Tag Archives: Stephen King

Writing Wednesday: Publication Therapy

30 Jan

The other day I was updating my submissions spreadsheet. Yes, I’m that big of a nerd. The spreadsheet tracks the articles, essays, and other creative works I’ve written, so at a quick glance I can tell what I have to pitch, where I’ve submitted it, and when—if at all—I’ve heard back from a publication.

There are a lot of blank rectangles on the spreadsheet.

In the past, the blank rectangles used to indicate that I had yet to submit my work. Rejections seemed scary so I wouldn’t even submit to journals because I was so worried the editors wouldn’t be interested in my work. This meant my work had zero chance of getting published. When I became an editor myself I realized how much editors depend on writers. It’s not this terrible power struggle I’d imagined. Editors really want to like writers’ work. They want to publish us. Getting a rejection doesn’t mean they hate us. If you want to have your work published, you have to send it out.

After a while, though, it was the “accepted” column that had the blank rectangles. I carefully sent queries or unsolicited manuscripts out and then suffered to hear from someone—anyone! Opening my mailbox and refreshing my inbox became subtle forms of self-torture, as I never knew when I’d hear back from a publication and what the news would be.

But more frequently I’ve been getting rejections. This is not a bad thing! I’ve come to realize that the greatest writers have gotten rejections. Jack Kerouac couldn’t get On the Road published for years. Stephen King nailed all his rejection letters to the wall, the stack growing larger and larger before he found fame.

I just read an article in Bloomsberg Businessweek about a guy named Jia Jiang who is doing a project called 100 Days of Rejection Therapy, in which he opens himself up to rejection at least once a day in order to desensitize himself to the pain of rejection so that he can go after his dream. The concept is attention-grabbing, and I think there are some valuable lessons to learn from it about courage and perseverance. There are also fundamental flaws to this approach, though. It’s easier to not get hung up on a rejection when you’re not invested, and in this case the rejections Jiang is receiving have nothing to do with his real dream. Furthermore, the project title itself suggests and attracts self-defeat. Although Jiang hasn’t gotten rejected from everything he’s tried, he believes he will be rejected. Although his rejection therapy is supposed to give him the courage to not let fear of rejection keep him from pursuing his dream, it essentially is saying that he thinks he will get rejected. Otherwise, why not call it Achievement Therapy? Or Success Therapy? Or Acceptance Therapy?

Also, as the article itself points out, there are valid reasons for rejection and we can learn from them:

But career coach Nemko suggests Jiang focus on what made the initial investor balk. “I have clients who apply for a number of jobs [and] who get rejected a bunch. They like to brush it off, like, ‘Oh, it’s the economy,’ but I say: ‘Take a look at yourself. Do you need more skills? What’s your employment track record? Are you obnoxious?’”

Back in 2011, I blogged about how Kathryn Stockett’s The Help was rejected sixty times. Here was someone who was truly invested in her work, and yet she didn’t start asking donut makers to do strange things to her donuts in an effort to build her confidence in her writing abilities and achieve success. She actually took a good long look at why she was getting rejected and revised her work accordingly.

Sometimes you need criticism, even if it comes in the form of a rejection, to improve your work. Other times, there may be nothing wrong with your work, but it’s just not the right fit for that publication at that time. It happens. It’s worth being part of a writing group and getting honest feedback on your work from more than one person who is not your mom.

Lately, the rejections I’ve been getting have come with personalized notes that say things like “great story but it’s not timely enough” or “great writing but it’s not for us. Feel free to submit again in the future.” I don’t like getting rejections, but I have learned from them. I’ve taken the comments I’ve received from editors and revised my works. I’ve grown as a writer, and even when my work isn’t what the editor wants, I know it’s getting closer to hitting the mark.

The other day when I was updating my spreadsheet, I smirked at the callousness with which I treated my rejections. There was a time when I would’ve taken them so personally, but now I realize that rejections come with the territory.

This applies to life too. No one ever did anything great in life without taking a risk.

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Writing Wednesday: The Schizophrenic Writer

23 Feb

“Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia.”

~E. L. Doctorow

I’ve been attending a lot of seminars on the importance of branding oneself as an artist.  Branding makes sense.  After all, categorization makes buying and selling easier.  Consumers like to know what they’re getting and how to find it, and companies like to make it easy for consumers to find things to buy.  That’s why movie genres like horror, sci-fi, and comedy and music genres like hip hop, country, and pop are so helpful.  If you hate a certain genre, you can just skip over it to find what you do like.

As a writer, though, I have a hard time with branding.  I don’t want to be branded as just The Greek Writer or The Art Writer or The Religious Writer.  Call me schizophrenic but I like having different writing personalities.  I wouldn’t want to only ever watch crime dramas so why would I want to only write about one topic in one voice for the rest of my writing career?

Well, if I want to build up a readership, I have to consider my audience.  Does Stephen King have the same audience as Nicholas Sparks?  Maybe, but not necessarily, and certainly if a reader is in the mood for horror she’s not going to pick up a Nicholas Sparks book.  Whether I like it or not, branding impacts who’s going to read my books.

Some authors, Stephen King included, use pen names.  That’s a great way to keep one’s writing identities separate.  The downside, of course, is that loyal readers that may have taken a chance on a book in a different genre or subject matter (hey, readers don’t always stick to only one genre either!) by the author may miss out on a book they’d love because it’s (supposedly) written by an author they’ve never heard of.

Perhaps then, a better solution is to focus mainly on branding the book instead of the author.  Think of it this way: just as a parent’s children are unique so are an author’s books unique, but that doesn’t mean that they’re not all connected and show traces of the author’s presence in them.  After all, Stephen King’s pseudonym was cracked when a reader thought that a certain Richard Bachman wrote an awful lot like King.

That said, a schizophrenic writer can also be an immature writer who has yet to find her voice.  We all have strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes, and sometimes it takes time to discover how those attributes come into play for us as writers.  I, for instance, went through a period where I wrote on any topic that came along with a paycheck.  The articles weren’t bad but one of my readers mentioned they could tell when I was really passionate about a subject.  That made me reevaluate my priorities and my skill set.  Now I still like to experiment with different subject matters but I’m more selective in the voice I use when writing.

How do you deal with writing schizophrenia?