How Having Your Book Rejected Makes You a Better Person

Our first snow fell on Sunday – also Jackson’s first-ever snow. He lasted about two minutes before dashing back inside to furiously clean between his toes.

When I was in my early twenties, I used to argue that everyone needed to have their heart broken at least once. Not only was this a great way to soothe a friend who’d just had his or her heart broken – hey! this will make you a stronger person! – but I also believe it to be very true.

Falling in love is a fabulous, giddy and wonderful thing. Loving relationships are what sustain us through life. Most of us want to find that special someone (or someones) and find our own happily ever after. But that quest can be a trial. With each busted relationship, we lose not only that person, but also the dream of what could have been.

I’ve been there – the sense of failure, the certainty that I would never love again and would be alone for the rest of my life.

Simply awful.

But, over time, your heart begins to heal and you discover that you learned some things. Thinking about a new relationship changes – it’s no longer a laundry list of “wants.” After a shattering break-up, you get a a really good idea of what you do NOT want. The new Dealbreakers List is usually short, but it’s backed by experience. It provides you with a much better compass for knowing what is likely to work for you.

Heartbreak also teaches the very valuable lesson that nothing is easy. Even if the falling in love part was, the maintaining of it can be damn hard work. If you take the relationship for granted, fail to nourish it, it can fall apart in the blink of an eye.

Finally, that rejection, the sense of failure – from those things grows resolve to do better. To be better. Hope grounded on this kind of foundation is a powerful force.

Then, when you love again – you’re better at it. Wiser. More careful with what you’ve been handed.

I think career-heartbreak can be just like this.

A friend of mine recently had her option book rejected. In most contracts with publishers, they say they’ll publish two or three books in a series and then have right of first refusal to see the next book in the series. This means you have to show it to them first, before you try to sell it to someone else. The rub, however, is that very few publishers want to buy the third or fourth book in a series. To them the series has been done already. So, when her option book was refused, she knows that’s the end of those characters and that world.

(And yes – she can self-publish more books in the series, and she might, but that’s a different kind of effort.)

This kind of thing happens All The Time. Of my three crit partners, all three have had their option books refused after the first two in a series. They grieved, wailed and gnashed their teeth – and moved on.

While I see my friend going through the stages of grief over this, I also see her wrestling with the heartbreak and healing from it. She now knows what she does not want in a new publisher, a new book contract. She was lucky to begin with – a Cinderella story of many offers and a very nice deal. The courtship was great but working under contract was crushing. She knows now what she needs to maintain a creative and productive writing pattern.

Best of all, when we discuss her options – like self-publishing – she shows an increased resolve. She’s working on a new story and she’s going to focus on that. She’s stronger and wiser now.

It’s funny to me, that in my 20s the conversations were about busted relationships and now, in my 40s, they’re about busted careers.

We know now what we learned then – there’s always another one, just around the corner.

On Fires and Hubris

Smoke in the valley today. There’s a 60,000 acre fire near Alpine, Arizona. The smoke and ash blew in on us last night. Our patio cushions have ash all over them.

Apparently it’s worse in the valleys. People in Albuquerque were calling 911 to report fires. They were broadcasting bulletins to tell people to knock it off, that the smoke was from Arizona.

Where there’s smoke, there’s not necessarily fire.

Not right *there* anyway.

It’s a funny thing, how what happens to our neighbors affects us. We forget that things are different for people just a state away, the weather, their politics, disasters. Until it spills over into our own lives.

A friend of mine is up in Yellowstone right now and it’s been snowing. She’d asked me for advice on the best route home. Then she found out that one direction isn’t a possibility because the roads are still closed due to snow. I lived in Wyoming for over 20 years and already I’ve forgotten that early June can still mean snow there.

How quickly we adapt, focusing on our immediate world.

I think it’s easy to fall into this pattern, thinking that how things are for us is how they are for everyone.

Maggie Stiefvater, who is a very successful author of young adult novels, and at quite a young age herself, wrote a blog post the other day that kind of took me aback. I agree that jealousy is a worthless emotion and something to be overcome. However, the relentlessly self-congratulatory tone is a bit off-putting to me. It can be a trap, I think, to believe that your own success is a direct result of your awesomeness.

Clearly, if the juice is lacking, you have little to go on. Still, success in any endeavor is made up of many factors. Timing, serendipity, personalities. It’s like wondering why one woman is able to have babies easily while another is infertile. Is it because fertile woman is a better person? Because she deserves it? Why does one guy develop pancreatic cancer and another live to be 106? We like to try to trace cause and effect, but there isn’t always one.

With producing art, we’re talking about something that necessarily grows out of the deepest parts of ourselves. Sure, a writer can try to target what sells, but if the story isn’t genuine to her in some way, it’s not going to work. Not everyone has the story that becomes a phenomenon. That’s just how it is.

We all follow different paths in life. Our joys and sorrows, failures and successes are part of that. In the end, it doesn’t really matter what hand we’re dealt, but rather how we play it.

Not everyone gets to be a bestselling author. Not everyone gets to live to be 106. Some people die young. Some can’t have babies. Some artists are discovered after they die.

I sometimes wonder if I’d take Jane Austen’s lot – to be so revered long after my death and never get to enjoy it myself.

Maybe so. Hubris is a poisonous thing. Not getting too excited about one’s own awesomeness can be dodging a bullet. Hard to control a raging ego, once its been overfed.

More and more I’ve come to believe the real test in life is not how well we do, but how we handle what happens.

Remembering that not everyone sees the same thing when they look out the window is part of that.

Snowfall and Sapphire

Did I say I wanted snow?

Ahem.

Okay, so the highways are closed. David has two finals today and we have no idea how the school will handle that. Considering that our rather long driveway is knee-deep to hip-deep in snow, I doubt David would be going anywhere even if they open the highways.

Yeah, you can say it now: Be careful what you wish for.

I received happy news last night that Sapphire made a bit of a conquest. The editor I sent the story to really loves it. She had a few issues with it and invited me to revise and resubmit, though she understood if I didn’t want to. These kinds of requests can go both ways. If you’ve been reading my blog for a while, you know I’ve revised before, to no avail. This is a different opportunity because she sent me a very detailed description of what she’d like to see revised. Better, they’re all really good suggestions. I really love getting to work with a sharp, effective editor.

A really excellent editor brings out the very best in your writing. Conversely, a bad editor can crush the life out of your work. By the way this gal zeroed in on the important aspects of the story and deftly picked out the weak spots, I’m thinking she could be one of the best editors I’ve worked with.

Not to mention that this is a very desirable press.

So, of course I’ll revise. It shouldn’t be too difficult. And when I wrote to say so, she replied that she’s delighted to hear it. All kinds of joy in Mudville.

The big question for me now is, do I set the new novel aside to do this, or work on both? I wrote a post for the FFP blog the other day, comparing writing a novel to raising a child. The new novel is just a toddler and requires a lot of daily attention. But now my teenager has her first big job opportunity. She needs new clothes, a haircut, pumps and hose! Kerry suggested that I give the toddler just enough attention to keep Child Protection Services off my back.

It’s an interesting problem, how to balance multiple works. When I started out writing, I wrote essays, usually in one sitting. I could hold the essay from beginning to end in my head and set it down on the screen. When I transitioned to longer works, I had to find a different way to see the story, because I couldn’t hold the whole thing in my head. At least, not in my conscious mind. I think I’ve gotten better at letting the entire story, including sequels, play out in my subconscious mind where I can look in on various scenes, to write them down. This requires a certain amount of immersion in the story for me.

To move two stories forward at once feels like another level of challenge. I know a couple of people who do this. Some alternate days or weeks on particular projects. Writers with contracts are often saying how they had to set aside a manuscript at the best part because edits arrived from their editor on another project with a one-week deadline.

I might try doing both at once, just to see if I can.

Heck – there’s not much else to do in January, is there?

Deadlines, Lifelines and the Test of Personality


“Still Life: Snow on Luminarias”

or

It’s snowing!!!

Okay, I know a lot of you out there have had way more than enough of the stuff, or have been drowning in rain, but we’ve had an unseasonably mild and dry winter so far. I’m a Colorado girl from way back and I like a little snow with my Christmas. We might even get heavy snow.

We’re snow-globe socked-in and I’m chortling with glee.

Perhaps I should break out into a little mash-up of snow songs. Don’t worry – I’ll lip synch.

I hit a personal best on the treadmill this morning: 1.45 miles in 20 minutes. Yeah, all the athletic people just snickered. I know it’s not much. But going that fast pushed my heart rate up over 170, which is pretty high. I’ll have to stay at this level for a while to try to condition it down. I’d like to get up to 2 miles in 20 minutes, which is the military conditioning threshold. We’ll see. As I’ve likely mentioned before, running is not my forte.

But I’ve been working hard at it, gradually improving, shedding body fat by incremental percentages. When I realized I would cross this barrier while running this morning, something odd popped into my head. Something about the thought that it’s taken me a couple of years to get my conditioning at least this good made me remember a conversation with a friend about writing.

She had done what a surprising number of people do: decided to write a book, sell it and become a successful author. She’d quit her job and given herself one year to succeed.

This also falls under the “after all, it’s only genre-writing, it’s not like it’s hard” umbrella.

When she had not sold in the year – indeed, when she hadn’t really completed a full manuscript, instead constantly revisiting the first three chapters in response to critique – she asked me how long I’d given myself.

The question surprised me. It had never occurred to me to impose a deadline on my work that way. In some ways, it would be like me saying that if I can’t run 2 miles in 20 minutes by next December, I’ll quit running. I suppose at some point in the future I’ll be too decrepit to make that goal. Though that image is kind of amusing to contemplate.

“Just help me out of this wheelchair and onto the treadmill – I’ll be fine!”

For those who know me, this is actually a plausible scenario.

At any rate, unlike ballerinas and football players, writers have no natural retirement age. If we keep our minds sharp, we can keep writing on our deathbeds. Many have.

My friend was shocked when I said that I gave myself as long as it takes. But then, she and I have very different ways of looking at the world.

The subject of personality has been making the rounds of our online community lately. Patrick Alan summed it up yesterday on his blog. It’s fun to look at our astrological influences or the slightly more scientific personality assessment of the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator® (MBTI®), which is interestingly built on Jungian theory.

I come out as an INTJ, which is apparently a small group. It means I’m an Introvert, Intuitive, Thinker, Judger. The other ends of these are extrovert, sensing, feeling and perceiving. It’s apparently unusual for a person who prefers intuition to rely on thinking instead of feeling. And it’s odd for an introvert to use judgment instead of perception, because it focuses on outer instead of inner.

That’s me: an odd duck.

But it’s useful to me to look at the summation for INTJ:

For INTJs the dominant force in their lives is their attention to the inner world of possibilities, symbols, abstractions, images, and thoughts. Insight in conjunction with logical analysis is the essence of their approach to the world; they think systemically. Ideas are the substance of life for INTJs and they have a driving need to understand, to know, and to demonstrate competence in their areas of interest. INTJs inherently trust their insights, and with their task-orientation will work intensely to make their visions into realities.

In some ways, it was a revelation to me to read this. “A driving need to understand, to know, and to demonstrate competence in their areas of interest” is where I live. Why do I want to succeed as a novelist when I’ve arguably already succeeded as a writer, particularly as an essayist? Because I have a driving need to demonstrate competence in my area of interest. For me, the rider on this is that it really doesn’t matter to me how long it takes.

I don’t know that I’d call running on the treadmill an area of interest, but this undoubtedly plays in there, too. My vision of me, sleek as a gazelle running, if not like the wind, then like a brisk breeze.

Remember I’ve got that rich inner world going here.

Apparently most of us writers tend to be introverts, which is why we’re happy sitting alone, writing, in the first place. Patrick Alan says he’s an ENFP, which makes me wonder how he does it. I notice that, though we’re opposites in three of four categories, we’re both intuitives. I suspect most writers are.

So, do you know your MBTI? And has it helped you understand anything about the way you work?

Frosty Moon

Crazy Gym Lady (as I walk in the door): “Let’s see, she’s got on her red coat and teal headband – she’s all ready for Christmas!”

Me: “Um, but it has nothing to do with Christmas.”

Crazy Gym Lady: “Well, I’m very visual.”

~

This moon is from Saturday evening. I would have liked to catch it last night, but I foolishly scheduled an FFP board meeting at the same time as moonrise. But, since the moon was technically fully full at 10:27am Sunday morning, the night before is pretty much the same as the night after.

November’s moon is the Frosty Moon. It’s also called the Full Beaver Moon. I am not Tawna Fenske, however, so I decided to stay away from that one.

Saturday wasn’t frosty at all. In fact, it was fully and gorgeously warm. Doesn’t that picture look like a summer sky? We went hiking and sat on the patio for cocktails. But, as if ushered in by the Frosty Moon, cold weather hit last night. The wind roared in, freezing rain pelted the windows. Between the bright, full moon and the turbulent storm, we and the animals woke several times during the night. This morning shows a dusting of our first snow.

Seems appropriate for Thanksgiving week to me.

Which, um, has nothing to do with Christmas.