That Thankful Time of Year

Greetings and Happy Thanksgiving from the Appalachian Mountains, everyone! That time of year where we are encouraged to give thanks and be vocal about the things that matter to us is once again upon us. I am well aware, of course, that this year looks very different from what we are used to. In many places, a holiday that usually involves multiple generations of family and friends gathered together, is being limited to less than 10 people under one roof, some local law enforcement threatening the penalty of fines or worse. Fear of illness, hatred, political unrest, or general unhappiness are rampant in tons of us, but we are still hopeful. We are still dreaming. We are still pushing forward. And we are still thankful.

That, to me, is the important part, the part that honestly makes me see a glimmer of hope for the world as a whole. Despite the things making us unhappy or scared regarding the simplest tasks now, many people are standing tall and shouting their thanks for the things they have. What’s more, in my area especially, I have seen an incredible influx of people willing to give to others. The current state of the world has left a lot of people uprooted, unstable, unable to provide for their families in a consistent way. In response to that, there have been a number of food drives and donations made to families who could use the extra help. That is simply phenomenal. In a world where so many people seem to have lost the basic understanding of care and love for their fellow man, to see so many people leaping at the chance to help the less fortunate is something that we should all be thankful for.

It goes without saying that 2020 has been a tough year for many people, but we all have plenty to be thankful for. Personally, this year has been the absolute happiest of my life. I got engaged and married to the woman of my dreams and I get to wake up next to the love of my life every day, I finally have a teaching job (something I have worked toward for nearly as long as I have been writing), I have started countless new works, been to some new places, I have a new book coming out very soon so keep your eyes open for that, and there is also a brand new AC/DC album to rock out to. Needless to say, I have plenty to be happy about. Does that stop me from being a little down and depressed at times? It absolutely does not, but it means I have plenty to focus on to bring me back from the darkness.

In essence, that is the importance of days like today. Thanksgiving encourages people to reflect on their lives and look at the many gifts and blessings they have in everday life. We see pop culture references of the classic nuclear family, the group of friends, even the non-conformist family group all gathered around sharing at least one thing they are thankful for, and it is fantastic. The idea that we can gather with our loved ones and truly share one of our reasons for being thankful and happy is one that warms my heart, even if this year sees us doing that virtually. In solidarity, I offer one of my own happinesseses, which is the the undying love and support from my wife. Knowing she is on my side has helped me through so much, and gives me incredible happiness. What is something you all are thankful for? Feel free to add a comment or send me a message to share.

One problem I do have with the way people interpret Thanksgiving is the limitation of one day of thankfulness in an entire year. There are 365 days we can use to be thankful, but only one of those is set aside for thanks. That irks me. Several places have taken to calling November a month of thanks, but the idea of just having one day to be thankful is ridiculous. I say we should find at least one reason to be happy every day. So, there’s my little challenge for you all. Find at least one reason to be happy every single day for the next year and see how much of a difference it makes. Keep your heads up and the positivity flowing, everyone. Happy Thanksgiving!!

What do you want?

Last night I was having a typical scroll through social media when I stumbled upon a question that got me thinking a lot about my work. It was a simple enough post from a publishing group I follow, but it held a weight that I hadn’t let myself feel in quite some time. It asked “what is the biggest goal you want to achieve as a writer?”

You know, typical question people often ask writers, especially ones who are just jumping into the game. Most of the time we have a typical answer to go with it. I want to get my book published. I want to break through writers block. I want to write a bestseller. And, of course, those answers came to me, too. But my brain refused to stop there. As you all know, I love literature. I read almost constantly and have been having a very sordid affair with the greater world catalogue for my entire life. To say the written word is my passion would be a hopeless understatement. It is part of the very fabric of my being, as God meant it to be, and I love every minute of it. So could I really be satisfied with such generic answers to such a pregnant question? Of course not.

The ideas ran faster than ever as I sat down and really thought about it. What do I want out of my writing? What is my biggest and most hopeful goal? Sure, I want that bestseller. I want to have my book sold in local bookstores. I want people I know to see my book and be able to buy my work with memories of me in mind. I want to have unique and interesting books. But it goes so much deeper. After I thought about it the answer flowed easily. I want to be great.

I want people to feel my work. I want it to stand the test of time and change the world. I want to build on the face of literature like the greats of past generations and tear asunder the ideas of stagnance and convenience. I want, in essence, to be truly great. After all, if we cant be great, what’s the point?

This realization, although admittedly daunting, is also immensely liberating. I have, once again, come to terms with my purpose, my desire, the very reason I wake up in the morning. I will stop at nothing to achieve my goals and realize my dreams. They wouldn’t be here if I couldn’t make it happen, right? Right.

So the journey goes on. I’ve entered what I hope to be the final content edit for Maverip before I hit agents with my queries, and I’ve found my second wind. I will make it happen, and I’ll take you all along for the ride.

But now I want to know what you guys think. What does this question mean to you? Let’s not even just limit it to writing. I know some of you are painters, musicians, and artists of various caliber and medium, so apply it to yourself. What is the biggest thing you want from your craft? Is is an idea of greatness? Is it just to overcome that next big project? What are your goals? But more importantly, what are your dreams? Never limit yourself. Let yourself dream. But, I could speak on that for hours. In the meantime, let me know what you think, what you dream. Leave me comments or shoot me messages. And, no matter what comes up, never let your dreams die. Fight for them tooth and nail. I know I am.

Rejection

This is a word that strikes fear and dread in the heart and mind of any artist who wants their work to be viewed and enjoyed (and, honestly, the vast majority of us do. I think it’s King who likes to remind us that writers write so the work can be read!). The mere idea of rejection can discourage more people than exist on the market as a whole. Many of us who aren’t all that scared by the idea of rejection become terrified of what might happen after we actually do receive one. Does it mean we are failures? Does it mean we will never become the master of our particular trade? Does it mean that no one will like our work and we should just go off the grid and never let our faces be seen by another living human again? NO.

Rejection can be the thing that holds aspiring artists back from attempting to get their work out on the market and, for those who do make the attempt and feel the terrible weight of the rejection, it can be the thing that kills their ambition to ever try again. But why? We can look at the wide world of art and literature and see that everything big on the market obviously has some level of following, whether we are particularly fans of it or not. For that matter, how many times have you gotten your friends or family to watch, read or listen to something that you love only to have them tell you it’s not up their alley (whether saying it that nicely or not). Why can’t it be that way with our work?

When looking at the world through our own eyes we often see that we want or like things of a certain type and we think that no one else can possibly see it a different way – until they do. So why can’t our work be a part of this same reflection. There are things we love and things we hate, but no matter how we feel about something, there are countless other people in the world who may feel the exact opposite. We may be absolutely in love with our latest piece of work and feel that there is absolutely no way anyone can feel any different about it, and when we realize they do we think that that’s it. Once we’ve received one rejection it is so easy to imagine that no one will ever like that piece (or, depending on your level of self esteem, any of your work at all), and give up on it.

This is absolutely ridiculous. If we can like something that no one else does – or more so if someone else can like something that we don’t – why do we tell ourselves that one rejection on one piece of work is doom for our whole career? Now don’t get me wrong, I’m just as guilty of this as anyone else. The first time I submitted a piece I was 17 years old and I submitted it to a very large publication that I was more excited about than I can describe. The work in question was my very first completed short story (which, despite not being my best piece by far, I was very proud of) and I waited somewhere between three and six months for a response. When I finally got it and tore it open my heart collapsed as I read my very first rejection. It was simple, some would even say cold, saying that they could not use my work in their publication. There was no personal touch, not even an actual signature, just a stamp. I was devastated. I felt like I was wasting my time with the story ideas flowing through my head – at first.

Soon the defiance that makes up a good portion of my character came back full swing and I put the feelings of humiliation behind me, as hard as it was, and kept writing. After all, being a King fan, I knew that when he was first starting out he received so many rejections that he had to put them on his wall with a railroad spike because a nail stopped holding them up. So I wrote more, jotting down my ideas in notebooks, putting them in my phone, even literally writing one or two on napkins while at work one day when I forgot to bring a notepad. But I was still wounded. I didn’t attempt another submission for around two years. I finally broke down and submitted to the Clinch Mountain Review, the literary and arts journal of the college I was attending at the time. I did this in a hurry, submitting a piece that I had written in the span of a few hours (a piece that actually weighed my mind down so much that by the time I could start writing it I was tired of it already) on the last day of the deadline.

I wasn’t thrilled that this piece was the only one I felt ready to try with, but I sucked it up and sent it out, knowing if I didn’t get back on the horse at that point, I may never do so again. Barely two months later (if memory serves) I received the notification that this piece, a piece I felt was unworthy of any recognition, had been accepted into the journal. This piece actually got published, and became my first ever publication. I wasn’t fond of the story at all when I submitted it, feeling that it wasn’t my best work by far. I still feel this way, but imagine the feeling I got when I realized if the piece that I thought may be one of my worst was good enough for publication. Elation doesn’t even cover it. I held on to that feeling with each subsequent attempt I made at publication and, until yesterday, I had only received one other rejection in my writing career.

Earlier this month I went on a bit of a submitting spree, sending pieces out to the wind and hoping to expand my audience and get more recognition, etc… Yesterday I received an email telling me that one of the pieces I felt most confident about had been rejected. The editor told me that he felt humbled to have read the work but couldn’t find a place for it in the Spring edition of the journal. It was that little twist of irony that inspired this post actually (and I’ve since been inspired to write two more for the future; one on personal rejections vs. impersonal and one on works you like vs. ones you don’t. If you’re particularly interested – or uninterested- in either of those posts let me know), because I find it moderately hilarious, if a little frustrating, that my first publication was a story I didn’t like and my first rejection of 2016 was a piece I felt pretty confident in.

One way or the other, I think the point of this post has been made to you all. Opinions are unique to each and every one of us, just as our fingerprints and thought processes are. We can be absolutely in love with something that everyone else we know despises, but that’s fine. There are over seven billion people in the world (as I so love to remind you all) and the chances of every single one of them feeling the same about ANYTHING, particularly your work is just preposterous. Of the people on this planet there are going to be some who adore your work, and there are going to be those who despise it. The goal is to find the right group and let them enjoy your piece, even if it isn’t your favorite. Don’t let the idea of rejection cripple you, and don’t ever give up just because you’ve been rejected. Whenever you feel things aren’t going to get better just remember that a dozen publishers rejected Harry Potter- or do what I do and remind yourself of King’s railroad spike and realize that, if you don’t give up one day it WILL happen for you. You’ve just got to have faith and find your audience.