Category Archives: rejection

Writers are inspirational … we support & encourage each other!

Thanks to my friend Ellen Prewitt for inviting me to join in Luann Castle’s Writer Site conversation on the creative process. Yes, we’re breaking more rules here .  .  . while I am a writer, I also create many other things as part of what gives my life meaning. These days, what I’m creating is my own shop: Uptown Needle & Craftworks (please “Like” my FB page), so I wanted to share with you a little about the process.

First, I want to share a little (well, a lot, actually) about how I got to this day.

I have not posted on my blog in a while. I stepped off one train and jumped on another in my life vocation. After many years as Episcopal clergy, squeezing in time for writer, sewist and artistic pursuits, I awoke one morning and felt a call to begin a new life dedicated to creativity. I turned 65 one month ago. Having breakfast one morning in a well-known New Orleans bakery while visiting family, I asked my companions to take a walk around the Magazine Street neighborhood. Right next door to the bakery was a yellow house with a very small sign: For lease; commercial. I pulled out my cell phone and snapped a photo of the phone number on the sign. My inner critic immediately chattered away. It’s probably too pricey for you. You have no business doing this at your age.

I argued back. If not now, when? If I wait five years I may not have the same energy and passions I do now. I’m energetic and committed to making a life change. I signed a two year lease and quit my job on the same day. Some say I’ve retired. I say I’ve re-fired.

For every creative I know, that inner critic is always on the job. No matter if we write, paint or sculpt – that tiny tyrant wants to be in charge. As I’ve grown older, that voice has become smaller and smaller. Today it is a mere leaf falling out of place. I completed my first novel when I was 15 years old. I’ve completed 4 more since then. Not one was accepted for publication. Not that I haven’t tried – one was very close to being a finalist in Amazon’s Great American Novel Contest. And it could be published already if I had the time, energy and funds to do about two year’s of edits. All are sitting in boxes until I have the time to edit each one – I will do this, later. And I still write. The stories are there, but my interests reflect my personality type. I’m an INFP on the Myers Briggs personality inventory chart. One description of this personality type reads, “you’re like a new puppy, always into something new.” That’s me. I write, edit, write some more. Sometimes I work on one of my novel manuscripts; sometimes I write a short story. Because there’s always a story. And sometimes I sew, paint or make something new.

I ride the train, “The City of New Orleans”, back and forth from my home to my new business site. In observing the people on the train I can see stories everywhere. But at this time in my life, my career change is my story. It takes courage, confidence and a little bit of moxie to outwit the critic and keep your heart, fingers and brain in sync with your passion – your true self’s deepest desire. When we overcome negative energy, the world wants to hear what we have to say. And real life makes for the greatest stories. Especially when our words come from that deep place called our true self.

When I think of all this as it applies to writing, I first have a picture in my head. Ex.: I found two chairs. Functional, but not perfect. Ordinary. Then I give them a little bit of attention, add some emotion, some color, some gorgeous fabric – voila! Entirely new chairs. Life is like that. Pay attention. Create something new. Gather your courage. You’ll amaze yourself. But back to the initial questions I’m supposed to answer:

  1. What am I working on at the moment? At the moment I’m grieving over having to leave my writing critique group after years of sharing with them in numerous phenomenal successes as well as a few dismal failures – they are all excellent writers and I will miss them. I am leaving Memphis to open my own creative arts studio in New Orleans – which will include creative writing classes. I will continue to work on short stories, as everyone knows New Orleans is full of them, from the woman walking down the street, body painted entirely in silver, to the little boy tapping his heart out for spare change of tourists in the French Quarter. Who are they, and what is inside them that drives them to live their dreams in this city?
  2. How does my work differ from others of its genre?  My work does not fall into a genre, other than the broad category of Southern writing and creativity based on my own life experiences. Working in several forms, whether in clay or textiles, I find that I always include words in my work. Like every writer, I’m in love with words and the myriads of possible usage and meanings.
  3. Why do I create what I do? According to my mother (she died several years ago), my soul has compelled me to create since birth. When a small child I made up stories with my paper dolls (this really tells my age). I created family dramas and named my Betsy McCall paper dolls different names (these paper dolls were printed each month in McCall’s magazine). Southern families are chock full of characters, and Southern writers can easily overlap fictional characters with people they have known, or people in their families – although we certainly do not have the franchise on this process.
  4. How does my writing/creative process work? All depends on what I am creating – sometimes a story or character takes up residence in my head when I’m at a traffic light or in a coffee shop. However, in order to write, to focus on a character and a story, I must have a quiet place and a non-anxious state of being. To fall into that “dream state” as Robert Olen Butler calls it, so that I become my character and exist in the milieu that I write about.

What do you need in order to create?

What Do You Do While You Wait?

One of my novel manuscripts has received 79 agent and/or publisher rejections. I should change that to read 6 agent and/or publisher rejections and 73 ignores.
The ignores are the most difficult. I’d rather have a firm “no” than nothing at all. I lovingly send something off with high expectations, then I never hear back. Did they ever receive the package or email, I wonder? The actual rejections have arrived either via email, a form letter, or a self-addressed stamped postcard that I paid for.
While my shorter pieces have been published, there’s been no action on this particular manuscript. I think it’s a good story.  My readers think it is a good story.  But the publishing industry is not in a gambling mood; they want a sure thing.  If it was chick lit or young adult fiction or anything with vampires some agents say it might have a better chance. But here’s the thing, I can’t and don’t write in those genres. I’ve tried, but I have no passion for that. 
I’ve almost come to enjoy these rejections and ignores, these little efforts to force me into doing better or different work, because when you win there’s no incentive for improvement.  When you receive a rejection, or even an ignore, at least there is a reason to go back and look at your pieces over and over again and make them better.  I decided to engage the services of a professional editor to review this one manuscript.  I know I will learn something from her, even if it means re-writing this novel for the upteenth time.

So what to do while I wait for those acceptances, those affirmations for my life as a writer?  I keep doing it.  Every day. Writing is a solitary activity.  I am usually alone when writing, as are most writers.  I sometimes sit all day and write. I will miss meals and work in my slouchy clothes all day if given the chance, because story material appears every day.  Just this morning I read about an 11-foot alligator caught by wildlife officials walking down the street in Greenville, Mississippi.  That was after the wedding in the convenience store between the Cheez Whiz and the toothpaste. And then there was the grandmother in Florida who tried to sell her infant grandchild. What motivates people to do what they do is the basis of fiction.  What are those internal or external conflicts that we all bump up against? Was the alligator hungry? Was the grandmother? What about the couple who married in that store? Did their eyes meet, did the ringing of the cash register sound like rolling thunder in their hearts? Did they honeymoon at Talladega?
Writers are compelled to write. I carry these stories forward to see what they want to express to the world. There are myriads of opportunities in Memphis to pursue this avenue of artistic expression, especially in the inner city, and especially with our young people. They all have stories to tell.
Writers have an artistic gift, and we need to cast it out into the universe, not keep it to ourselves.  There’s a young man in the Beltline neighborhood that enjoys writing so much that he wrote a play and his mentor helped him enter it in a local contest. He didn’t win.  But he’s still writing. He wants to be a better writer.
If you enjoy writing and want to carry your story forward, helping young people like the young man in the Beltline neighborhood, consider facilitating a writing group for WriteMemphis, a literacy program I started because I wanted to do more than hold my gift tightly to myself. I am compelled to share this gift with the world, and I hope you are as well.  Visit the website at http://www.writememphis.org, and we’ll put you to work while you wait.  

Unknowing Agents of Inspiration

Susan Cushman’s post,  Getting Saved, Sex and Writing over at A Good Blog is Hard to Find, inspired me this morning. Susan writes of a teacher who put masking tape over her mouth to stop her from talking. Her words sparked memories of my own childhood. I am an extreme introvert, although not shy. My elementary school was Walthall School in Hattiesburg, MS. When I asked a question or made a statement as a child it was usually a well-thought out sentence so as not to embarrass myself. In 4th grade I have this vivid memory of having not heard the page number leaning over to ask a classmate what page we should be reading. When I leaned back into my own desk, here comes the teacher stomping towards me, yelling at me. I am terrified. She grabs my little desk with her big hands and shoves it back against the wall.  The impact jolts my tiny 9-year old body so much I can still feel my skin shudder.

I don’t think I uttered another word until I graduated. There have been other agents of energy (this is being kind) who tried to stop me from writing and talking in addition to that fourth grade teacher. In ninth grade, we had an assignment in English Class to write a persuasive letter to someone. I have no memory of whom I wrote my letter to or what I was trying to persuade them to do, but I have a strong memory of what my teacher said about my letter as she read it to the entire class. Shame invaded my life and still lives rent-free in my brain.

Growing up in the south, we have certain words that are part of our language, our vernacular. We use these words in our homes, in our businesses and in personal conversations.  I won’t bore you with the specifics, but I had used several of these words in my assigned letter. The teacher read my letter and snickers echoed off the walls as my classmates listened. She waved the letter in the air and shouted that one does not use such language. I was humiliated. I did not write another thing until I graduated. Except in my personal journals that I kept since elementary school.

As a young bride living in New Jersey in the early 70s I got a part-time job as a typist at a company called Myron Sugarman International.  They manufactured gaming machines for casinos.  I typed letters from the Dictaphone. The men who dictated those letters were all fast talkers. Too fast for me. Well, that was New Jersey, and those accents, you can imagine, were strange for a young girl from Mississippi. I tried to slow down the machine so I could understand what the men said, and I strained to listen. I did my best. The words I couldn’t understand I just made something up that fit what I discerned the letter was about.  Every letter came back with red marks. I tried to explain that I could not understand their accents. They laughed. They did not have an accent – it was me! People in the office asked me questions just to hear me talk.  I was so embarrassed I shut up and quit the job.

But I continued writing in my journals. I made up characters, settings, descriptions. Years later, in a fit of anger, my now ex-husband threw all my journals, around 30 or them, in the Ross Barnett Reservoir. I guess he thought I was writing about him. All those stories now sleep with the fishes.

Writing was mandatory in college classes of course, so I tip-toed around those words that one does not use and was awarded some scholarship dollars to Millsaps College in Jackson, MS based on my writing. I was finally set free.

Now I come to today, and I am like an addict who goes on a binge, wakes up 5 hours later and wonders where the time went. The newspaper is still in the yard, the dust has gathered on the coffee table, phone calls go unanswered, and my FaceBook status is non-existent.  That is how it is when I am writing. Time stands still.

My husband Robert comes home and knows I am writing and leaves me alone. He encourages me. He understands.

Who were/are, in spite of themselves, your unknowing agents of energy and inspiration to keep writing
?

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.

The Gravy. Gotta Have the Gravy.

“Gentleness is everywhere in daily life, a sign that faith rules through ordinary things: through cooking and small talk, through storytelling, making love, fishing, tending animals and sweet corn and flowers, through sports, music and books, raising kids–all the places where the gravy soaks in and grace shines through.”Garrison Keillor

I received another rejection of one of my short stories. It sat out there for the longest time as “under consideration” at Narrative Magazine, and I was hoping it would be at least a finalist; but no, got the rejection this morning in an email. The positive sign is that this story did outlast the last one, which was rejected much sooner. So, now to look the story over again, perhaps change the name and refine it a little and send out again. And again. And again.


In this quadrant of my life I have more resolve and tenacity than I had when I was younger. These days I take the “no’s” as part of life, and not as a definition of who I am. That may sound rather fatalistic to some who had higher self-esteem than I had when I was a child, but when I was just a small child I did allow quick judgments to sink and and applied the defining words of others to who I thought I was. When I was in my teens and 20s it was easy for me to just give up on something when I received the first “no”. Now I look for ways to get a “yes”. And, if the “yes” does not come, that is okay too. I move on.
As part of moving on, I have been asked to write an essay on how dreams influence my writing for an online publication. This will come easily for me. This is like the gravy that Keillor talks about. Gravy, like a dream, soaks into our unconscious and appears in surprising ways.
Dreams have influenced writers throughout history and continue to influence writers, including Stephen King and Anne Rice and William Styron. Having completed about 35 short stories, I would guess that more than half of those were influenced by an event or a character that appeared in my dreams.
Where have interesting characters appeared in your own dreams, and have you written about them?