Friday, September 10, 2010

nobody knows the troubles i've seen...except regular readers of bread and bread, who've heard this all before

Sometimes when I hear other writers bemoan rejections, I think, Well, at least you’re submitting stuff. It’s a numbers game and you’re one step closer to winning than I am, sitting here reading Go Fug Yourself or whatever it is I do when I’m not submitting.

When I am submitting and I hear writers struggle with particular criticisms (“He wants me to write more like Sloane Crosley, but I don’t even think Sloane Crosley’s that funny”), I think, I would kill for anything besides a form letter. At least they think you’re worth CRAFTING A SINGLE SENTENCE FOR.

Yesterday, when I got the most thoughtful, constructive rejection ever from an agent, I thought, If the nicest agent in the world won’t represent me, who will?

So basically, I’m never satisfied. This would strike me as very American and worth meditating about if it weren’t still rejection. Only in the literary world do people try to conjure gratitude for rejection. We’re so bombarded with (true) information about how the supply vastly outweighs demand that we leave How To Get Published panels feeling like writing a story is the most selfish, audacious thing we could possibly do. And it is, in a way. But, I mean, it’s not like kicking a puppy.

Recently I had a conversation with someone (AK? Nicole?) about how poets and fiction writers are too willing to give it away for free, but the only thing that would change that would be some kind of union, which would never happen. It would be like a union of people who will paint your house neon green—there’s no bargaining power in services no one wants. So we’re a community of sad little scabs.

I was feeling kind of down, and I still sort of am because I’m not sure where to go next with the Malaysia-and-cats novel. Revise? Keep sending to agents? Start to think about small presses? Eat a large helping of tapioca pudding and call my sister? (I think I have my answer.) But I did get a pick-me-up this morning when I got my first feedback ever on the so-called circus novel. Kathy read it, liked it, didn’t think the mermaid parts were too Lisa Frank. She had some good suggestions for improvement too, and instead of feeling overwhelmed, I got excited about getting back into the project.

When you’ve worked on something over a year and haven’t shown it to anyone, it’s exciting (and potentially terrifying but mostly exciting) just to hear someone else say your characters’ names out loud. Ninety-two percent of why I write is for the thrill of hearing people discuss my characters as if they’re real people. Usually that’s in a writing group. If I’m lucky, it’s in a college classroom. Someday, maybe it will be on Oprah. But really, I’d settle for, like, six college classrooms.


Tracy Lynn said...

Just so you know, I sold all my books last week, except for yours and my vintage Georgette Heyer. So there's that.
Also, I swear to god that my word verification is fonzisms.

Ms. Q said...

having worked like 8am-11pm today with no lunch break except for eating a sandwich while taking notes and making phone calls and texting, I have no thoughts left in my head but if I did I would put them towards something like:
- rejection is like manure - use it to grow the next batch
- quote poem "fracaso" ode to failure
- some writers would be proud to have 2 books published ;)

Claire said...

omg, Tracy Lynn, my w.v. is keyeanu -I'll see your "heeeyy" with a "whoooaa." ;)

Cheryl, I sympathize. With all of it. For all the DP reels I sent out back in the day, I so rarely got any kind of response. Hell I was competing with people to shoot for free. How pathetic is that? sigh.

Your comment the other day about civilians who say they're going to write a book hit me too. Maybe all the writing I've done is just (hopefully) interesting things that happened to me I needed to write. I'm almost through printing the flip sides of my stack of draft pages which means I haven't written or edited anything in a long time.

But a year ago today, I finished reading your lovely book, Lilac Mines. So buck up and keep working to get the next book out there so I can read it.

Sizzle said...

I admire anyone who has the tenacity to hold true to their dream and weather rejection. So many of my friends are struggling to keep their dream alive having been beaten down by years of swimming upstream. You're really talented and I can only hope someday you get your wish.

I do so adore a good circus-themed novel.

Cheryl said...

Hey and whoa to all you awesome, supportive people--thanks for the pick-me-up. I do know that failure is part of the process, for all of us. Amy, I loved the Ginsberg poem!

Jesi said...

"Sometimes when I hear other writers bemoan rejections, I think, Well, at least you’re submitting stuff. It’s a numbers game and you’re one step closer to winning than I am, sitting here reading Go Fug Yourself or whatever it is I do when I’m not submitting."

ha! love this!

i've finally gotten off my arse, and start sending stuff out. here's my strategy: i'm going alphabetical from Poets and Writers fine list of literary mags. i'm sending out poems once a week. i was trying for once a day but that wasn't happening so it's now once a week. finally!

and thank you for keeping up such a great blog. while you're reading GFY, i'm reading yours! ha!

Cheryl said...

Jesi, you're my hero right now!