A Kind Word

I’m going to start with a quick introduction (i.e. excuse). It’s been nearly a year since I’ve written anything on here. Last fall, I accepted a part-time job with the local school district. So between two part-time jobs, two full-time kids, a minimum of three novels being balanced at any given time, and trying to find some time for my own mental health, blogging kind of fell by the wayside. But I realized recently that I have something to say, so I’m hopping behind the keyboard again. Hope you enjoy!

We live in a day and age that many people seem to have forgotten the impact that a simple word of kindness can have on a person. It’s so easy to be mean online. To not think twice about what you say. To let your emotions run the keyboard and never think twice about it. Cyber bullying runs rampant, partially because it’s easier to be cruel and hurtful when you don’t have to see the pain your words have caused.

As a result, I think people have started to underestimate the power of words. Yes, they’re just words. A strand of sounds put together that amazingly make sense in our human brains. Even so, words can hurt. But they can also help. It really is amazing how much an off-the-cuff compliment given at the right time can affect a person’s life. In my case, a rejection email I received years ago is part of the reason I haven’t given up on writing.

I started writing long, long ago. Like a million years in dog years. Okay, so maybe I’m not quite that old. But some days it feels like it. My first “querying” experience came when I was a sophomore in college. I had written a novel. Looking back, it was a hot mess of everything that could have been wrong with a novel. It was full of cliches, purple prose, and the plot had more holes in it than a piece of moldy swiss cheese. (Don’t ask why it has to be moldy. I’m the one in charge here.) But I was proud of what I’d accomplished. I had completed a novel. (I didn’t realize at the time that completed also meant revising the ever loving…whatever out of it.)

So with the cursor flashing at THE END, I threw myself into the world of querying. A world that I now realize I knew NOTHING about. Full of naive excitement, I attended a small romance writers conference that was held about an hour from my house. Prior to the conference, I sent an email to the editor of the small press I was going to be pitching to, asking him if he’d be willing to take a look at the manuscript and give me some feedback on it. (This is a no-no, by the way. Like I said, I didn’t know better.)

To my surprise, he agreed, and had me send over a partial manuscript. When I met with him at the conference, he had a lot of really nice things to say, and actually asked me to send the full. I was convinced my moment had arrived. I was going to be published. And my life was going to be full of fancy book tours and chocolates and…Then came the rejection.

It landed in my email a few months later. He let me down gently, saying I needed to concentrate more on my setting (which was probably his way of toning down “What in the actual f*** did I just read?”) It stung, but it was the end of the email that truly stuck with me. He said that even though it hadn’t worked out, he strongly believed he would see my name on the bookshelf some day.

At the time, it didn’t mean that much to me. I was licking my wounds from my first real rejection. But over the years, those words have burned themselves into my brain. There have been many other projects. More rejections than I care to count. And plenty of times that it would have been easy to give up writing and walk away. After all, it’s a big mountain to climb, and just like Mount Everest, not everyone makes it to the top. But every time I considered calling it quits, I thought of those words. And they were enough to push me to hit send on the next query, or jump into the next set of revisions, or start on a new project because the last one just wasn’t quite right.

I don’t remember his name, or even the name of the press he was acquiring for. And I’m sure he doesn’t remember me or that email. It’s possible he said that in all of his rejections. But for me, it was the push that I needed to keep going.

Is it possible I would have pushed on anyway? Of course it is. I’m a Taurus. We’re known for being stubborn. But I’ll never forget those words, and one of these days, I will prove him right.

Moral of the story: Don’t lose faith in words. They have power. But like superheroes, with great power, comes great responsibility. Be kind with your words. Use them to inspire. To encourage. To lift up. Not to tear people down. Because we can all use to hear some kind words every now and then.

Eyes on the Prize

When I first started mountain biking, a friend of mine went out with me to help me learn the basics. The most important piece of advice he gave me was simple: “Look where you want to go, not where you don’t want to go.” Easy enough, right? With every swoop and turn, I felt a little more confident. I rode over ledges (a whopping four inches tall) that I wouldn’t have thought I could ride. I was feeling pretty damn good. (We’ll ignore the fact that the trail we were on was equivalent to a two-lane highway as far as mountain bikes are concerned.) We were almost to the end of the trail, and I was really getting in the groove. We came to a spot in the trail that dropped down into a creek bed before climbing up the other side. My friend went first, telling me he’d wait at the top.

I dropped into the wash. And then I saw it. A big rock on the side of the trail. It shouldn’t have been a problem. It was well out of the middle of the trail. But I couldn’t stop staring at it. “That’s a big rock,” I thought. “I don’t want to hit that.” Next thing I knew . . . BAM! I’d hit the rock and crashed in the bottom of the ravine. Luckily the crash was relatively minor, and I had to laugh. If I had kept my eyes on the trail, I probably would have been fine.

While riding my bike today, I realized that this advice applies to more than just mountain biking. Last month, I submitted my work into a pitch contest. The results came out last night, and suffice to say, I didn’t make the cut. Am I disappointed? Definitely. The people involved in the contest all seem awesome, and I would have loved a chance to work with them more closely. But at the same time, I can’t keep staring at the rejection like I stared at that rock.

If you get on a mountain bike, you’re bound to crash. If you decide to put your work out there, rejection is bound to happen. And like crashes, rejection can hurt. But you can’t concentrate on the obstacle, because you’ll never make it where you’re going if you do. Keep your eye on your end goal, whether it be in school, in writing, or just life in general. And whatever you do, keep an eye out for that rock!!!

Back in the Saddle

ImageI’m pretty lucky to be able to wake up in the morning and see this outside my front window. Yet despite the fact that I’ve lived in Moab, a mountain biking mecca, for the last six years, I’m still pretty much a baby as far as my actual technical ability. I’m pretty wobbly, I fall down a lot, and sometimes I cry. And when it gets really bad, I just want someone to hold me, rub my back and sing me lullabies. (Maybe that’s too much information.) But I’m doing my best. 

While out for a ride over the weekend weekend (and yes, I almost cried) I realized how important it is to push the limits of my comfort zone. I could ride easy trails that never challenge me, and I’d feel comfortable and still get some exercise. But I wouldn’t get any better. Instead, I force myself to ride down ledges that terrify me and along drop offs that make me want to curl up in the fetal position. With every scary ledge I ride, every drop off that I don’t fall off of, I feel a little more confident.

I’ve been pushing my limits a lot over the last few years. I’ve shared a novel that I wrote with a large group of people, I attended a writing conference and pitched my ideas to several agents, and I’ve made lots of contacts and phone calls for writing with the newspaper. Just like riding, each time I do it, it gets a little easier.

It’s amazing, however, how long it takes to build up that confidence and how quickly it can be torn back down. While we were riding, there was a series of ledges. At the time, I didn’t give it much thought, I just rode down them. And I made it. Whoo! (Good thing too, since slick rock and cactus patches are usually not very forgiving places to crash.) Then my husband pointed out that I needed to get my weight further back on the bike for ledges like that, or I’d go over the handlebars.

Even though he was trying to be helpful, it got my mind on crashing. And how badly I didn’t want to do that. So when we came to a slightly bumpy, steep descent, I froze. It wasn’t nearly as gnarly as the series of ledges I’d just ridden down without batting an eye, but I was afraid. Eventually he talked me down, and I made the descent without any issues, but I realized how badly my confidence had been shaken.

I’ve run into the same issue with my writing, and I’ve blogged about it before. Back in April, I had total confidence in my manuscript. It was just a matter of time before someone picked it up. However, after two agents turned it down, it resulted in a huge blow to my confidence. I slipped into a funk, and I couldn’t bring myself to write anything outside of my articles for the newspaper. The blow to my confidence had caused my comfort zone to shrink to the point that I felt smothered. I could barely move. I felt like throwing in the towel. Who was I kidding thinking I was cut out to be a writer? But I wasn’t ready to give up, so I forced myself to take the criticism I’d received and use it to make things better.

That’s all you can do. Take your bad experience and learn from it. Then push yourself to keep going. You might have to go back to wobbly baby steps. You might fall down a few times before you work your confidence back up. And it always helps to have someone willing to rub your back and sing you lullabies. But you have to push your limits. For me, that means eventually contacting more agents. That’s going to take a while though, because much of their criticism was warranted, and I’m going to use it to make my manuscript better. But I’m not going to give up. I’m going to make my way back into the saddle. (And I can use that expression, because I have been thrown off a horse before.)

It doesn’t matter what it is: being turned down for a promotion at work, not getting the job you were hoping for, a rejection from a love interest. All of it hurts, and it’s okay to take a little while to process it. But eventually, you’ve got to stand up, brush yourself up, hitch up your big girl panties (or big boy whitey tighties if you prefer) and climb back up. Because if you don’t push yourself, who will?

Scrapbooking and Self-Doubt

Scrapbooking and laundry. That’s what I did yesterday during the small amount of precious free time that I get these days. That’s right. I said scrapbooking. For those of you who know me, you’re probably having a hard time reconciling that image. I don’t scrapbook. I’d love to, but it’s not really my thing. I started a scrapbook when my son was 2 years old. I got three pages done before realizing I had other things I’d rather do with my far from copious amounts of free time. So it got filed away.

For the past eight months, I have dedicated a large part of my free time every day to writing. Writing this blog, writing one of the two novels I’ve been working on, anything. All I wanted to do was write. I loved it. It felt so freeing, and I couldn’t wait for that block of time each day so I could sit down with my computer and get more words on the page. I even began to dread weekends, because I lost that time.

So how did I find myself working on a scrapbook yesterday instead of writing? Simple. Self doubt has paralyzed me, and left me more or less useless at the keyboard. It’s ironic because just over two months ago, at the Pikes Peak Writers Conference, I sat in on a session about Writers Block. The speaker talked a lot about writers block being caused by fear: fear of failure, fear of not being good enough, etc. And I remember being surprised. I wasn’t scared of failing. I write for fun. Because I enjoy it. Failure, while a definite option, wasn’t a concern.

So what happened? To put it simply, within one week two of the three agents who requested to look at my manuscript turned me down. They were both very cordial about it, and I can’t say I was surprised. It’s a tough business to get into. It was only a few months ago that I wrote about getting my first rejection and how it wasn’t going to get to me because I knew it was going to be hard. I tried to be stoic and not let it get to me. But apparently it did, because my current work in progress has been languishing, and even though I have some ideas on how to fix the manuscript that has been turned down, I can’t bring myself to open a file and work on it. I have all of these ideas in my head, but when I do try to write, they seem stale and lifeless. So instead, I spend my time on Facebook. Or worse . . . scrapbooking.

But I finally felt enough inspiration to write this. So here’s to the hope that finally being able to pound out a blog post (though it may not be funny or witty at all) signals at least a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. Because I have to push through this and keep going. At least if I don’t, I’ll have a mediocre-at-best scrapbook to show for it.

I Take It Back

There was a time when I thought that, as an aspiring author, nothing was more painful than the rejection emails flooding into my inbox. I was wrong. 

A few months ago I started my querying journey. I didn’t send out large batches, partially because I was planning on attending the Pikes Peak Writers Conference to meet with some agents at the end of April. So I only sent out a handful of queries. Most of them were rejected. But I did get one request for a full manuscript. My excitement level went through the roof. The request came in in the morning, and I emailed her the requested material that afternoon. Her website states that it can take 12 weeks to hear back on a manuscript, but that didn’t stop me from watching my email like a hawk within hours of hitting the send button.

I shared my excitement with a select few people for a couple of reasons. On one hand, I wanted to soak it in on my own. But, at the same time, I didn’t want to have to share it if my manuscript was subsequently rejected. Getting a rejection on a query letter is one thing. There are so many reasons the agent may not have been interested. They could be too busy. They may not like the idea. Who know? But once you get past that initial hurdle, if they reject it, it’s because of the manuscript itself. Does that mean it’s flawed? Not necessarily. But it certainly feels more personal.

A couple of weeks after I sent the manuscript, I left for the conference. It was an amazing experience. Everyone I talked to was so friendly and supportive. I expected to spend the entire time as a loner, but I made several friends while I was there. During breakfast one day, I went to sit at an empty table because I didn’t recognize anyone. As I set my stuff down, someone at a nearby table said, “No, you’re not going to sit over there alone.” Like I said, the whole experience was just amazing. Anyway, after sitting through a few sessions (which were chock full of great information) I realized that the manuscript I’d sent out was not really ready. The story was good. The characters too. But it needed some work.

So I was faced with a serious dilemma. I could do the revisions and just hope the agent that already had my manuscript liked it the way it was, which seemed unlikely. Or I could send her an email and pull my manuscript from her consideration. After discussing the situation with an agent who was speaking at the conference, I knew what I had to do. It was with a heavy heart that I emailed the only agent who had my manuscript and admitted it wasn’t ready.

It was a hard decision to make, and an even harder email to send, but it was the right decision. It needed to be done. Luckily, the agent was understanding and thanked me for letting her know. Also, I had two more agents from the conference request to see at least part of the manuscript when my revisions are done.

So for now it’s back to the grindstone to finish these revisions. The best part is, I know I’m only making it better.

Just say no

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Over the last few weeks I’ve devoted a significant amount of my time to researching literary agents. I’ve been stalking their Facebook pages and Twitter accounts. I’ve been reading blogs. Anything I can do to help navigate my way through the process. During that time, I’ve seen quite a few people complaining about the industry standard of form rejection letters, or in a lot of cases, no response at all if they’re not interested. A lot of people don’t understand it, but I’m finally starting to get it.

I could never make it in the world of a literary agent for two main reasons. For one, as I discussed in my blog on rejection, I am terrified of calling people on the phone. (It’s seriously giving me palpitations just thinking about it. They certainly couldn’t be caused by my breakfast of coffee and cough drops.) But most importantly, I’m really bad at telling people no.

I’m not sure where it comes from. Maybe it’s an innate desire to make people happy. Maybe it’s a reflection on my own fear of being disappointed. I don’t know what it is, but when someone approaches me face to face and asks me to do something, it’s really, really hard for me to tell them no. When we went to Las Vegas a few years ago, the guys were standing along the strip handing out cards that advertised “escorts” or exotic dancers. I wasn’t looking for company, but I still took all the cards that were offered to me. I mean, these guys were just doing their job. (Of course, Jason and I turned them into a trading card game, but that’s not the point.) A few months ago, one of those scammy magazine salesmen came by the house. I knew it was a scam, but the guy was so enthusiastic and upbeat that I had a hard time telling him no. So I gave him $10 as a “donation” so that I didn’t have to cancel my credit cards. Pathetic, I know.

That is where I would get myself into trouble. Literary agents have to be willing to say no. Yes, there are a lot of great, undiscovered books out there. But there are also some really bad ones. (In fact, I just finished one that fell in this category, despite its existence on the NYT Bestsellers list.) If an agent offered to represent everyone, they’d be totally overwhelmed and no one in the industry would have an ounce of respect for them. You can’t go around offering a subpar product and expect people to bite. Yet every time you turn down, your crushing a little bit of someone’s soul. (Might be a slight exaggeration, but it certainly feels like it sometimes.)

There are only so many ways to creatively tell someone you’re not interested. There’s another blog where the author likens his rejection letters to love letters. His blog can be found here: http://rejectionloveletters.com . The funny part is the fact that it’s true. Especially when it comes to form letters, most agents have gone out of their way to let you down gently. And it’s easier to not have to explain it, because sometimes the explanation hurts worse than the actual no.

So I’ll take the form rejections. I’ll take the radio silence that means they’re not interested, even though I would love for someone to sit down and actually be honest with me about my work. What it comes down to is the fact that, as long as you have something to offer, there is someone out there for you. And sometimes, you just have to say no.

 

The sweet taste of rejection

I don’t handle rejection well. I mean, honestly, who does? It’s not like anyone out there really enjoys being told that whatever they’re trying to share with the world isn’t good enough. But I really, really don’t handle it well. To the point that I get nervous and start to sweat when it’s time to call my eye doctor to order more contacts. Doesn’t really make sense, but I do it just the same. I’ve never really handled it well. I ended up giving up on my dreams of being a musician because anytime I played solo, I was afraid that people wouldn’t like it. That they would reject my abilities because I wasn’t good enough.

For someone who hates rejection as strongly as I do, I sure picked the wrong line of work. Being a writer is all about rejection. Even if you’re a good writer, there’s a chance that you’re going to suffer dozens of rejections before finding someone who is willing to give your work a chance. But I love writing so much that I allow it to overpower my fear.
I recently finished writing, rewriting and editing a novel. After having a few beta readers run through it and give me opinions (strangely I wasn’t concerned about rejection during this time) I decided that it was time to step up my game. So I wrote a brief query letter to an agent who sounded like the perfect fit for my manuscript. I sent it out, and I waited. Within 36 hours I had a reply sitting in my inbox. Now anytime you see an email like that, your heart starts to race, your mouth goes dry and you cease to think logically. I had my first response.

Imagine my surprise when the preview of the email read, “Thank you so much for your query. We’d like to . . .” And then it cut off. For one brief but glorious moment I allowed myself to believe that the rest of the sentence read, “offer to represent your novel, and we already have a signed six figure book deal.” Okay. So I didn’t go quite that overboard. But I’d be lying if I didn’t at least briefly think that it might have ended, “read your manuscript.” Hand shaking, I opened the email. My not-so-mighty ego deflated slightly at the sight of the words, “We’d like to apologize for this form rejection letter.” Ouch baby! Very ouch. Way to get a girl’s hopes up.

But you know what? It’s okay. I’ve been here before, and I’m sure that I’ll be here again. It may take me dozens of emails before I find someone that will work with me. But I have faith that it will happen. For once, I’m not that afraid of rejection, because I’ve learned that it’s just another part of the process.