Exploring those mysterious, underlying forces fueling a writing life

Archive for the ‘Rejection’ Category

Permission to Fail

Screen Shot 2018-03-13 at 10.00.45 AMIt was not a pleasant Sunday afternoon. I spent the day at my daughter’s volleyball tournament. Watching them lose. Every. Single. Game.  The only upside was knowing we would be leaving early, getting home before dark.

Their first game they played the #1 team, a group of very talented and respectful players who won quickly in an “easy game”, according to one of the parents I overheard.

Humiliating. Embarrassing. Sad. Discouraging. All words that could describe that day for my daughter’s team.

They could also describe the struggle a writer friend of mine is currently having.  Embarrassed after having announced her book deal to the world, she now has to tell everyone it won’t happen.  Not because of anything she did. It fell through due to an unexpected merger of two publishing companies.

But if we define winning by only the games won or the books published, we miss out noticing the real victories.

I saw a losing team play as a TEAM. They didn’t turn on each other when one of them made a mistake. They patted each other’s backs, said its ok and returned to playing.   They worked together, encouraging each other. There was noticeable improvement from the first game to the last. One girl who barely moved in the first game to get to the ball was diving for them by the end of day. Instead of losing by several points in their last game, they scored 9 points in a row to come within one point of winning.

And when one of her teammates blocked a shot, aced a serve, or returned a volley when no one else thought they could, there was a celebration – hugs, cheers, and huge smiles. Real joy.

Despite all the points they scored, the girls on the #1 team never really smiled.  While they may have enjoyed their wins (who wouldn’t?); there was no joy on their faces. It was like they had no choice but to win. They didn’t have permission to fail.

It’s not the final score, not even the publishing contract, that we should focus on. Its the fact that despite the disappointment, the losses, the embarrassment, they keep trying.  My writer friend hasn’t given up. She has two other novels being considered by agents.  She’ll keep writing. And those girls, they won’t give up. They’ll practice. And one day they may win. Or they may not. They are still winners, regardless.


The Toilet Test

My gym buddies and I have a way of determining whether a workout has been effective. We call it The Toilet Test. The more difficult and painful it is to get yourself up and off the toilet seat, the better the workout.

I recently signed up for the O2X Couch to Summit Challenge (http://o2x.com/summit-challenge/).   Nine weeks of grueling workouts of cardio and strength training followed by a race up Loon Mountain. Nine weeks of sore muscles.

According to Carol Torgan, an exercise physiologist and fellow of the American College of Sports Medicine, “the muscle discomfort is simply a symptom of using your muscles and placing stresses on them that are leading to adaptations to make them stronger and better able to perform the task the next time.” (http://www.webmd.com/fitness-exercise/features/sore-muscles-dont-stop-exercising#1)

Stronger and better.  

Rejection letters are the sore muscles of publishing.  

Getting that “thanks, but no thanks” letter is as painful as aching arms and legs. And both offer the same thing: proof you are getting better.  You are working hard toward your goal.

In her blogpost on Literary Hub, Kim Liao recommends collecting rejection letters: http://lithub.com/why-you-should-aim-for-100-rejections-a-year. “If you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances,too.”

I’m on Week 3 of the training and so far I’ve received two rejection letters – only 98 more to go.

But first, I have to (ouch) get myself (double ouch) off the toilet…

The Glory of Failure

Considering I stand only five feet tall on my tip-toes, I never would have thought I would have something in common with basketball great Michael Jordan.

But we share one thing: failure.

“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” Michael Jordan

I, too, have failed again and again – evidenced by my growing pile of rejections from agents and editors.

First PenguinSo, it was quite an honor to recently be awarded The First Penguin Award because I “attempted the hard things, out-of-the-box thinking and using imagination in a daring way without worrying about failure, has taken the gamble of trying new ideas, and continues to be creative and ply my craft”. (Thanks, Mom!)

In his book, “The Last Lecture“, Randy Pausch encouraged his students to “Be the First Penguin”. Students were awarded a stuffed penguin for taking the biggest gamble in trying something new even though it ended with failure. Why a penguin? Because when a group of penguins jump into waters filled with predators, one of them has to go first.

And with each failure we gain experience.

“Experience is what you get when you didn’t get what you wanted…It’s a phrase worth considering at every brick wall we encounter, and at every disappointment. It’s also a reminder that failure is not just acceptable, it’s often essential…First Penguin winners were losers who were definitely going somewhere.” Randy Pausch

CTCaper poster finalAnd this First Penguin winner is on her way. As one of twelve authors selected to write a chapter, I invite you to come along with me in the Great Connecticut Caper, a serialized mystery for children to be published on the Connecticut Humanities website. Join the fun!


Rejection sucks.

You sift through line after line of not just the story, but the cover letter, the synopsis, the query.   You revise, then revise again, and again.  You google the agent/editor and read every entry to find out what she likes and dislikes.   You carefully follow the guidelines, ensure the font and margins are exact.

You offer this creation to the publishing gods.

And it’s not good enough.

Rejection sucks.

Sometimes the reason for the rejection is something that is not in your power to control.  The agent/editor may already have a similar project in the works, your query may have been lost in the jungle of the slush pile, or your main character’s name is Tad and the editor may have had some unpleasant experiences involving a toilet bowl and a thug named Tad in high school.

Whatever the reason, you are not supposed to take it personally.

Yeah, right.

It is your blood, your sweat, your tears, your ink stain that will never come off your favorite purple shirt.

What can you do to lift yourself out of your sinking mud of despair?

I turn to Anne Lamott and her book, Bird by Bird:

“Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.  You wait and watch and work; you don’t give up.”

I remind myself of the day I explained the publishing process to a group of elementary students.   During the rejection part, one student blurted out this fascinating tidbit: Dr. Seuss was rejected 92 times before he published And to Think I Saw it on Mulberry Street (it was actually 27 times, but who’s counting?)

So now here I am, waiting, watching, and working… towards those 92 rejections.  So far I have three.

Guess I have a long way to go…

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Be someone's hero. No cape required.

Lynda Mullaly Hunt, a children's author, blogs on craft, news, and the importance of everyday heroes in everyday lives.

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