My Facebook friends and Twitter followers already know about this, but I thought that, considering the subject matter, it bore repeating as a blog post.
Yesterday morning, a little less than one month since I sent out my first real manuscript submission to a publisher, I received an email back from said publisher.
It was a big, fat rejection letter.
And it wasn’t even an overly impressive rejection. It basically read, “Ms Tobin, sorry, but your story isn’t for us, good luck in the future.”
Now, here’s the thing. I’ve been expecting this since the second I hit the “send” button on my submission. While I wanted to have a glimmer of hope, I had a dozen voices shouting pessimism (reason?) at me. I thought, “It’s my first submission, and who the hell ever gets published on their first submission?” and, “You don’t even read romance novels, so what makes you think you would be able to write a decent one?” I wasn’t terribly hard on myself, I was just trying to be reasonable. I didn’t want to get my hopes up when the chances are so terribly low of getting a deal with a publisher these days, particularly on your first try.
But, here’s the other thing: I’d be a dirty, dirty liar if I said the rejection didn’t sting. Despite my 99.99% certainty that nothing good would come of my submission, there was still that tiny little glimmer in the back of my mind, holding out hope. And that glimmer imploded in upon itself when I read the words “your project isn’t right for us”. I had a wave of disappointment, followed by a wave of anger, followed by a wave of almost physical pain – all this within a 30 second span.
But then something wonderful happened. It was over. After weeks of checking my email fifty times a day, wondering if I would get a response today or not for months, telling myself that it was going to be a rejection but also praying for it to be an acceptance, it was over. My story was rejected. Submission saga complete. Nothing left to worry about.
I learned several things about myself and about the system by submitting that manuscript…
For one thing, I learned that I hate the traditional publishing process, not because it rejected me, but because of the time and waiting required. I only had to wait a month to get that rejection letter, and the waiting drove me right up the wall. Most big publishers quote up to 6 months or more, and many of them make it very clear that they expect to be the only one looking at your manuscript at any given time (if they find out you’ve submitted to multiple publishers at once it’s an automatic rejection). So say for a moment that I start submitting my zombie apocalypse novel and that it takes 5 publishers before one says yes (which is generous, as some people submit to dozens of publishers before hitting pay dirt). Now say that each of those publishers requires that you can’t submit to anyone else until they’re done with you, and say that each one of them quotes a 6 month waiting period, which they dutifully use every second of. That means that it would be two and a half years before that fifth publisher decided to take a chance, and that’s before the long process of contracts, cover design, copyediting, etc that can also take years. In other words, by the time my zombie apocalypse novel was actually in print people might not give a flying rat’s tail about zombies anymore, and my sales might be abysmal. Alternately, I could self-publish the book by the end of this year if I put my heart in it…I’d have to do all the cover/editing/marketing work myself, but it would be out years earlier, during a time when there are tons of zombie movies and games around because zombies are in right now.
Another thing I learned is that I’m not nearly as delicate as I thought I was. Sure I had my moment of depression that sparked anger and frustration as well, but it was all over in less than a minute. I didn’t mope or tell myself that I got rejected because my story was crap. I didn’t turn into a miserable ball of self-loathing. I had a burst of emotion, and then it was over. I’ve moved on. Back on the road and heading into the great beyond. No turning back now.
And another thing that I learned is that I’ve gathered a great community of family, friends, and fellow writers around me over the past months. When I took to Facebook and Twitter to announce my first official rejection letter, the response I got was just wonderful. Amongst the messages I got were:
“Some day your writing will pay off for you. You love it too much for it not to!” – my father
“Just save it for when you do sell your book. You can frame it next to a glowing review.” – @writerreese
“Celebrate! It means you’re a dedicated, professional writer!” @SaraMThorn
There were many others, and it really gave me a burst of confidence, an invaluable thing to me. So I want to say thank you. Thank you to the people who rallied around me to make sure that I knew this wasn’t the end of the world (or, at least, my writing career), thank you to all the writers and references that have let me know what I can expect from both traditional publishing methods and self-publishing methods, and thank you to the editor who gave my manuscript a chance and was relatively quick in letting me know that it wasn’t what they were looking for. Now I can move forward, which is the direction that one definitely wants to be headed in.
Recently I came upon a contest that Amazon is having. It involves writing a blog post that talks about the moment you knew – really knew – that you were a writer. I decided to give it a go, and before long I had surpassed the word limit that the contest set. I didn’t want to change anything, because what I wrote was truth, plain and simple, so I thought I’d just post it here anyway.
I’ve wanted to be a writer since the third grade. That was a revelation in and of itself, but it isn’t the same as actually knowing that you are a writer. Many people talk about that moment when they knew, that singular event that caused them to realize “I AM A WRITER!”, but for me it’s a little more complicated than that. My “I AM A WRITER!” moment was less a moment and more a culmination of the passage of some 15 years of growth.
I knew I wanted to be a writer after a school assignment in the third grade. We were to write a short story, print it out neatly on white paper (this was before we had regular access to computers), draw a cover, and bind it all together with construction paper and string. I can’t recall the exact plot of my story (although I could probably locate it in my parents’ attic if I looked hard enough), but I remember that it was called “The Mystery of the Emerald-Eyed Cat”. My cover featured two glowing green cat eyes below the title, and it was all bound with green construction paper. I also recall that I signed the cover “by Tracey Lynn MARIE Clarke”, not because I had any sense of what a pen name was back then, but because I was a little gone in the head and often changed my name a bit to suit my childish whims. (My teachers just kinda…ignored me, I guess…lol) I was very proud of that story, and my teacher at the time was a truly awesome man by the name of Mr Power who praised it and suggested that maybe I might consider writing as a career choice in the future. Though I was an avid reader, this was thought that had never really occurred to me before; but in that moment I knew for sure that this was what I wanted to do when I grew up.
Around the same time that I made my startling future career revelation, I met my best friend Kelly for the first time. As chance would have it, she loved writing too, and over the course of the rest of our grade school career we wrote a series of stories called “The Game Masters”, an adventure tale of a group of kids (ourselves and a few friends) who could travel in and out of video games. What Kelly and I had was an odd kind of a beta-reader relationship. We each wrote our own versions of the story – similar in many ways, but different in quite a few as well – and whenever we had each finished a chapter or two we would swap notebooks and read what the other had written. We praised each other for how clever we were, marveled at the amazing ideas we came up with and how “great” our juvenile writing was. We taught each other very little because we were so in awe of ourselves and how awesome we were, but it was excellent practice none-the-less, and it taught me another one of the joys of writing. I would strive daily to write as much as I could so that Kelly could read it. Even if the writing wasn’t perfect, it was a great thrill for me to have her read it and tell me that she enjoyed it, and so with that rush of fun and reader-acceptance I continued on with the belief that I absolutely wanted to be a writer.
Junior high school marked the turning point when Kelly and I both began to dabble into more mature original fiction. I can’t remember much about those first original stories because I personally tended to jump from storyline to storyline; whenever I would get a new idea I would drop the old one and start anew. Even so, it was excellent practice in creating characters and worlds and coming up with compelling plot lines. This era also marked my first foray into fan fiction, although I hadn’t ever heard the term at this point. Kelly, her cousin Melissa, and I became enormous Star Wars nerds in these days, and part of the way I expressed my nerdiness was by writing my own little Star Wars stories. I read a lot of Star Wars novels, and I got it into my head that I was a big enough fan that I could write one as well. My story involved Luke Skywalker discovering another lost Jedi – a gorgeous young girl, of course – and training her while trying to keep her from going over to the dark side. It was incredibly geeky. In these days I began to discover that I really had quite a lot to learn. My grade 8 English teacher, Mr Reilly, was not shy about telling me exactly what I was doing wrong when I wrote, and I would regularly compare my writing style to Kelly’s, which always seemed much better to me. I learned a bit of humility, but I was still totally wanted to be a writer.
By the time Kelly and I hit high school writing time became significantly more scarce. There was more work to do, and our social lives (such as they were) became more important as well. We started dating boys, we had extracurricular activities and lots of other unrelated hobbies. Regardless, Kelly and I still found ourselves writing little stories, only now they were quickly-plucked-out mini-chapters that we would write on typewriters during our keyboarding class. This time, rather than writing two different versions of the same basic plot line, or writing our own personal original fiction, we would take turns writing chapters of the same story back and forth. The “story” was loosely called “The Day the Earth Blew Up” and featured ourselves and our friends in an ever-more-ridiculous plot of adventurous hyjinx and tomfoolery. For all intents and purposes, the point of the story was to keep trying to make it more and more foolish. At one point there was an invading army of flying mini-pizzas. Yeah, we were a little bit loopy. But this little exercise of ours taught me a few more things about writing, such as the art of collaboration, and how to keep your mind fresh and new, constantly churning out interesting ideas. Though there were now many other things in my life vying for attention, I was still certain that I wanted to be a writer.
High school graduation was a turn in the wrong direction. When it came to the desire to be a writer, I dropped the ball. I’ve mentioned it before, but in these days I made a conscious decision: I was going to put my focus into technology. I still wanted to be a writer – oh lord, how I wanted to be a writer – but I was scared of failure, scared of the financial implications, and so I made the decision to move into a field in which I knew I could still thrive, but in which I was significantly more likely to obtain gainful employment. My inner child, the little grade-3-aged girl who had just written her first story, was positively screaming at me. “You want to be a writer!” she shrieked. “What is wrong with you?!” I hold that the decision I made was a good one in the long run, but it definitely set me back several years on my true desires.
I wrote nothing for a long time. As many young people do I spent my university years cramming for exams at the last minute, ripping out assignments on the bus on the way to class, and drinking away the weekends. The work load was intense, and I had to work part-time jobs to help pay for it all. My long-time boyfriend broke up with me and I started dating the man who would become my husband. We moved out on our own and had to learn to feed and clothe ourselves while somehow paying for rent and taking what felt like hundreds of hours of classes a week. At one point, sometime during my fourth (and final) year of university, I had an extreme loss of confidence in my future. I had done fairly well in all of my courses – aside from Calculus (which we won’t talk about) I made 80s and 90s in most of them – but I had this moment when I looked at myself and thought, “What the hell am I doing?” I had no idea what kind of career I was going to end up with, I had no confidence that it was going to be something I actually enjoyed or was good at, and I’d already spent upwards of $40,000 to come to this conclusion. It was around this time that Kelly reintroduced me to what we now know is fan fiction. She’d been reading a ton of the stuff on FanFiction.net, and encouraged me to do the same. The result was somewhat different; I ended up writing on the website. I didn’t really have the time to be writing, but I became somewhat obsessed and did it anyway. The one story I managed to complete, a Harry Potter fan fic called “Cry of the Wolf”, became surprisingly popular on the website, and with that I remembered something: I still wanted to be a writer. I had put a lot of time and effort into becoming a technologist, and I was going to finish that journey for sure, but all the time, no matter what else I did, I still wanted to be a writer.
It’s been seven years since I completed my university degree. In that time I got a job, moved away from home for it, bought a car, married my husband, bought a house, gave birth to my daughter, lost my job, found a new one that required me to travel back and forth across the country, and recently got laid off from that one because the job is over. And throughout all that I kept writing whenever I could. I wrote more fan fiction, I participated in several NaNoWriMo‘s, I set daily word count goals for myself, and I started this blog. I did all of this because regardless of what else might be going on around me, of the turns my life had taken, I still wanted to be a writer. Notice that I keep using that phrasing, over and over again: wanted to be a writer. That’s the phrasing I always used in my head when I thought about myself. I always used a future tense.
“I want to be a writer.”
“I’m going to be a writer.”
“Someday I’ll be a writer.”
That has been my thought process since that first story back in the third grade.
That is, until about a year ago. I’d written a zombie apocalypse novel for the previous years’ NaNoWriMo, but over the course of the month-long challenge I’d only gotten about 2/3 of the way through the story. I desperately wanted to finish it, as I’d never finished an original piece of fiction (that wasn’t a school project). So I set myself a goal: I would write at least 1000 words a day until the novel was complete. I can’t honestly say that I stuck to it every single day – sometimes life gets in the way, after all – but in what seemed like no time at all, suddenly I had a finished story. Sure, it still has to be revised and edited, preferably beta-read as well, but I had it; I had a whole original story, from beginning to end. That was the moment, though it wasn’t as much a revelation as a slow realization. Looking at the last sentence of my novel, and thinking back to everything I’d done up to that point, that was when I realized “I AM A WRITER!”
I may never succeed in becoming traditionally published, and I may never gain financial compensation for my work, but I’ll always be able to look back on that little third-grade girl and say, “Hey, guess what? You are a writer, and you always will be.”
It’s (more or less) official; my job is over and we’re all headed home after this shift. I’m not too depressed about that because it means I get to go home and enjoy the summer with my family, and there will definitely be more work in the future. That said, I have to inform you that the last week of a job that you know is over is absolutely painful. I’ve been spending my time scanning documents that have to be saved and transferring over changes that have been made between the master books and the working copy books, and it is unbelievably mind-numbing. At this time one week from now I may be a drooling puddle of goo on the floor.
Cheery today, aren’t I?
Okay, let’s get on with it then, shall we?
Health and Body Image Goal
I’ve been eating pretty well, I can tell you that. I don’t know if it’s sheer willpower or if my stomach (the organ, not my flab-belly) has been shrinking and I’m just not as hungry as I usually am. I have been scoffing on peanut butter cookies in the evening (OMGSOGOOD), but aside from that I’ve been eating good foods and decent portions of them.
On the exercise front I can’t claim as much success. Believe me, I do want to be going for my zombie runs, but I’ve been a little gun-shy since last Thursday. That morning I got up to go for a run and before I made it out of the building I almost doubled over with pains in the gut. I ended up nearly sprinting back to my room and staying there the entire day. I still have no idea whether it was a stomach bug or food poisoning, or what, but I’ve been a little nervous about venturing too far from a bathroom ever since because I still don’t feel quite right. I know I have to buck up eventually though, so tomorrow I’m going to try running on the treadmill in the ladies gym (which is only about thirty seconds from a bathroom) and see if I can’t build my confidence back up.
I’ve regressed back to the days of getting nothing done…dammit. I do plan on doing some editing before the end of this shift, I swear, but I’ve gotten a little caught up in the writing aspect, as documented below.
1,000,000 Word Goal
This week I rediscovered a little thing called 750Words.com. It’s nothing fancy, just a daily challenge to write approximately 750 words on your personal section of the site, but there’s something strangely motivational about it. In three days on the site I managed to rack up over 8000 words alone. All together, through a variety of blog post planning, writing exercises, and a little bit of good old fashioned freewriting, I managed to write 13421 words this week, which if I’m not mistaken makes this my best week yet this year. Not too shabby, hmm?
I hope to focus more on writing (and editing) in the coming months while I’m temporarily out of work, and I plan to use 750Words.com for a little boost of motivation. You should check it out…it’s very simple, but it somehow makes you want to achieve the goal. I’ve joined the monthly challenge for July, and I hope to have more success with that than I had with Camp NaNo. 🙂
This is a tough one because, in my opinion anyway, writers tend to be a naturally self-depreciating bunch. Like many other forms of artists we are known to be somewhat moody, and we have a tendancy toward being easily discouraged and thinking that our writing is fit for the dung pile.
It mighy sound terribly pessimistic, but it’s my personal opinion that there’s really no way through this attitude except to just deal with it. Sure, your confidence may be bolstered by winning a writing contest or scoring an agent, but these are things that simply cant happen to everyone, and there is no guarantee that these things will even help you. Hell, there are tons of hugely successful authors out there who have sold millions of copies of books that they themselves believe are crap. For many people absolutely nothing will convince them that they are talented or that they should be confident because people (especially people who create) just seem to be determined to be discouraged at every turn. Even if they have other people telling them that they’re awesome and talented and have a real chance at making it, artists will turn around and say, “Oh, they were just trying to be nice,” or, “Bah, they dont know what they’re talking about”.
What a downer, right?
The fact is that if you’re naturally reluctant to be confident in yourself, there’s not a lot that I or anyone else can say to change that. As cheesy as this sounds, the change has to come from within yourself first. You have to learn to be able to have confidence in yourself if your personal default is to be the exact opposite. Do you really feel like your work is junk, or do you just feel that way because of that natural self-depreciation we talked about earlier? If it’s the former, work harder, produce something you don’t feel is junk, and feel more confident as a result. If it’s the latter, smarten the hell up. There’s already enough confidence-free artists in the world…we dont need any more.
Over the past couple of years I’ve been delving deeper and deeper into the social networking aspect of being a writer. I run this blog, tweet when I think of something I think is worth saying, and browse the ‘net for interesting material written by my fellow online authors. During this social journey I’ve found myself regularly stumbling across bits of advice on various aspects of writing, managing the lifestyle of a writer, getting published, and so on. Everyone out there (myself included) feels the need to impart our little pieces of wisdom, and there is one particular tidbit that I’ve seen come up on a very regular basis:
There is a saying going around, based on an idea posed by Malcolm Gladwell, that a person needs 10,000 hours of practice with something in order to become an expert. While that number may not be accurate for everyone (natural talent – or lack thereof – have to account for something as well), it’s an understandable concept. In order to become good at something you have to practice, or in other words, spend a lot of time working on it. As with anything, writing is something that takes a good deal of time and effort to become good at (and you should never stop trying to get better), and therefore you should Write Everyday.
It seems ridiculously obvious to me now, but I really wish someone would have imparted this particular piece of advice on me when I was much younger, when it first became apparent to me that I would always want to be a writer regardless of whatever else occurred in my life. If I had taken the time to Write Everyday since the third grade just imagine how much practice I would have behind me! Imagine how many words I would have put to paper, how many finished stories I might have to my name! Imagine how much more confident I might be, how much closer I may have come toward publication! And while it is never too late to change, to do what you think you should be doing, you can’t deny the fact that I would have benefited from this idea much more earlier in my life. These days I have many more responsibilities: I have a demanding work schedule, a husband and daughter who both require my time and attention, a household that needs taking care of, and a host of other daily tasks and concerns that require dealing with. These days it is much harder to Write Everyday, but if I had known to do so when I was younger I could have had years of this practice behind my belt before all these other responsibilities came to light.
In conclusion, if there are any younguns out there right now who aspire to become writers and have somehow managed to stumble across this blog, I’m giving you the advice that I never got: WRITE EVERYDAY!
It appears that the only problem with pre-scheduling my posts for during the work rotation is that when I get home for my off-days I forget that I have to, you know…manually post some entries. I’d like to try and fix myself of this issue if at all possible. One of the big reasons (I suspect) that I’ve been unsuccessful with blogs and the like in the past is because I have no concept of “regular updates”, which as it turns out is a bit important.
In my defense, I had a friend visit from away for four nights, and during three of those nights we devoured a large, large amount of alcohol. A large amount. I may be recovering for another three or four nights.
But I digress. This is an overdue post that I should have made about a week ago when it was originally relevant.
About a week and a half ago there was an article in the local newspapers, detailing a rather frustrating issue with our province’s apprenticeship board. Without going into a great amount of detail, some lawyer (of course) apparently discovered that the apprenticeship board does not actually have the authority to accept work hours that were obtained in other provinces. As an overwhelming number of Nova Scotia apprentices work outside Nova Scotia (i.e. where the jobs are), this is a bit of an issue. It was a topic of much contention out on the work site. But it’s not the main point of the article that bothered me so much…what really bothered me was a quote by an apprenticeship board spokesman that stated how they were trying to help apprentices through this issue and that they were “all about” helping apprentices through to completion of their apprenticeship.
In response to this quote I wrote an emphatic FaceBook status about just how “helpful” I’ve found the apprenticeship board to be over the years. My husband then pointed out that the spokesman I was addressing was unlikely to read my FaceBook page and suggested I submit my status to the newspaper. I did so, expecting nothing to come of it, and was contacted by a family friend a few days later to let me know that he’d just read my letter.
Not the most enormous deal in the world, but pretty exciting to me since it’s technically my first real publication. 🙂 Confidence!
If anyone is interested in reading the letter that I wrote, I submit to you the link to the online version. My letter is third one down, entitled “Call this help?” and signed (obviously) Tracey Tobin.