Tuesday, March 8, 2011

How to not lose your mind and simaltaneously be a writer

Oh what's that? Just me, hanging out with a ferret, no big deal...

So, in the past 2 months I've received 9 rejections for grants and 2 rejections for a story I sent out for publication in Canadian literary periodicals. My first reaction is to put my head in the oven. Then I remember we have an electric oven. Then I wonder if that could be fatal... google it.... and then two hours go by and I find myself on a gossip website laughing at Charlie Sheen's latest warlock rant. So, the moment has passed, I am still alive, and decide that I should find another course of action.
I decide, instead, to do three things:

1. Count my Blessings
2. Look up the rejection records of other successful writers
3. Move on.

1. Ah, thank god for the good stuff
In 2007 I published my first book. It was picked up by the first publisher I sent it to, a small but well respected Aboriginal publishing house out of British Columbia. I sent it to them because I liked a lot of the books they had already put out there, and because I thought, with the subject matter, it would be a good fit. It was well received, won a Fiction Book of the Year award at a Canadian Prairies literary festival and subsequently found its way onto many university and college reading lists. As a result, it has sold out and is now going into a second print.

Because of this book, I was able to travel around the world, access many grants and bursaries, learned more about the book industry and the 'business of all things literary' in general and also eventually got my dream job- Writer in Residence at First Nations House at the University of Toronto. Two of my short stories are being used in 2 high school English textbooks and will be studied across Canada and I am working on a deluge of other pieces including short stories for 2 different anthologies.

Also, in the midst of those 11 aforementioned rejections, I did receive 3 grants and learned that my next novel was picked up and will be published in 2012-13! (Very exciting... details to come soon.)

These are literary blessings worth counting, and I find it helpful to keep reminders of this awesomeness close by for the rejection days. I installed a cork board near both of my work desks- at home and at the office- for just this purpose.

Yours could include amazing sentences you've crafted, your own periodical publications and magazine articles you've written, been mentioned in, or that agree with your point of view on things. And of course, make sure the books you've written are up there, front and centre. Having a published book is like having a video footage of a unicorn encounter- rare and goddamn beautiful!

2. Other People's Sadness Makes You Feel Better
Ahh, the old 'Misery Loves Company' metaphor. Its true to an extent. You don't want others to be dragged down with you; you'd much prefer to be lifted up to more successful levels, but in the absence (momentary of course) of this soaring success, its easier to not jump off a bridge because of a rejection letter when you know Stephen King received hundreds of them before his commercial success.

There are plenty of wonderful, self-affirming sayings and bits of advice to chose from, so I'll just list 3 good ones here:

"There are 2 wrong reactions to a rejection slip: deciding it's a final judgement on your story and/or talent, and deciding it's no judgement on your story/talent." - Nancy Kress

"Rejection slips, or form letters, however tactfully phrased, are lacerations of the soul, if not quite inventions of the devil- but there is no way around them." -Isaac Asimov

"Believe in yourself and in your own voice, because there will be times in this business when you will be the only one who does. Take heart in the knowledge that an author with a strong voice will often have trouble at the start of his or her career because strong, distinctive voices sometimes make editors nervous. But in the end, only the strong survive." -Jayne Ann Krentz

Not much I can really say about this one. Keep writing. Keep reading. Keep sending out your work! Of course, all this 'keeping-on' will probably mean that as a profession, we keep chain smoking, keep whiskey-chugging, etc. etc.... Ah, the glamourous life of a writer.

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