Here we go! Come join me for my first reading from my book Misadventures of a Happy Heart, A Memoir of Life Beyond Disability at the Riverside Arts Market next Saturday. I will be taking pre-orders for the memoir from my booth and Frankie will be there (against my better judgement) to charm the crowd. Stop by and see us and help support local authors!
I recently received a rejection letter. Well, letter is an overstatement. I received a rejection slip. It wasn’t even a full sheet of 8 1/2 x 11 paper. It was half that. A blank had been filled in with my name. “Dear Blank, we’re sorry we can’t use your work at this time, but thank you for letting us consider it.” I was thrilled.
You see, getting an actual response has become a rarity. Stephen King used to save rejections on a nail in his bedroom. Lots of writers do. In my fantasies of living the writer’s life, an entire wall of my office was wallpapered in rejection slips — the sign of a working writer. But now, many publishers are so inundated with unsolicited work they don’t even bother to say, “Thanks. But no thanks.” Nowadays, no news isn’t good news — bad news is.
So to me, no response means no. And you better believe, I’m keeping track. Today’s writers may not have the form-lettered proof, but rejection still reigns. Famous authors seem to know precisely how many times their manuscript was rejected before being accepted. J.K. Rowling submitted Harry Potter to 12 publishing houses before it came out in print. 18 publishers thought Richard Bach’s book about a seagull was absurd (Jonathan Livingston Seagull.) Even John Grisham, who seems to have mastered the art of selling novels (and movie rights,) had his first book, A Time to Kill, rejected 28 times.
The Help the movie came out last week. My expectations are low. Aside from a few notable exceptions (The Godfather, Gone With the Wind, The Shawshank Redemption, to name a few,) the book is always better than the movie. The Help author, Kathryn Stockett, was turned down 60 times. 60. After rejection number 40, she started lying to her friends, even her husband. She was rewriting and resubmitting on the sly. She felt ashamed for not letting it go.
As persistant as that sounds, Robert Pirsig racked up twice as many rejections for Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. Imagine continuing after being turned down 121 times. Consider that Madeleine L’Engle received 26 rejections before A Wrinkle in Time was published and won The Newbery Medal. Or that Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen were rejected again and again when submitting their idea for Chicken Soup for the Soul. I’ve submitted to the series twice. The first time, I received a postcard telling me publication of a particular title was suspended until a future date. The second time, I never heard back. I’ll take that as no. Both times.
So, how do you keep going? Kathryn Stockett says this. “I can’t tell you how to succeed. But I can tell you how not to: Give in to the shame of being rejected and put your manuscript — or painting, song, voice, dance moves, [insert passion here] — in the coffin that is your bedside drawer and close it for good. I guarantee you that it won’t take you anywhere. Or you can do what this writer did: Give in to your obsession instead.”
Enough has been said about writers and artists being a pessimistic bunch. In fact, they are so well known for being depressed, addicted and suicidal that many beginning talents think they have to be down and drunk to enjoy any real creative success! So, I’m here to talk about that supposed anomaly — the happy artist.
Plenty of creators were positive people. Charles Dickens, Ralph Waldo Emerson, and Samuel Johnson (considered one of the most important authors of all time for publishing the Dictionary of the English Language) were all optimists. Paulo Coelho is a positive Brazilian author, famous for his spiritual teachings and best sellers, including The Alchemist.
Political leaders like Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln and Mahatma Gandhi were all eternal optimists, along with inventor, Henry T. Ford, and the man whose name will forever be synonymous with “genius,” Albert Einstein.
Robert Brault, a well known and frequently quoted writer said it best when he said, “After 5,000 years of recorded human history, you wonder, what part of 2,000,000 sunrises doesn’t a pessimist understand?”
In a Newsweek article on optimism it was reported that “researchers have claimed that a positive outlook motivates us to plan for our future and may even have an effect on our long-term physical health. It’s increasingly clear that your mental outlook can have a big effect on your physical health.”
I’ve been accused of being a Pollyanna, but I don’t really mind. I’m the kind of person that doesn’t watch the news. This drives my activist mother crazy. She believes it’s important to stay informed and get involved. CNN is on constantly at her house. But, I can’t live on a diet of murder and mayhem. I find out about hurricanes when there’s long lines at the grocery store.
I guess I’m sticking my head in the sand, but I was validated by Dr.Andrew Weil’s book Spontaneous Healing. He recommends “news fasts” as part of his program to a more efficient healing system. It’s easy to forget we have a choice as to whether we let negative information into our minds.
And for those beginning talents out there, remember what Helen Keller said, “No pessimist ever discovered the secret of the stars, or sailed to an unchartered land, or opened a new doorway for the human spirit.”
“Did you write today?” a well-meaning, non-writer friend will ask me. This brings all my neuroses and self-doubt to the surface. My writing coach and mentor has learned to answer the question with,”You mean, did I type today?” Brilliant.
You see, typing and writing are two different things. Typing is sitting down to hit letters on a keyboard. Writing involves thinking. It can be done anywhere, even miles from a keyboard. Most folks are of the opinion that writers should write every day. That’s why I love this distinction. I don’t type every day. When a project I’m working on is going particularly well, I do. But otherwise, I may be doing any number of things. Like the laundry, walking the dog or re-organizing my fridge. But, I’m thinking about my writing all the time. Mulling over a phrase, searching for a word, dreaming up an ending. I’m here to say: that counts.
Also, the answer will probably come to you in the shower. Or driving. Or washing the dishes. Doing anything routine or repetitive allows the mind to stop thinking logically, or “how-to,” and start thinking creatively.
And the best way to ensure that the perfect phrase, word or ending comes to you is to stock the pond. I’m talking about “filling the well,” but that’s might be considered a cliche’ to people working in the creative arts, so I’ll use the less often heard “stocking the pond.” The idea, as explained by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way (if you’re a regular reader, you know I’m a fan,) is that writers, poets, artists, or creators in general, use images from experience to serve as a muse for their art. Creating draws on this well of images. Life experiences fill it up.
Writer Richard Ford, in his New York Times essay, advises that living life comes first. Writing second. In fact, he likes to take large chunks of time between projects to recharge his muse. This can mean anything from watching daytime television to visiting an amusement park. Personally, I prefer the latter to the former for stocking the pond. Like Ms. Cameron, I would advise doing something, rather than nothing.
So, if anyone’s counting, that’s about 350 words for today. Tomorrow, I’m going to the movies.