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"Make no mistake, my friend, your pointless life will end, but before you go, can you look at the truth? You have a lovely singing voice."

-Morrissey, "Sing Your Life"

Sunday, June 24, 2012

It’s early summer, and the rejections have been pouring in over here at the Cowger house. On the one hand, receiving a fairly steady stream of rejections is a good thing—it means I’ve been submitting, for one thing, and extended periods of silence from editors always make me question myself as a writer. At least when I’m getting rejections, I feel like I’m part of the writing world. (Plus, each rejection earns me at least one point on the submission response tally pinned to the bulletin board in my bedroom. I’m getting very, very close to a hundred points, which will earn me a $25 Amazon gift card.)

Still, receiving nothing but rejections from editors is sort of a lousy feeling, and to make things worse, I’ve almost entirely been receiving form rejections. For a while there, I felt like I had reached a point where, even though I still got rejected way more than I got accepted, I received mostly personal rejections, and when the rejections were form, they were usually the higher tier form rejections (the ones that state they thought your piece was good and they want to read more from you).

Ever since I had to start over with a whole new set of stories (because all of my other stories had either been published in journals, published in my book, or both), I feel like I’ve taken a huge step back in terms of rejections. Only one of my stories—one!—has been published since my book came out. Okay, part of this is because for about a year there, I was barely submitting. But for the past few months I’ve been getting back to my regular submission habits, and now the form rejections are starting to pile up.

Of course, the first possible reason for this is that my new stories aren’t any good. This, naturally, is where my mind first takes me every time I open a new email and read the same old words: “Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately . . .” I wonder, have I lost it? Did I use up all my stories, and I just need to accept that I only really ever had  a little over a book’s worth of stories inside me? Or is it that the stories in my book—most of them, anyway—were workshopped in grad school. Do I NEED the feedback of a class-full of writers in order to revise my work to completion?

But then I remind myself of the few personal rejections I have received on these very same stories. I’m getting a flow of form rejections right now, but the slow and irregular drip of rejections that were coming in before this included a fair amount of personal rejections, so maybe it’s not time to throw in the towel just yet.

Damien suggested that I consider the time of year it is before I read too much in to these form rejections. Most journals close for submissions during the summer, and this usually means there are some straggler submissions that the editors really want to plow through and respond to in a timely fashion. It’s nice to start the new submission period with an empty submission file, I’m sure. So the sudden flood of form rejections might just mean they were quickly working through their backlog and saying no a bit more readily than usual. No personal response might mean they’re strapped for time, that they don’t want to waste what little time they do have writing individual notes about every story they thought was good but that didn’t make the final cut.

Looking at it this way makes me feel a lot better. It might not actually be what’s going on here. It might be that I’m getting form rejections because these stories suck. It might also be I’m getting them because these stories aren’t as polished as I thought. Maybe I’m getting them because I’m just sending to the wrong places, places for which these stories aren’t a good fit. It’s even possible I’m getting them because the editors just didn’t read my submissions very closely. There’s no way to know. That’s the (often frustrating) nature of form rejections: they tell you very little about your submission. But to look at it in a positive way, it does mean that these form rejections are not necessarily a sign that I’m a failure as a writer. I’m going to keep plowing ahead and keep submitting, and even more important, I’m going to keep working on some new stories that might help me garner some more personal rejections, or better yet, an acceptance.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

So. Early in the month of June, I made a pact with myself that I would write every single day for the entire month. It is now June 17th and I have stuck to it, and I don’t anticipate any trouble continuing on through the end of the month. Besides being invigorating because I’ve been more productive so far this month than I have in recent months—and there’s still two more weeks of productivity ahead of me—the write every day for the entire month scheme has reminded me of the truth behind one of the cardinal rules of writing: writers don’t wait for inspiration (or time, or whatever the excuse may be) to write; writers just sit down and get to it, whether they feel like it or not. Whether they’re inspired or not. Whether they feel they have time or not.

This point has been hammered home to me on the days in this past month when I really, really, REALLY didn’t feel like writing. Picture it: it’s 11 PM. Your baby is asleep beside you on the bed—because she can’t sleep if you’re not lying in bed next to her—and you’re tired. Or you really feel like reading. Or you just want to zone out to some Netflix. Or maybe, even, you have papers to grade or work to do on your Blackboard course for the summer.

But if you don’t write, you don’t get that little tick in your goal logsheet for today, and if you don’t get the little tick for today, you may as well give up because you didn’t meet your goal for the month. So you open up the file of the project you’re working on, and tell yourself if you only write for fifteen minutes, that’s okay. It still counts.

And you get to work. You reread the last page or so that you wrote yesterday. Then you force out a sentence. Then another. They’re awful and stilted, but you keep going anyway. You continue like this for a paragraph, maybe two. Each sentence takes forever to write, and you half wonder why you’re bothering since you’ll probably just delete them again tomorrow.

But then something miraculous happens. A sentence materializes in your mind, and it’s a good one. Just as you’re getting it out, another sentence follows. You start typing faster—they’re coming more quickly now. You begin to feel like you’re not writing at all, but transcribing something that someone else is reading to you. You go, go, go, go, go until the flow slows down, and trickles to a stop. You look at the clock. You look at your word count. You’ve accomplished something here. And to think, you almost didn’t bother.

The desire to meet my goal has kept me motivated to write every day, and the act of sitting down and writing clicks my brain into writer mode. No matter how uninspired I feel when I turn my computer on, if I sit in front of that computer and force myself to type, it doesn’t take long before the creative machine turns on and begins telling me what to write. It’s almost like the inspiration sometimes just needs to know you’re serious. “Oh. She really means it this time. She’s going to just go ahead and write whether I show up or not. Look at that crap she’s writing. I better get over there.”

Sunday, June 10, 2012

This will be a short post. I’m in crunch time for the spring, with grades due very soon, so I’m only able to justify a very short break for my blog this week. I do, however, want to tell you about my writing month so far. Once I laid out my goals for summer writing projects (see last week’s post), I couldn’t wait for the quarter to finish to get going. So far in the month of June, I’ve written for at least a little bit every single day. Yes, I’m aware we’re only ten days in to June. Yes, I’m aware many writers write every day. For me, though, for the past several months, I’ve had a difficult time really getting into a consistent writing groove. Now, I finally feel like I’m working it out.

It started because on June 1st, I had an idea for a story and wrote it right away (Damien watched Amalie). The next day I got back to work on my children’s book, the one that is number one in my summer projects list. The next day, I did more work on the children’s book. Somewhere around June 4th or 5th, I started to think I should just make a goal to write every single day in June, even if just for fifteen minutes. Once I’d made that decision (and once I’d become aware of the streak—albeit a not very impressive one—I was on), it started becoming a very important, conscious decision to write every day. If, at the end of the day, I realized I hadn’t written yet, I would stop whatever I was doing and write, even if I didn’t feel like it. The alternative was to break my streak and admit defeat for the entire month’s goal.  

So the month is a third of the way through and I’ve managed to write every single day so far. With each passing day, the stakes get a little higher. If I break the streak tomorrow, I will be breaking a ten day streak. If I break it the next day, I’ll be breaking an even longer one. It doesn’t really matter that the momentum effect hasn’t kicked in yet (it will, eventually, I know) because at this point, I’m doing it because I don’t want to have to face myself the next day if I don’t, and that in itself is proving sufficient motivation.

Sunday, June 3, 2012

First of all, some news: my book is now available in Kindle format! I couldn’t be more thrilled that the publisher decided to make it available for Kindle. If nothing else, it allows people who might be somewhat interested in reading the book the chance to read a sample before purchasing it. Plus, the Kindle price is much lower. Readers who might be hesitant about spending $17.95 on a book by an unknown author might be much more willing to take the gamble for $9.99.

Now on to what I want to talk about this week. It’s almost time for summer break here—summer break, for me, means one week between the end of spring quarter and the beginning of summer quarter, during which time I have to prepare the Blackboard course for my summer class—and I’ve been excitedly planning my summer writing projects. I haven’t been able to get anywhere near as much writing done as I would have liked for the past year, but the older Amalie gets, the easier it is to get things done around her. On top of that, I’m only teaching one class over the summer, and it’s a creative writing class. I expect to have plenty of time in which to write, and that’s exactly what I plan to do.

Here are my goals for this summer:

1.      I’m going to complete the first draft of a middle grade children’s novel, of which I currently have about half written. This, I decided, is the main writing project I want to be focusing on right now. I talked a few weeks ago about how leapfrogging from project to project was preventing me from really getting anything done, and how I needed to pick one project to just finish, for cripe’s sake. Well this is the project I’ve settled on.

2.      Once I’ve finished the first draft of that novel, which will probably take me no more than a month, I want to write a first draft of the much shorter children’s book I’m collaborating on with my mom. My mom is a scratchboard artist, and she’s creating the illustrations for a children’s story that I’m going to write. We agreed on this a couple of years ago—but I’ve been slacking in my duties. She’s already completed several scratchboard paintings for the book. I’m going to use the paintings she’s already created as inspiration to write the story. We don’t know if we’ll be able to find a publisher for the book once it’s finished, but it’s an incredibly fun project and worth spending time on, nonetheless. Plus, I sort of think we might be able to do a show in a gallery even if it doesn’t end up getting published, or we can create copies of the book ourselves and sell them as art-chapbooks (I learned how to make those in a workshop while I was getting my MFA).

3.      In addition to those two main projects, I want to work on some stories. I have, at present, five stories I’m sending around. I have three more stories in draft form that I’d like to revise and start sending out, and three more half-written drafts of stories that I feel really excited about and would like to finish. I won’t set a concrete goal in terms of stories, but I will say that by the end of the summer I’d like to have a few more stories in circulation, and ideally, I’d like to have complete drafts of the three half-written stories I believe are so promising.