Rejected

written by Melissa Connolly

A few weeks ago, in the email newsletter from Submittable, a compelling lead: Kim Liao urges us to try for 100 rejections per year (http://lithub.com/why-you-should-aim-for-100-rejections-a-year/)

That same week, I had gotten two rejections in one day and I was feeling pretty terrible about myself. Two! It doesn’t take much for me.

I had spent a lot of time looking at journals and very carefully submitting pieces to only a few journals at a time, remembering each of the few journals I submitted to. And every day after I’d think, maybe this will be the day I will get an acceptance. I imagined for myself a glorious future as a published writer that began at the moment that X Journal recognized my very special genius.

Of course, I had it backwards.

Kim Liao has covered the idea about coveting the rejection pretty well, so I encourage you to read this piece and embrace this idea – to aim for as many rejections as possible. To go for failure because in failure, you’ll get more practice.

The fact of the matter is, the history of literature is full of tales of famous writers rejected countless times.  Failure is simply the price we pay, the accumulation of practice.

So I’ll just say this: If I’m aiming for publication, then it’s about me, my status, my career.  If I’m aiming for rejection, it’s about the work. I’m not so worried then about what each reader at each journal is thinking, I’m not second guessing myself or thinking about what Joe or Sally wants to read.  Instead, I’m concentrating on the story and meaning. On writing as much as possible and about what I want to say.  And letting the failures stack up, becoming indifferent to rejection, as I practice my craft.

After all, if we worry too much about success, that’s what is taking up space in our head. Nothing sucks up creativity more than thinking too much about sales or awards or failure, about pleasing someone else, letting all those other voices edit you, stop you, be your muse.

If we worry about too much about the reader on the other end, we’re not pursuing a vision, we’re writing what we imagine someone else wants to read.  And that might be good, but it is very rarely great.

Writus Interruptus

written by Melissa Connolly

I had been having a long conversation with my friend and partner-in-crime of this site, Kelly McMasters, about the guilt I felt about going away on the writing retreat I allowed myself.  To be honest, I hadn’t felt guilt until I talked to others about the retreat, to which people said things like, don’t you feel bad, leaving your kids at home? And I thought, they’re teenagers, they’re celebrating that I’m not home.

But still that feeling of inadequacy lingered, that “bad mom” label.

And a day or two after our conversation, Kelly sent me a link to a great story in New York magazine, “Portrait of the Artist as a Young Mom.”  http://nymag.com/thecut/2016/04/portrait-motherhood-creativity-c-v-r.html – definitely worth a read for anyone balancing parenting and writing, or probably any artistic endeavor.  The central truth behind the piece was that the space one needs to create, the silence, the thoughtfulness, that unknowable thing that creatives require – is it introversion? selfishness? solitude? – is almost impossible to reconcile with the neediness, the constant hum that is the parenting of young children. That the emotional and physical lives of small people and the separation required to be a writer are totally incompatible.

And I smugly thought, well, those days are behind me.

I had a day or two more of edits to get through, which I thought I could finish in my room as my children did their own thing over a long holiday weekend.  And a funny thing happened.  The children who ignore me as I read downstairs, or clean, or ask them questions, were suddenly at the closed door every five minutes as I was writing.  “Whatcha doing Mom?” I heard over and over again, an accompanying light insistent knock.

It was like they knew that behind that closed door I was with their one true rival.

And I was reminded of that great first line in Wallace Stevens’ “Notes Towards a Supreme Fiction” – “And for what, except for you, do I feel love?”

In the middle of a writing day, it’s a question that I struggle with.

Bonfire of the Versions

written by Melissa Connolly

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Last month I took a few days for myself, a kind of retreat, to work on the edits for my novel. After three years, the novel has been through several workshops,  advisers and the occasional Tuesday night writers’ group.  In two bursting shopping bags, I brought every copy of red-lined sections and chapters I had gotten back from all my colleagues and professors, all the comments – good and bad. Together, the 2 bags weighed about 50 pounds, the equivalent of 10 reams of paper…or about 5,000 pages.

I envisioned a Bonfire of the Versions for myself, a fire quickly set, quickly burned, at sunset of my final night of the retreat, a symbolic letting go of all the versions I was leaving behind in this edit. Perhaps I’d dance around the fire, some mystic Celtic ceremony. Paper burns easily, right?

Wrong. As it turns out, 50 pounds of paper is more like a really big log. I needed kindling to get the paper going and then it kept blowing out. Fizzling out, really. The smoke was terrible, black and gray, so much worse than burning fragrant pine or clean dry beech logs.  It wasn’t a campfire. It was a smoldering pile of garbage. I worked for 45 minutes trying to get flames that could lick the sky and learned a hard lesson. That much paper is a tree.  It doesn’t burn so easily.

I put it out the smoldering, smoky gray ashes with a bucket of water, stuffed the now wet, heavy and singed paper in two big black garbage bags and took it to the dump.  The lesson being: for a writer, recycling the paper is probably a better metaphor.

If It Sounds Like Writing

written by Melissa Connolly

I came across Elmore Leonard’s Ten Tips for Writing a week or so ago, as I tend to come across most things these days – on my Facebook feed – while I was struggling with something in my own writing.

It so happens that at the same time I was struggling, I was in the middle of reading a National Book Award finalist novel, well-regarded, much-loved. But I was having a bit of a love/hate relationship with it. I disliked the characters and resented the time I spent with them. And still I was struck and as a writer jealous of the craftsmanship of the writing, almost precious in its verbosity, the painterly effect of the action, the unique metaphorical descriptions, that forced me to admire the writer.

And I thought…my writing’s not like that. Maybe I need to spend some time sticking some good metaphors and poetic lines in my narrative. Stuffing some preciosity between lines of unadorned lines of dialogue. No one will read my straightforward prose and sarcastic dialogue! I wasn’t thinking straight, having a bit of a panic attack, frankly, thinking of how long it would take to be that poetic, that layered with language, that uniquely beautiful.

Even as I resented reading it.

You see the absurdity of this already, yes?

And that’s when I ran across Elmore Leonard’s ten tips. Now who knows if these are really Leonard’s tips or some warmed-over Internet fable. But it was the last and most important rule that put my panic attack to rest.

“If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.”

I’m not so bold that I still don’t need permission. So I’m grateful for to get it from wherever it comes. And thank you, Elmore Leonard, wherever your soul may rest.

 

 

Panicking over Kim Kardashian

written by Keaton Tennant

I don’t know what I’m doing. That’s what my bio on Twitter says. That’s what I whisper to myself when I click the “Submit” button on Submittable. That’s what I think when it’s three in the morning and I’ve finally finished the part of my story that was taking me weeks to complete.

When my mentor, Kelly McMasters, had first told me about an opportunity to work with her and Melissa Connolly to help start up a literary magazine right here at Hofstra University, I was nervous. That overbearing feeling of “I don’t know what I’m doing” kept coming up like a whack-a-mole, and I wasn’t hitting them hard or fast enough.

A part of me feared the fact that I was working with MFA students. Another part of me feared that one wrong decision and the entire project could tank within seconds like the stock market. If I typed things in Helvetica instead of Calibri, bees would go extinct. If I used the bathroom at the wrong time, California’s drought would somehow reach across the plains to the east coast. If I followed Kim Kardashian accidentally on our Twitter account, Pluto’s orbit would be massively shifted and crash straight into the Earth.

After a few meetings with Melissa and a couple of reassuring conversations with Kelly, however, that voice started to shrink. It became less of an “I don’t know what I’m doing,” to more of an “I can do this,” and then, after a month and a half of working here, finally to an “I know exactly what needs to be done.” Of course, when I did follow Kim K nothing happened, though I wish she would follow back and potentially submit something.