a huge balancing act, and I realize I should be grateful for all the years I've managed to have something weighing down both sides of the scales: dollars on one side, fiction on the other. It's not been easy, of course, but whose writing life is easy? My books take an eternity to finish, in part because they are written in the cracks between paid gigs. But it's been all right. In fact, looking back it's been pretty good. I wish I could take back all the worrying I did over the years. If I could give young W,R some advice, I'd say, "Calm the F down, little dude. It's all good."

Coming home from the writing retreat this weekend, I did have to wonder, probably for the first time with any seriousness, what it would be like for me to be able to work solely on my own creative projects. Could I do it? Would I really want to? I'd be very poor, of course, and probably ultimately homeless, and potentially un-spoused, and maybe a little bit feral. But I do know people who live their life this way for art's sake. I've seen them. I've met them. They are scrappy and have truck loads of integrity because they don't hire themselves out to write about smart phones and pharmaceutical drugs and psoriasis.

I'm not sure I'm cut out for that kind of deprivation and artistic intensity though. It seems supremely hard to me: both logistically and creatively. It would be like always worrying about money, and always staring at the blank page at the exact same time, but maybe also it would be amazing. Maybe my work would blossom and not be such a struggle. Who knows?

I pretty much always felt the need for a mix of things: having someone tell me what to write has actually offset the difficulty of knowing myself what I should be writing. Plus I work well under deadlines and time pressures. They seem to give my life purpose, though I do see what a trap that kind of thinking can be. Before you know, time's up and you've been writing about health insurance, paint colors and what-not. 

I could live in the woods. I could eat berries. I could write all the day long. But probably I won't. I'll stay in my house and pay my mortgage, and have annoying clients who email me constantly, and call me with issues and problems and edits and advertising crises that in the moment seem so important, but really are not. And I will be slightly annoyed by the whole thing, but still grateful for them.

In the aggregate, it has really all been just fine the way it happened to play out.

Saturday, April 26, 2014

Road Trip: AWP in Minneapolis, 2015

I got an email at writerrejected [at] aol [dot] com from a complete stranger inviting me to be on a panel about rejection at AWP. Remember when people were mad about LROD sparking discussions on the matter? Now they will host panels on the matter. A very nice progression.

I accepted the invitation, of course, which would bring my coming out a bit earlier than expected. The announcement of AWP panels and speakers (should this particular panel be selected) is in August 2014, the book comes out in November 2014, the panel is April 2015. The idea is to use my real name in the announcement in August, and I suppose, and to bill me (the real me) as host to LROD/Writer, Rejected.

Seems like a some sort of new level of something-ness has been reached here at the good old LROD Ranch.

So, maybe I'll see you, then, at AWP next spring.

Friday, April 25, 2014

The Imperfect Stitch

I am on a writer's retreat at an undisclosed location* with some writing friends. Thing is: since I've been writing my novel for a decade and a half, I've always had a plan for what to work on. Actually, I've gone on only two writing retreats before this one, but what I mean is that I've always known at any given moment what to write. Of course, I've feared the abyss after the novel.  In anticipation of it, I've started many projects over the years. For instance, I do have a so-called "memoir" that I'm so-called "writing." So, you'd think I'd be busily using this precious retreat time to get going on that project, which desperately needs attention.
     And yet, this retreat feels different. I am actually not probably going to end up using it to write on the page. Instead I am thinking and reading and having feelings. I am proofing the galley, and feeling sad and grateful at the same time. I realize too that it would be really good to have some sort of process for letting go of this particular novel after so many years. Because it's done now. And that is weird. And I feel so many things about this fact, and surprisingly, not all of them are good.
    For a long time with my first book (a collection of stories published when I was pretty damn young, come to think of it), I always felt like it still needed editing. I'd pick it up flip to a page and see all the things that needed to be revised. (Was it Barbara Kingsolver who said something about knowing a book was finished when her editor ripped it out of her hands as if to suggest the writer is never the one to know when it's done, or maybe that it's never really done.) That feeling of wanting to edit my first published book lasted for years, and, frankly, it really cut into my enjoyment of the published experience. I don't know if "enjoying" is the right word for a writer's experience of a published book, but, if not, it seems like it should be.
    I don't want to have the same nagging experience with this novel; I don't want to constantly think I could have done better, should have not written that word, could have made it read more smoothly. I've worked so hard on it. I've poured everything into it, and then I've taken so much good stuff out of it, just so it would float. I want it to be its own thing in the world without my internal criticism constantly weighing it down in my own mind.
     What's true: You can't write a perfect novel. Or, anyway, I can't.
     I can only write what I wrote (and wrote and wrote and revised and rewrote and tore up and cut out and revised and wrote some more for 15 years +.) So, maybe that's the key to letting go. I don't know. Is it? Do you know? Is this what writers go through when they publish a book? Or is this just what I am going through?
     Remember the prayer-mat makers who always include an imperfect stitch in a perfectly wrought rug, so as to remind themselves that only God can make something perfect? Maybe it's like that. Maybe I am being arrogant to think I can write any better than I can write. Maybe I can gratefully accept that this is simply the thing I am putting forth in the world with all its imperfect stitches. Of course my imperfect stitches aren't intentional at all, but what can you do?
     Conclusion: I've worked so hard to get here and I don't really know what I'm doing. I didn't know with the first book either, but at least now I can see more clearly how much I am just completely winging it.
    Alas, as the fine rejecters of the world sometimes say.

*I do amuse myself.

Friday, April 18, 2014

Tweet, Tweet, Yo.

This little blue bird of happiness is busting my butt. I am a twittering twit now. I am conquering the learning curve: RT-ing and MT-ing and #-ing up a storm. It's strangely addictive and falsely reassuring. Someone I know has a little kid, who when asked what facebook was, replied, "It's where you go on the computer and pretend you're famous." Right? When did it become so much about being famous? (Not to mention falsely so.) I don't know, but I did create a facebook page for my novel, and I invited all my friends and all my "friends." I already feel like my novel is getting overexposed among my friends, and we are all going to be sick of it in about 1 minute. The pub date is still 7 months away, so I guess I better get un-shy in a hurry.

Also did you know you cannot follow more than 2K tweeps?  I just found that out.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

LROD Gets A Big Award

Letter I received just now*:

Congratulations! Your website, Literary Rejections on Display, has been selected as a 101 Best Website for Writers as honored by Writer's Digest magazine. Your site has been listed in our May/June 2014 issue.

Attached to this email is the official Writer's Digest 101 Best Website for Writers award logo for 2014 you can post on your site. We hope that you wear this badge with pride and honor the prestige that is carried by being part of the few who make the 101 list.

Congratulations again on being a best website for writers of 2014!

*I'm going to have to come out very soon, micers.

Sunday, April 13, 2014

They *Were* Being Dense

Dear Miss Plath,
I’m sorry we decided against these poems. We like the second section of AMNESIAC very much, but cannot see any relation between it and the first section. Perhaps we’re being dense. But would you think over the possibility of printing the second section alone under the title? If you would care to resubmit it that way, we’d be happy to consider it again.
Thank you for sending these poems to us, and we hope to see others.
Sincerely,
Howard Moss

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Blog Hop Toward Coming Out

Dear Mice: It's true that here at LROD we have maintained a certain artifice. My anonymity as "Writer, Rejected" is now about to expire. Here is the first step in the process: participation in a blog hop, which will lead back to a writer I know and to non-anonymous me. Here are the questions I am charged with answering as part of the festivities:
1)  What am I working on?  I am currently proofing the galleys of my novel, which is due out in November 2014. I am also toying with the third draft of a non-fiction memoir. Toying is not the right word for something that already has 3 complete drafts. But it needs a different voice, or restructuring, or something, so I am considering scrapping it and starting over entirely. After that, if I decide that my novel is part of a trilogy, I am going to start writing the second book, for which I have some drafts.  If not, I'm going to pack it in and become a full-time reader when I'm not writing for a paid assignment.
2)  How does my work differ from others of its genre? This is an interesting question.  Obviously, I have suffered a great many rejections, as evidenced by this blog.  Therefore, I am tempted to think that my work is either a) bad, b) irrelevant, or c) unlike other works of literary fiction and truly original. I would love to go with c. But who really knows? I would venture to say that this is a matter of concern best left to someone who isn't the writer.
3)  Why do I write what I do? For me, writing comes from a deep place. After my first book of short stories was published, my shrink-at-the-time thought that my unconscious was trying to tell my conscious self something through the writing. (You can imagine how comfortable that session was.) With my novel, one of the protagonists is a kid who has a shadow self in the form of a mysterious missing child. (The shadow self's name is an anagram of the protagonist's name.) Certain events in my life are hard to look at directly, unflinchingly. I am in favor of denial, in a way, but there's a part of my unconscious that sees it all, records it, and is ruthless about knowing what happened. This is the part that carries a gun, a dirty matted thing like the shadow-self in my novel. So, I write to find out what that ferocious unconscious, weapon-bearing self knows--the part I mostly try to keep separate (locked in a box with a key) in order to live. 
4)  How does my writing process work: I write all the time, and I move from writing one thing to the other pretty easily. I write for a living on assignment and with tight, sometimes torturous deadlines; I write blog posts and twitter feeds; I used to write short stories (I have an unpublished collection) and essays (ditto). And the novel was a 15-year exercise in trying to get it right, to find out what I really didn't and really did want to know about what's true. Writing is truly, pretty much, the only thing I am good at. Though I can also cook a little bit.
The writer who invited me to this blog (homo) hop:  Michael Barakiva, author of the forthcoming One Man Guy (FSG, May 2014).  Pre-order your copy here.
Also go check out the author's:
Now is the part where I pick three writers I know and point you to their pages. If you would like to volunteer to be one of the said writers, send me an email at writerrejected [at] aol [dot] com, and you can get some free publicity, for what it's worth, yeah?

Thursday, April 3, 2014

Musing on Rejection After Acceptance

Don't be fooled. Just because one nice publisher recognizes the merit of your project and chooses to publish it, doesn't mean others will feel the same.  It's easy to be lulled into a false sense of optimism, but it is not recommended. I can only imagine how devastating it must be to get bad reviews. It certainly isn't very nice when the accepted manuscript continues to get rejected elsewhere. But such is life. Here's the latest:
Dear WR: Thank you for submitting [Title of Novel] for the 2014 PEN/Bellwether Prize for Socially Engaged Fiction, founded by Barbara Kingsolver. After a careful review of more than 150 qualifying manuscripts, we have selected this year's 10 finalists. We have now moved on to the next phase of judging.

We are sorry that your novel was not among the finalists. With this letter, we release you from any further obligation to this year's competition, you should feel free to submit the manuscript elsewhere. If you plan to revise your novel significantly, we invite you to resubmit it for a future prize cycle.

Thank you again for your interest in this prize and best wishes for your work in the future.

Best regards,
Arielle Anema
Literary Awards Associate
PEN American Center
Awards@pen.org
I hadn't really felt under any obligation to not submit my manuscript elsewhere (obv.). But I have been released  from it nonetheless.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

April Blurb's Day

This may seem like April Fool's joke, but it's not. Someone pretty hefty among the literati is going to read my novel and maybe blurb it. This happened through a friend, who picked up the phone and asked, who is also sending an advanced reading copy to the person, who has a very large readership, like Oprah-sized (no body jokes, please; we love O at every size). It may not happen, of course. But today it makes me happy to think that it might.