Rejection

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You have to know how to accept rejection and reject acceptance.
Ray Bradbury

Rejection is nothing more than a necessary step in the pursuit of success.
Bo Bennett  

Perhaps you’ve sought these out, what you once thought of as author platitudes, but after receiving another rejection letter or email, discovered they have the ability to bring you comfort. They’re no longer feel-good trite, but ropes you can grab onto to pull yourself out of the deep hole of self-doubt, anger, pity, frustration and disappointment you’ve descended into.

Why is rejection so hard?

Rejection is difficult because it feels personal—that our our whole self is being rejected rather than the piece or manuscript we’ve submitted. It’s not just our writing, but our heart and soul and dreams and talents and abilities that have been rejected. It hurts.

But this isn’t the case. Really, it’s our writing that’s been rejected, and specifically just that piece.

I usually let myself sulk (aka grieve) for up to 24 hours before I get back to business, pushing aside the emotions and taking a good, hard, clinical look at my work to assess whether I can fix it or need to move on to the next piece.

It might also worth asking why we feel our entire self has been rejected. Dig deep. Could there some underlying self-esteem gap that needs attention? If you truly want to write, you’ll continue to write despite your confidence or what others think. You’ll do it because you have to. See this piece on Defining (Writing) Success—perhaps you need to redefine what it is for you?

A side note: There are editors and agents out there who feel they have the right to stick the knife in your back and turn and turn it around. You’ll recognise it if you come across it. Ignore this kind of destructive feedback—which is about them and not your work—taking on the constructive comments only. Publishing is, to a considerable extent, a subjective industry. Agents and publishers have power over you right now, but they aren’t gods.

How to deal with rejection: Accept Learn Progress

  • Accept—If people weren’t willing to fail, new territory would not be traversed and creativity would cease to exist. Accept that rejection is an intrinsic part of learning and progressing. Some people wear it like a badge, and I can understand why, although you don’t want that to become your identity either. Also, remind yourself that to be rejected you created something whole. How many people can claim that?
  • LearnSeek feedback, whether you attend a writing group, call the agent or editor who rejected your work to get some feedback (yes, sometimes they will talk to you), do a free course, read a good how-to-write book, get a MS assessment done, or hire an editor or mentor. In other words, once you’ve licked your wounds, open yourself up again. You deserve it.
  • Progress—Put what you’ve learned into practice. And I mean practice, practice, practice. It doesn’t matter if it takes you three manuscripts or fifty poems or twenty short stories or ten years to get to where you want to be with your writing. Just do it.

Most important of all is NEVER GIVE UP. Don’t let the doubters—be they internal or external—win.

Why creatives need down time

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It took me a long time to work out that down time isn’t wasting time, rather it’s an essential practice to creativity. I had such a protestant work ethic in me it felt lazy taking time out from writing. But I eventually realised that having a break by walking or doodling or reading or cooking refreshed me. When I returned to writing my problems were solved, my words flowed into art and I made other breakthroughs.

Science confirms that taking a break by napping, meditating or walking in nature increases productivity, replenishes attention, solidifies memories and encourages creativity.

Professor Lajos Székely talks about the creative pause ‘…when the thinker interrupts conscious preoccupation with an unsolved problem, and ends when the solution to the problem unexpectedly appears in consciousness’. And I love this quote from Ferris Jabr saying ‘Epiphanies may seem to come out of nowhere, but they are often the product of unconscious mental activity during down time’.

When you consider the apparently 18 things that highly creative people do differently, it confirms that down time is indeed fundamental to creativity.

Highly creative people daydream, observe everything, work the hours that work for them, take time for solitude, turn adversity into advantage, seek out new experiences, fail up (rather than taking it personally they use it constructively), ask the big questions, watch people, take risks, view life as an opportunity for self-expression, follow their true passions, get out of their own heads, lose track of time, surround themselves with beauty, connect the dots (finding vision), constantly shake things up and make time for mindfulness.

But down time can’t be spent just any way. In the digital era we’ve become addicted to the distractions of google, email, social media, TV and so on. Being distracted is easy because it stops us from thinking or feeling anything challenging. Yet sometimes this is exactly the place where growth and problem-solving occurs. If you hate being bored like I do, the reality is that it gives space for the mind to wander, which is where creativity can happen.

Here are some ideas about how to build down time into your life to expand your creativity:

  1. Create sacred space that’s technology free. If you go for a walk, don’t take your phone. Allow your mind to wander, feel the breeze on your face, smell nature, listen to the sounds around you, look at the people’s faces. Use it to connect with what’s around you.
  2. Schedule down time where you allow your thoughts to roam free. Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way advocates going on a regular artist date with yourself, where for say two hours a week you commit time to ‘nurturing your creative consciousness’. She says it’s like spending quality time with or pampering your artist self. Take them to an art gallery or the zoo, wherever they tell you they need to go.
  3. Meditate. The practice of observing yourself and allowing thoughts to come through you without attachment or engagement allows things to come up in a safe way. Meditation promotes focus, calmness, clarity and insight.
  4. Listen to and trust yourself. If you feel you need a break, don’t chastise yourself for being lazy. Listen to yourself and trust that your mind knows when it needs down time. Creativity happens in mysterious ways.

When re/writing makes you bored

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Some days when you write the words appear dull, the message unoriginal, the work turgid. You just don’t feel it. This might be your mood, but when I find myself regularly bored with my writing, I know something is wrong.

Here are some ideas on how to write yourself out of your boredom and shift (back) into creative brilliance:

  1. Write for YOU! Don’t write for others—what you think you should be writing, what you believe the market wants, what your family says, what your upbringing dictates. Writing must be authentic to be good. Writing is hard enough let alone when you’re pretending to be someone or something you’re not. This can make you feel vulnerable, but it’s only writing. See where it takes you.
  2. What are you really trying to say? Write in stages until you discover what this is. Sometimes I get caught up in the technical stuff or what my head tells me etc.. This has value. But when I’m done with all of that, I get annoyed and ask myself what it is I’m really trying to say and write with all of me. This is when I surprise myself. This is what kindles my fire.
  3. Noun and verbs are the key to lively sentences that carry the reader onwards. They’re the central elements in creating action and movement. Choose powerful and evocative ones. Rather than writing The cat sat on the hat say The tabby crushed the fedora.
  4. Cut out the crap. This means the superfluous adjectives and adverbs, the things you’ve already said in a different way, word repetition, anything that’s not central to or doesn’t advance your plot (kill your darlings), sentences that tell the reader what you’ve already led them towards knowing (patronising, ick).
  5. Space out description and back story. Rather than having great chunks of these, eke them out in bits (up to three lines) as your characters take action. That way you’re not taking readers out of the story. Also, ensure you begin your chapters with exposition (action or showing) or timely narrative (informative telling).
  6. Consider structure. This is a huge topic covering setting, plot, theme and more. Each story, and indeed chapter and section, should have a beginning, rising action, climax, falling action, and resolution (of sorts). If your beginning is short and sharp, your middle bloated and ending sudden, your structure needs adjusting. Get the first draft done and adjust. Write tables or chapter summaries, anything that gives you perspective .
  7. Are you allowing your characters to be authentic, or are you telling them who they should be? Sometimes characters surprise you or go rogue or want to leave your story. Authentic writing fosters real characters. Listen to them. They’re not boring, or if they are, they’re meant to be.

Happy writing over the holidays. See you in 2018!

 

 

 

 

Defining (writing) success

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Success means different things to different writers. Perhaps you have a writer you aspire to be like, or you aim to publish in a particular way within a certain time frame, or you have technical goals about how you to ideally express yourself, or all of the above.

The question is:

  • Are your goals realistic and achievable?
  • Are they truly your goals (or some other ideal defined by people you know, writing mythology or your parents)?
  • Are you flexible enough to adjust your goals as needed?
  • Can you accept failure as part of the creative process, learn from it and continue?

Whose goals? Your goals

  • Do you dream of fame and fortune like JK Rowling enjoys? That might be nice, but her writing journey belongs to her just like yours belongs to you. Don’t rule out producing five best sellers in the next five years if that’s your aim, but remember that good writing comes from authenticity. So cast away others’ expectations, stop worrying about what the market claims it wants (which would likely be outdated by the time you produced something similar, if you could that is), forget about proving yourself to your parents or whoever, and look inside yourself to discover what writing means to you. Write for that reason and persist. Relentlessly. Be you.
  • Remember, few people are instant successes. Often, many years of learning and hard work sits behind such myths.
  • Finally, understand that one person’s success is another’s failure. This is why you must define success for yourself. At the end of the day, once the flashbulbs dim, even JK Rowling has to sit down alone and create a book she’s happy with.

Yes, but…

  • There’s always another hill to climb with writing—the next story, the next competition, a better publisher etc.. When you achieve something celebrate it.
  • To do this, monitor your progress. Break it up into bite sized achievements that you can celebrate along the way. Did you write 1k words each week for the last 8 weeks like you planned?  Tick. Did you do a course on character building and bring yours to life? Yay. Did you approach five publishers like planned even if though didn’t hear back from the first two? Brave. Did you enjoy the  writing process? Well done. Did you get lost in your love of language, or did the characters carry you away to unexpected places? Wondrous!

Learn to fail well

  • Failure is a binary concept that requires success as its polar opposite. Failure and success are thus abstract and arbitrary. We’ve already seen how definitions can vary wildly. Don’t let your beliefs about them stall or stop you. They’re only ideas, which you don’t have to be bound by. Change your thinking.
  • Writing requires failure
    • If we weren’t willing to fail, new territory wouldn’t  be traversed and creativity would cease to exist.
    • Don’t let the redrafting process make earlier drafts feel like failures. They’re not, they’re simply part of the process. Accept this and keep going.
    • Also, because many writers aspire towards perfection they’re bound to always fail. How can we ever succeed if we continually moved the goal posts further away? Even multi-published authors are often dissatisfied with their achievements. Get off the perfection treadmill.

Tenacity

  • Above all, writing and publishing are about tenacity. In this post, I discuss how persistence beats talent. It can be a long process of learning your craft before you test the market to find the best, and sometimes only means to publish your work.
  • If things don’t go to plan, don’t give up. If you expected to find a traditional publisher but that didn’t work out, consider self-publishing, research a hybrid model, put your book away or begin again until you produce something your kind of publisher wants. You might also need to lower the bar. Begin slowly but surely. Tortoise, hair – remember?
  • If you do ‘fail’ to meet your goals, make use of it. Learn from it and continue writing.
  • Remember, THE ONLY WAY TO FAIL WRITING IS TO QUIT. 

 

Finish your [writing] project

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In 2016, I attended a two-day workshop run by an author and psychologist. Its purpose was to give writers the necessary tools to finish their project, focusing on how to get in the right head space and plan properly.

Many attendees, including authors who’d published multiple books, were stuck. I was bored and had almost stalled because the drafting process felt endless.

At the end of weekend, I came away with a solid, realistic plan to finish my novel. I exceeded my goals and finished drafting well before my deadline. I’m using the same tools now to help me finish my redraft before Christmas.

Here are a some helpful points that came out of the workshop.

Mindset

The optimal mindset for creativity involves being a little excited, optimistic and seeking pleasure. You might have to fake it til you make it, but don’t give in to negative thoughts.

There are ways to help you create this mindset. Close your eyes and imagine a welcoming, mental place you can travel to before you begin work. For me, this was a deserted beach with wild waves on a cool days. For someone else it was a brightly coloured circus tent. You might also like to do a bit of relaxation, meditation, repeat some affirmations, go for a walk or do some breathing exercises before you work.

If you have a bad writing day, and we all do, separate yourself from your work. Don’t judge yourself and create fear and anxiety, which will be counterproductive the next time you write. The work simply didn’t go well — it wasn’t your entire being the failed.

Develop strategies to push through fears and doubts. There are many books on this, or read a piece by an author you admire about how they achieve this? The are loads on the Internet.

Be prepared to go beyond your comfort zone into new creative territory. Play, have fun. What’s the worst thing that can happen? Not a lot when you think about it. Trust yourself! You can always adjust your words later. Just get something down on the page.

Writing environment

This is about creating the optimum writing environment for you. When, where and how are you most productive? The aim is to find regular times to write and the best physical space in which to do that with the technology and other resources you need.

Write down your answers and create a plan. Diarise these times and build strong boundaries around them to ensure nothing gets in the way of your writing.

Set your intentions

Write down your long, medium and short-term goals. Be specific.

  • Specificity = measurement = accountability (to yourself).

Measure your progress daily, weekly and monthly. Small achievements over time add up and are motivating.

I keep a diary of my daily weekday word limit because that’s how I’ve decided to monitor my redrafting. But word count is only one possible way. You could set goals for outlines, chapters or a manuscript end date. For example:

  1. I will finish redrafting my novel by 21 December. My MS is x words long, there are x weeks until then, which means I must draft x words 5 days per week.
  2. I will have a first draft completed in 12 months i.e. by 24 October 2018. The average book is 80,000 words long and I plan to take 3 weeks holiday in which I won’t draft. This means I will draft 1,630 words over 49 weeks. I will write 3 days per week.
  3. I will write 1,500 words, 4 days per week.
  4. I will write for 1 hour, 5 days per week before work.

The plan

In your plan, make sure you have the following elements:

  • Specific, measurable goals
  • Creative mindset strategies
  • A creative environment you go to each time you write
  • A diarised writing schedule.

For more hints on creating a writing routine, see this post here.

Now go for it!