Category Archives: editing

The Power of Rejection, and Why I Keep Writing.

Robert and I take our three rescue dogs to the Shelby Farms Dog Park often. Every time they go, it is the best day of their lives. As if they have never scurried after rabbits, splashed in lakes, or played with other mammals similar to themselves. Every time we go, it’s a whole new world.  The excitement builds from the moment they see me putting on my walking shoes. They hear the squeak of the chair, and that’s it.  When Robert picks up a leash, they sit and fidget until he attaches leashes to their collars. They rush the door and around to the back of the Jeep, so anxious to go. We drive with all windows down, and three heads with lips and ears flapping are seen in our review mirrors. They are together in a wad, metaphors for ecstasy.

On arrival at the dog park they don’t even wait for the hatchback to open, noses are at the ready. Down from the Jeep they bound, then off to the lake.  Only one dog, the Golden Retriever, is a swimmer. The other two are waders, but they want to be swimmers.  They waggle their bodies as if they are going in, then turn around and watch Buddy swim toward a tennis ball. He snatches it in his muzzle, and swims back, snorting out water with each breath. On shore he drops the ball and runs off in search of a dog trotting down the dirt path.  This, my friends, is doggie bliss. It seems there are no boundaries, and plenty of lakes, butterflies and small animals, humans who all love dogs, petting hands at the end of every arm.

After about two hours, this is all they can take of bliss.  They are panting and tired.  They know the Jeep and run back there and wait to get in and lie down.  This has been fun, and now it’s time to go home and rest. Until next time.

This is how it is with me and writing.  I know, it’s a stretch, but stay with me here. The anticipation, the build up to the process, the journey through the terrain of the story, the lovable characters (though many are odd), the appreciation of the opportunity, then okay, it’s time to get back on the road.  Then rest.  Then I do it all over again, and it is always brand new. Writers are those who write.  And I am one.

Over the past ten years or so, I have completed 3 novels, 35 short stories, about a dozen essays, and I want to add “so far”.  Some writers say writing is cheap therapy. Others say writing satisfies some inner urging, or that they believe they were one of Dickens’ characters in a previous life, or they believe their story is so unique people will line up for it, or they have a need to be famous, or rich, or whatever the reason may be. I don’t know about those latter reasons; however, the inner urging I do understand.  And of course the cheap therapy. But for me, that’s not the only reason I write. Truth is, writing makes me feel good.  Simple as that. 

Writing helps my deep memory. Those childhood events and stories that were long forgotten are somehow resurrected when I fall into what Robert Olen Butler calls that “dream state”. There is a zone of emotional connection that we tap into when we put words on paper and words fall together to describe a scene or a character that we are seeing in our heart and brain, and the words come effortlessly as if snowflakes drifting from the sky. The beauty of it is ethereal and we know it when we do it.  But only after the writing is done.  When writing is an effort – when we struggle to find just the write word or phrase or metaphor for a circumstance so we can compare and contrast what we want the reader to experience, when we find just the right sequence of words, then and especially then we sit back and we say where did that come from and we know.

Like those dogs running free, my mind runs free with words.

So what if I get a rejection now and then?  (And believe me, I’ve received plenty.) One rejection does not stop the flow of process or passion for the craft. Ellen Ann Fentress says, “You’re just statistically closer to a “yes” now, Emma”.  I believe her.  She would know.

Lessons from a Tennessee Volunteer

If I had the time, I would spend all day writing. But sometimes things get in the way and take so much energy that I am diverted for hours from what I love into what is necessary.

This morning I eliminated the volunteer that had taken over my life. I hated to do it at first, but as I ripped and tugged and hacked at this invasive varmint, I showed no mercy. I sweated profusely, powered by my anger, as I yanked it up by its roots and cast it out of my life. This pesky thing had taken over. It entwined its skinny fingers around my okra, gripped my wonderful and prolific grape tomato plants at their necks and nearly choked the life out of them. Six bell pepper plants never had a chance. Oh, they started off healthy, with large dark green leaves, but once the vine got aholt (acceptable in the south as a real word) of them, they were stifled into puny sprouts never to even produce their first flower.

Not to mention what this thing did to my cherished eggplants. But the eggplant bush was determined, growing above the vine to tower over it and bravely produce a few lovely aubergine fruits on its few spindly arms.

I was tolerant at first. Gleeful even, that this new little vine was so healthy. I watched the abundant gigantic yellow flowers bloom. Are you a squash? A melon? No indication of which variety of fruit to expect. I nurtured the little thing, propping it up on my garden fence to protect it from snails, every day guiding it along. Then, when the vine was maybe 75’ in length, wrapped around and around my garden fence, a small oblong yellow fruit appeared. First a lone little baby something, then another and another. In all, perhaps 5 of these fruits appeared. I let them grow, thinking for sure this is a spaghetti squash. The fruits grew large, perhaps 8-10” in length, and were fat, like a spaghetti squash. But different somehow. I left them alone to grow.

Every night the vine grew. The leaves were huge. Each morning there appeared tendrils grabbing onto grass, invading now my back yard. This is the healthiest plant I’ve ever seen, I marveled! Is this how Jack and the Beanstalk began?

One must discern the motives of volunteers early on, before they take over. I always think they have good intentions, they will be fruitful, and will contribute to the good of all. They pop up and say I’m here, and I welcome then. I expect them to be surprising, as I cannot always tell what type they are in the beginning, those things that sprout up where you did not ask them to grow. Where you did not plant them.

But always always I start off loving them, smiling at their new little faces, marveling at their capacity to grow several inches in a day, and waiting, with much anticipation, what the fruit of the vine will be. These volunteers are eternally the most energetic, charismatic plants in the garden, usually coming from some composted plant consumed perhaps years ago, or dropped by birds, and just waiting until the precise moment in time to burst forth its seed and devour everything in its way.

Don’t trust them. No matter how they try to seduce you, no matter how smart they say you are. They are a clever lot. But I implore you, cut them down in their infancy. Grab your hoe and chop unmercifully until you get them at the very roots of their lives. Pull them up, throw them in a heap, or, better yet, burn them to ashes!

Today, my tomato plants are free at last from the vine’s strangle hold. As are my peppers, my eggplant, my okra. And do they appreciate it? I cannot tell. It is 100 degrees outside and they wilt if I look at them. Parched. They enjoyed being in the shade of those big leaves, even if that vine stifled their growth. But they are trying to recover in their newfound freedom. They are blooming, leaning toward the sun as if they are happy to at last see the light. Free to grow into what they were created to be.

Free at last.

I just hope it’s not too late.

Sometimes I feel like this is how some of my characters take over my writing. I develop small characters with great potential, then someone else eases in my mind’s eye, and suddenly it’s all about them and the other characters get lost in the excitement. I have to then put forth loads of time and energy clearing out the fluff to get back to the original idea.

Have you had anything that took over your life, slowly, before you knew what happened? Please share your experience with me.