Why Would Writers Compete for the Most Rejections?

“I’m up to 60 rejections for my writing so far this year,” I said.

“Oh my God! I couldn’t take it. All that rejection.”

“I know. It’s crazy.”

But true. As my friend Cheryl and I sat on her back deck watching Annie nose around the garden and steer clear of the cat giving her stink eye from a chair by the door, I tried to spin my usual story about how I’m selling a project. Like any product, a lot of people will choose not to buy it, but eventually someone will come along who wants exactly that item. Look how many people pass by the handmade earrings at the Farmer’s Market. The earrings are beautiful, but they’re expensive and they aren’t looking for earrings. They want fresh strawberries. Think of my essays and poems as earrings.

But Cheryl was stuck on 60 rejections in six months.

She didn’t ask how many acceptances I’d had. Three.

That was in July. I haven’t told her that I finished 2021 with 98 rejections and a few more acceptances.

I belong to a group of writers who try every year for at least 100 rejections. In poetry, that means for a group of poems, not for each individual poem. In order to get that many, you need to submit a lot, and that’s the point. If you don’t put your work out there, it will never get published.

Cheryl, who lives in the woods down the road from me, is not a writer. She’s a reader and a fan of my books. My dog loves her because she keeps a big jar of treats in the garage.

When you look at it from her point of view, it does sound awful. Nobody tells the plumber after he’s fixed the sink: “Well, I’ll see if I like it and then maybe I’ll pay you.” No. You hire the plumber. They do the job. You pay them. Like the plumber, we’ve done the work. Time to publish and pay!

But that’s not how it goes.

My father, an electrician, had trouble understanding this too. For him, work was only real if you went to a job site, worked for eight hours, and got paid every Friday. After a few years, you were promoted to foreman and bossed other people around. Eventually you maybe even owned your own company. But this business of sending in writing and getting it rejected? That’s not a job. That’s not work. That’s a waste of time.

My parents were proud of the things I got published, but they didn’t understand the process.

I make every submission believing that this essay, poem, or book manuscript will be accepted, that it is a perfect fit. I study the market, follow the guidelines, and meet the deadline. More often than not, a few weeks or months later, I receive an email saying thanks but no thanks. They wanted strawberries, not earrings. Or they love earrings, but they have too many earrings right now. That does not mean my earrings aren’t lovely.

“How do you stand it?” Cheryl asked.

“Well, I have been doing it a long time.”

So long. Since high school. Since the days of typewriters, since rejection slips arrived by mail, along with your wrinkled, coffee-stained manuscript.

But there have been acceptances, triumphs even. Publishers have said yes to my books, articles, essays, short stories and poems. They have included my writing in their anthologies and nominated it for prizes. Readers thank me and tell me how much my words mean to them. That’s far better than eight hours on a construction site or under a sink.

When an editor says yes, I still shriek so loudly the neighbors probably wonder if I’m all right. In 2022, I have already had three rejections. Why bother? Because when they say yes, it’s better than sex.

Writers understand. Anyone can grow strawberries, but some of us are meant to make earrings.

Brevity’s website editor Allison K. Williams recently published a good piece on rejections. Read it here.

Processing…
Success! You're on the list.

I Thought I was Making This Stuff Up–Tsunami Novel Predicts COVID

It’s November, known to some of us as NaNoWriMo, National Novel Writing Month. Hordes of writers commit to writing 50,000 or more words of fiction between November 1 and Nov. 30. That’s 1,667 words or the equivalent of about seven double-spaced pages every day, including weekends. I have started several times and pooped out, but in 2019, I spewed out more than 50,000 words for a sequel to my previous novel Up Beaver Creek. I didn’t finish the book. I had a bunch of pieces that didn’t quite go together. Then came COVID and a lot of other complications, including a nonfiction book that I did finish, so the sequel sat in a pile. Until now. This November I’m determined to pull it all together into a real novel. I’m not counting words. I find that doesn’t work for me. Sometimes an hour of thinking is more important than an hour of spewing random typing. But I am putting in the time.

I bring this up because one of the early chapters, written before any of us had heard the word COVID or had any inkling we’d find grocery store shelves empty of things like toilet paper and flour, turned out to be eerily prescient. In Up Beaver Creek, the long-predicted tsunami hit the Oregon coast, causing heavy damage and many deaths. Now we’re in the aftermath. Electricity is spotty, and supplies are low. When our heroine PD goes to the grocery store, this is what she finds. (No insult to J.C. Market, where I have been shopping for years. All is well there as far as I know, except they are missing a few items . . . )

The roar of a generator greets me as I get out of my car at the J.C. Market at 101 and Olive Street. Keeping the refrigerators and freezers going, I suppose. Since the Thanksgiving earthquake and tsunami, we have not had electricity, at least not that we could count on.

I open the door to dim lights and silence. No music coming through the speakers. Half the shelves are empty. Getting supplies is chancy these days. When something is in stock, we all want to grab a lot of it. But then somebody else would have to do without. We’re all learning to share. PD does not like sharing.

I pull out a cart, wincing at the noise as it separates from the others, and start down the vegetable aisle. Geez, not much there, hard to stay on my healthy-PD diet. Shriveled grapefruit, bruised apples, some artichokes I am sure have been there for a month. Pineapples, lumpy cantaloupes, potatoes, red onions, mushrooms someone probably gathered in the local forests—well, I could make something out of that. Meat? Brown-looking hamburger, questionable chicken, and a few whole salmon at $25 a pound. That’s the other thing. Prices are high. Supply and demand. When you really want an apple and you’re not sure you’ll see another one anytime soon, you’ll pay $4 for it.

Some enterprising folks have started braving the trip to less-damaged places in the Willamette Valley to pick up merchandise and sell it out of their trucks and car trunks. People line up to buy their wares. I’ve done it a time or two.

I toss a pound of ground beef and a sack of beans into the cart and hold my breath as I turn toward the paper aisle. Oh, thank God. TP. Not my favorite brand, just little four-packs of single ply, but hallelujah. $10? Whatever. At least I have a job to pay for it. Lots of people’s jobs got washed away with the tide.

It’s like that with everything. You can get something but not your favorite brand or flavor. Except for batteries. They haven’t had any of those in months.

And then she runs into a man who invites her to watch the sunrise with him . . .

Again, I had no idea a pandemic would hit us. I was just imagining what it would be like after a disaster. Who knew a whole different kind of tsunami was coming?

What do you think? Have you seen shortages where you shop? Do you expect things to get better or worse?

Have you read Up Beaver Creek? Books make good Christmas presents.

P.S. I’m getting my booster shot tomorrow. I tend to react badly. Wish me luck.

Writing Here, There and Everywhere

I’m back. Back home and back from my NaNoWriMo blog sabbatical in which I endeavored to write 50,000 words in 30 days. The annual National Novel Writing Month competition draws hundreds of thousands to compete in this madness, and many succeed.  https://www.cartridgepeople.com/info/blog/nanowrimo-statistics

I wrote 55,000 words. I’m not getting all the NaNoWriMo prizes because I divided my words between two different projects, a nonfiction book that’s still in its early days—17,023 words–and a sequel to my novel Up Beaver Creek—38,130. Add them together, and I’ve got 55,153. That does not count all the other stuff I wrote during the month, including journal entries, new poems, and posts at my Childless by Marriage blog. This word factory produces many products.

I don’t know why the competition takes place in November. It’s such a busy month. Why not pick January when we’re all revved up with New Year’s resolutions, there’s not much else happening (okay, yes, the Superbowl), and there are 31 days instead of 30?

This November was extra crazy. Of the 30 days, I spent 15 away from home. I drove approximately 2,000 miles, bringing my Honda Element up to 130,000 miles. My travels took me to the Portland Book Festival, Ellen Bass’s Fire and Ice poetry workshop in Scott’s Valley, California, a night in Santa Cruz and a day at Seacliff Beach where I spent much of my childhood.

I followed that with three days in Santa Clara writing, catching up with family, and saying goodbye to my childhood home, which has been cleaned out and sold. From Santa Clara, I drove to the outskirts of Yosemite for Thanksgiving with my brother’s family. When I left there on Saturday, because I-5 was blocked with snow, I had to take the long way home, extending my usual California-Oregon drive from 13 hours to 18, much of it in the rain.

Between trips, I prepared for installation of a gas fireplace and a propane tank at my house. I sold copies of my recently published chapbook Gravel Road Ahead and read the final proofs for the next chapbook, Widow at the Piano, which is coming out in March, took Annie to the vet and started giving her four different medicines every day for arthritis and an ear infection, and said goodbye to my job at Sacred Heart Church.

Through it all, I wrote. I had treated myself to a new laptop, a small ASUS with super-long battery life, so I could write wherever I was. I wrote on motel room beds and desks, in coffee shops, on my brother’s sofa in front of the TV, and in the commons at Oregon Coast Community College. I wrote sitting, standing and lying down. I wrote when I knew what I was going to say and when I didn’t, nudged by the counter at the NaNaWriMo website to reach my daily goal and keep the line on the graph going up.

I joined two of the NaNoWriMo write-ins at a new local cafe (Wolf Tree, near the college). I wasn’t sure I’d be able to write with other people around, but it was great. We all focused on our own stories, taking bathroom and snack breaks as needed, and the words poured out.

But for the need to get dressed, I might do all of my writing in coffee shops. Or bars, depending on my mood.

As the end of the month neared, other writers started reporting on Facebook that they had “won” NaNoWriMo, reaching their 50,000-word goal. A week ago, I knew I wouldn’t meet that goal on my novel, although I would make it with both my projects combined. That’s okay. My 38,000 words is a lot of words. It’s 152 double-spaced pages, halfway to a completed novel. My protagonist PD and her friends have already gone through a lot, with more to come. I will keep going, although maybe not at the same breakneck pace. I will go back to taking Sundays off. I will let myself read fiction again. But this novel that was only a maybe, possibly, I’m-not-sure kind of thing is real now. And my other project has a good start.

I plan to do NaNoWriMo again. It’s exciting to write so much so quickly and with such great camaraderie as writers all over the world do the same thing. Not every novel written during NaNoWriMo gets published or even finished, but it’s fun to go into an imaginary world and let the words fly.

Anyone who writes fiction knows all the writing does not take place on the keyboard or the page. Your mind keeps working on story problems. Yesterday, while I was driving through the rain between Eureka and Crescent City, California, I suddenly had such a great idea I was shouting and banging the steering wheel. Yes! That’s perfect! That’s how PD is going to ID the bad guy. Of course! Other drivers might have suspected I drank more than orange juice and green tea with my breakfast.

Kudos to our regional NaNoWriMo leader Nikki Atkins, who finished her 50,000 way early while acting in two different plays at the local theater. For years, she has kept local writers inspired with her enthusiasm and support. How could anyone not succeed with Nikki cheering them on?

So I’m home. Back with Annie. Back at my desk. Back with a pile of receipts for all the money I spent. Back with 163 emails to read. Back facing the six pounds I gained this month eating at restaurants. Back hoping that today, finally, the work on my new gas fireplace and the propane tank outside will be completed, and we will have real heat.

But also back with the glow that comes from setting forth to write something good and succeeding.

I hope your Thanksgiving holiday was satisfying. Christmas is only three weeks from Wednesday! I’m not ready. Are you? Here’s a thought. Buy everyone on your gift list copies of Up Beaver Creek so they can be ready when the sequel comes out. Have a great week.

 

 

 

If You’re Going to Curse, Be Creative

Let’s talk about dirty words. I like them, you like them. We all know what they are. I’m going to try not to use them here. Much. I’m not talking about the “clean” dirty words like mud or dust or excrement, which the dictionary defines as “something that soils someone or something.” I’m talking about the real dirty words that start with A, B, F, P and S and the variations on religious words that shouldn’t be said the way some people say them. I’ve said them. I’ve said them all, but I’m trying to quit.

I’ve been a smut-mouth for years. Yes, I’ve mentioned it in Confession and gone out and cussed in the parking lot. But I’ve started paying attention to how it sounds. It’s ugly. Besides, I work at a church. So I’m trying to change my ways.

It’s difficult because the language is everywhere. In movies and on Internet TV shows like “The Ranch” or “Orange is the New Black,” it’s F this and A that and all the other words. The shows are good, but the words get in your head and come out your mouth. You start punctuating every sentence with the F word. Saying BS loud and proud or A-hole. OMG, did we say that out loud? The words slip out, and people stare, even when you say somewhat innocuous words like damn or hell or shit.

Some people think they get away with it by using cheater words, like darn, heck, jeez, sheesh, and dad gummit. Come on, we know what you really mean.

When I was growing up, my mother did not curse, but my dad’s dinner-table language was colorful. As he described his days on construction sites, he used the words. He also talked about dagos, wops, okies, etc. It was a different era.

My best friend’s mom didn’t curse either, but we’d hear her say, “Oh, suuuuuugar!” I grew up in an era when men cursed and nice ladies (except for my Aunt Gen) did not. At least not in public. As a young newspaper reporter, I covered meetings where the men would tell each other to watch their language because there was a lady present. But now everybody seems to use smutty language.

These days, I do my share of cussing, but I’m trying to be creative. I have a master’s degree in creative writing. Surely I can come up with something more original. One of my father’s favorites was “Son of a bitch!” It’s not that bad. A bitch is a mama dog. Nothing bad about a mama dog. It was more the tone, like violence was about to occur (not on people, thank God). “Son of a bitch” is a satisfying mouthful of words. But now I say things like “son of a burger,” “son of a bagel,” “son of a big foot (ew),” “son of a basketball”—sometimes I crack myself up and forget to be mad.

I found this great website that offers 101 substitutes for popular profanities. I’m gonna print these out and try some of them. I don’t think I can say “gee whiz” with a straight face, but “Oh, Foccacia?” That might work.

I grew up where blue language happened all the time. Around my father, I still feel free to say bullshit, hell, damn, asshole, etc. Not the F word or variations thereof; that seems to cross the line. But I’m used to at least the milder cusses.

I didn’t even realize what I was doing until I married a man with children, and he said, “Whoa, not in front of my kids.” What????

What is a dirty word anyway? What makes them dirty? We seem to like bathroom words related to urine, feces, or body parts in the lower regions. We use words about sex, not soft words like making love but hard words like F— or P—y. What makes these bad? Is it really the word or the intention behind it? What do you think?

I think we need to distinguish between vulgarities—the potty and sex words–and the religious words. The Second Commandment tells us not to take God’s name in vain, but our society is so full of it. People say, “God!” all the time. “Oh my God!” “Oh. My. God.” “OMG.” They’re not actually talking to the creator; it’s just words.

Seems like if we’re going to call the All-powerful’s name, we’d better be looking for Him to answer. In times when something major happens, I have said, “Oh my God,” but at that moment, I am looking to connect with Him. I need his help.

When people say, “Jesus Christ!” as an exclamation, it bothers me, especially when they’re not even Christians. Then there’s “Damn it” and its variations. What gives us the right to send people to hell? Only God can do that.

Maybe you don’t believe in God. Fine. Then why are you using His name?

At the Association of Writers and Writing Programs conference in March, I attended a panel titled “How to Curse on the Page and Get Away with It.” Like most writers, I am wary of getting too blue in my writing for fear of offending people. Sometimes I put the word in, then get nervous and take it out. And yet I want to be authentic. Real people do curse.

The panelists focused on the book On Cussing: Bad Words and Creative Cursing by the late Katherine Dunn (who also wrote Geek Love). While On Cussing includes a history of cursing, it also looks at how writers create characters. What those characters (and people in real life) say tells us a lot about them, about their backgrounds, their attitudes, and their personalities. Language can be used to heighten the tension in a story, saving the profanity until it just has to come out. If the character who never says a dirty word suddenly blurts, “Shit!” you know he’s really upset.

Just like when my very religious mom would shout, “Damn it to hell!” We knew to get out of the way because she was really pissed. Is pissed a dirty word? Oh suuuugar. I’m trying.

Check out this “Cursing Without Cursing” youtube video.

And here is a story about times when cursing is good for you. 

Where do you stand on language? Do you enjoy a good vulgarity or get offended when people use language that used to get our mouths washed out with soap? I welcome your comments.

****

Thank you all for your kind words and prayers for me and my father. (See last week’s post). As of this moment, Dad is back at the skilled nursing facility in Los Gatos, California, doing quite well. He’s 97, so nothing is guaranteed, but we do have a moment to breathe and enjoy each other.

%d bloggers like this: