Confidence in Your Craft

I’ve touched on this a few times in recent posts, and some of what I have to say is a repeat of previous statements, so I won’t take too much space to say it in today. One thing that artists of every kind need to remember is that confidence is very important to our craft. If you look at ourselves in the mirror every day and think about how terrible you are and how you are never going  to amount to anything then you’re probably sealing your own fate. In the same light it is equally harmful if we look at our work and get the mindset that we are the best there ever was and any one who doesn’t think so is obviously wrong. Going in to speak to a publisher with an attitude like that will pretty much guarantee you’ll get thrown out on your ear.

In reality the attitude that we need to have is that we, and our contribution to the craft, are unique and are the best that we can do. When you get a new story idea and you do your research and see that there aren’t any stories out there that are quite on the same page as your plan, then you should be able to move forward with the confidence that, at the very least, you are progressing on a path the few have been on before. Often realizing that will allow you the exact amount of confidence needed to put your best foot forward and get that work on paper.

I’ve mentioned before that one of the most inspirational quotes I’ve ever read says that the reason your story is so important is because it’s YOURS and no one else can tell it like you can. And that absolutely has immense validity. If you ever have doubts about this get someone to do a collaboration with you where one of you writes one section and the other continues it. Go back and forth like that and see just how different the story turns out from what you originally had in mind for it. It’ll blow you away.

Finally, one of the main reasons confidence is so important to artists is because, for many of us, art (whichever the medium) is what we truly feel we were put on this planet to do. When you feel in your soul that you were created for one large purpose the idea of thinking that you are going to fail at that purpose is what often drives some of us to drink or drugs. You can’t let yourself fall into the mindset that your calling is anything less than intentional. We all have been put here for a reason, and I honestly don’t think that reason is to fail. So why think that way? You just have to give it your all and work as hard as you can at whatever it is you are doing. After that, the going gets easier.

Pick yourself up, look at your work and realize that, no it might not be the best book ever written or the best painting to ever hit canvas, but it is absolutely the best that you can do and no matter how hard they tried, chances are that no one else could do it quite like you. Realizing the truth within those facts alone makes you more successful than you were before you started the project. So pick up your tools and get to work, people. We have a whole new world to build, and no one can do it like we can.

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Writing Freedom

As I was sitting down to make a post today I realized that my topic had actually been staring me in the face for a few days and had been brewing behind my eyes without me even realizing it. Last week I made a post that exceeded the “word limit” that I was lead to believe should largely be monitored when blogging. Upon realizing how far over that 600-800 rule of thumb I had gone I threw in an apology for those of you who had stuck with me long enough to make it to that point. The next day I was pleased to find a comment from one of my readers (http://heroicallybadwriters.com/ ) who told me that I shouldn’t apologize for the length of the piece because it worked and was a strong post. This really made me feel good and got me thinking in the back of mind about how often we are subjected to standards, rules of thumb and general restrictions and negativity that our work should never be bound by.

A good author can pen a story in as little as two words, should the story only take that many, but the same author can need to use thousands of pages to tell the story the way it deserves (and demands) to be told. Neither of these is more correct than the other and neither of these is necessarily better than the other. Every story is unique and every story has a certain amount of space needed to come through in its full glory. So why do we let negativity in? Negativity, of course can mean more than just listening to those who say a good paragraph only contains 5 sentences or a good story stays under 20, 000 words. It can also be those who directly insult a completed piece of your work. I think what I may do, in order to fully address both of these issues, is make them two separate posts. So today we are discussing the limitations put upon us by others and how it is perfectly acceptable to break them.

How many of you have heard, either on your own or in a class somewhere down the line that stories and letters and any other sort of writing must be kept under strict control lest it break free and lose all meaning? All of us, I’m betting, have heard this in some form or another.  But how much truth does it hold? Admittedly, words of caution like this can be very helpful in the process of training your brain in the art of professional writing (i.e. journalism, technical writing and the like) but when it comes to creative writing they do more harm than good most of the time, in my opinion.

Take, for example, the art of Flash Fiction. Yes, it is a wonderful concept and I’ve written some myself, but let’s look at the ‘rules’ behind it. Flash fiction is typically story that has to be told in under 100 words (or 500, depending on the venue in search of the piece) that must have a solid enough plot to be understood, which sometimes has to follow a certain theme. Like I said, this is a great form of art and a wonderful challenge for some writers and some ideas, but for others it can be devastating. When an idea hits it can be something that may be told in one sentence or it can literally take years of your life to write and come out in such a large hunk that it has to be split into seven books for publication’s sake. Imagine being a beginning writer who is hit with an idea that falls somewhere in the middle of these two examples who  tries to write that idea for a flash fiction contest somewhere. The process of trying to cut down huge, multi-faceted idea like that into a manageable 100 word piece may be enough to send the poor soul right out the door and prevent them from ever writing again.

As another example, let’s look at a magazine that really inspires someone and allows them to come up with an idea that they absolutely adore, but maybe falls just short of their 2,500 word minimum (yes, they do exist). This person may spend hours or days hacking at their story and trying to add enough material to make it reach this limit only to find that the story no longer resembles the masterpiece they originally felt it was.

Both of these examples may seem like they’re easily avoidable, but that’s likely because you’ve been in your craft for a long time. Once these two beginning authors took the time to examine their possibilities, I would hope that they would see there are other avenues for their work and they would move forward, but trust me when I say that isn’t always the case. Obviously, a good portion of the lesson to be learned from those two examples is just as much to do with finding the right place for your work as it is about breaking the limits put on you by others, but the true lesson is that we have to learn the work itself. We have to able to set it free. There will never be a time that our work will set limits for us, so why should we adhere to limits others try to set on it?

Art is about freedom of speech and creativity and allowing our true selves to explore parts of the world that we haven’t before, right? Of course. So if we start a story and immediately try to put chains on it and tell it that it can only do so much, it will never be a piece that fully satisfies us. Of course, looking at grammar rules and standards of language and syntax and everything else is what we, as authors, should do, but if Faulkner had decided to write The Sound and the Fury without using stream of consciousness because it didn’t follow standard rules, where would the book be now? What would it be? Would it have any real standing in the literary community as a record breaking piece that truly allowed us to see into the characters’ point of view? Probably not.

My point here is that while, yes rules for writing and for art can be very helpful and useful, no piece should ever be changed from what it wants to be in order to fit the rules, especially if those rules limit it and change its meaning. When you are taken by a piece and it comes out in its full glory and your final product is something that doesn’t adhere to rules or guidelines made for other pieces, don’t fret. Your work knows what it is doing. Sometimes the guidelines laid down for art are really little more than that. Guidelines. There are guidelines everywhere in life. Obviously some are more important than others, but some – like those involving the arts – can be bent. While it is absolutely crucial to drive on your own side of the road and follow traffic signs, it’s more than acceptable if we read the newspaper out of order or sleep for less than 8 hours a night. Yes, guidelines are important, but as an artist you should NEVER allow someone else’s opinion control your work. Editors and agents will work with you to improve a final piece, yes, but under no circumstances should you be afraid to write a piece the way it needs to be written because you think someone else will judge it in one way or another.

Art is about freedom and power and idealism and more things than I can possibly name here, and in no way should you try to restrict your creative abilities because you think your final product won’t fit into one genre or another. So the next time you are overcome by an idea and you want to let it out, don’t try to put a leash on it so it will fit someone else’s idea of a ‘good’ piece. Don’t put your work under a microscope and change it if that change alters the meaning of the piece itself. Allow your work to run free. Allow it to be what it is meant to be. It will make you much more satisfied in the long run and will allow others to be blown away when taking it in. Because, no matter how much we may doubt it or be told otherwise, there will always be at least one person out there who would love to have our work as it is meant to be see. Why should we deprive them of that?

States of Rejection

As promised last week, I’ve decided to write a piece today about the difference between personal vs. impersonal rejections. This post will probably be shorter than the last because this topic is one that can run away from me if I let it, so I’m going to try to keep it reigned in.

When you send a work out to be considered for public consumption, no matter the medium and no matter the channel you use, you are basically putting a piece of yourself out there for the world to pass judgement on. This, of course, isn’t news to any of you who have done it before, because you’ve definitely felt that pressure. The next part, the wait, can be the hardest for some people. You’ll try to take your mind off of the fact that there is a piece of your work floating around out there waiting for someone to deem it worthy to be seen in their particular publication or venue, but it will be next to impossible. For the weeks (or, most likely, months) you will have to seriously focus yourself on not dwelling on the possibilities at hand.

Once that letter (or email, as is often the case these days) comes in you’re likely going to find your heart in your chest and your bladder ready to burst until you build up the courage to open it. What you find inside, as I mentioned last week, can be something that will change your life in one way or another if you let it. Best case scenario, of course, is that you’re accepted, possibly even with some positive commentary which will make you feel like you’re on top of the world. But then there’s that other case…

Should you receive a rejection, there are a couple of types you may get. The less common type of rejection will come with a nice (hopefully) helpful note attached that may give you some tips on how to improve either that work specifically or your style in general. These types of rejections can make you feel as if you’ve actually just spoken to a friend about a piece and they’ve managed to give you some healthy feedback that will hopefully leave you none the worse. Granted, there are the occasional unprofessional and unkind personal rejections that may contain negative feedback or even a hurtful comment.

If one of these harmful rejections shows up in your hand, you may be tempted to take everything they say to heart- some may even be tempted to take that as fate and stop writing altogether- but the latter is NOT the way to react. Should you receive a negative personal rejection the best thing to do is tear the words apart in your head. Find a positive in it somewhere. If the editor tells you that you need to work on getting your dialogue to sound like people talking and not cavemen muttering, then your goal is to work on dialogue. If they tell you that your character development is about as flat a Patriots football (I couldn’t help it), then you know that you need to work on character development. The bottom line there is that no matter what the negative rejection says, you have to try to find some way to put a positive spin on it and turn it into constructive criticism.

Now, the most common type of rejection in the current market is going to likely be the hardest to handle. It is the impersonal, standard, run-of-the-mill piece of mail that tells you that your work couldn’t be used. Although there are a few formats of this type {1. We couldn’t find a place for your work in this issue 2. Your work isn’t what we are looking for 3. We aren’t able to use your work at this time, etc…) it all boils down to the same thing; you didn’t get in. The reason I think this form of rejection is the hardest is because it leaves you completely open to interpretation. By not giving you any sort of feedback the editor is letting your mind, already taxed by having to wait for a response, run rampant with the attempt to come up with a solution for why you weren’t able to be published.

This can be quite dangerous. Without being given any reasons why your work wasn’t accepted into one publication or another, you may begin to tell yourself many harmful things. For instance, with my first rejection I told myself that my work was just terrible and that I had no business writing because no one would want to read my work anyway. This is NOT the way to think about it. When receiving an impersonal rejection, the best thing to do is tell yourself that this particular publication just wasn’t for you. Keep your rejections somewhere you can view them – particularly if they are personal, because they will help you to remember to always keep your mind on the areas your work may need a little support.

As an artist of any kind, rejection of a piece of our work can literally feel like the editor is telling us that we aren’t talented and that the piece isn’t fit to be viewed. That is because, no matter how harsh the world is, we are our own worst critic. We will be harder on ourselves than anyone else would ever imagine being, because we feel the true passion that led us to this work. We feel the connection with this work that makes an insult to its composition almost feel like a slap in the face. It is that very passion that should keep us from giving up. We feel strongly about the piece because we know what is behind it, we know what went into it, we know it has worth and we know that it deserves to be seen. So that’s really the point. No matter what kind of rejection you get, it should never make you give up. Whatever you are told (or not told) should only encourage you to further the work on the piece and try again, even if it with another location, if only to prove the person who rejected you wrong. Your work comes for a reason. It demands to be completed because it has a purpose. Somebody out there needs that piece, and it is your job as the artist to make sure they get it!

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 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 on 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 hated 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 almost loathed and 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 knows 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.