Letting the World In

I know I said today’s post  was going to be about how our surroundings effect our writing, but I have been hit with something that I think may help more people. I want to talk about the way the world and the way it can support us or tear us down. So many times we see stories of writers who became little more than hermits in order to fully immerse themselves in their work either because they felt the world would taint their ideas or because they felt that any distractions would make their work more fleeting and hard to come by. On the other end of the spectrum there are jokes about those writers who sit in coffee shops with their laptops or their notebooks and welcome the world in. The latter is often imitated with memes and cartoons depicting writers sitting in coffee shops with their laptops open and a sign reading “watch me write my manuscript” propped up beside of a tip jar, obviously insinuating that any author who doesn’t lock themselves in a dungeon is only out for the attention associated with being an author. Personally, I do occasionally find the images funny, but the message behind them can be a bit offensive.

True, there are those individuals out there who walk around basically telling everyone they meet that they are a ‘writer’ who seem to be waiting for some sort of praise for their unexpressed talent. Speaking from the viewpoint of both author and critic; it’s not about how many people you tell you’re a writer, it’s about how many people who tell others how good your work is. That’s the measure of a great writer, to me. Imagine how different things would have been for J.K. Rowling if she had walked around London stopping people on the street and telling them that she was working on a story about a hidden world of magic and turmoil that was centered around a boy who had survived a killing curse. Most people would have laughed her off and given her a minor congratulations, maybe telling her the idea sounded great, and walked away without another thought about the boy who lived. But that’s not what she did. She let her passion guide her (and yes, I understand she didn’t lock herself away to do it, that’s part of my point) and she finished her tale, submitting it to a publisher only after being told by someone else that it was great. She didn’t broadcast her ideas or boast that she had them, she wrote. She didn’t lock herself in a dungeon while doing it, but she didn’t hang a sign around her neck telling everyone she was writing, either.

I talk about passion a lot in these blogs, and I know a lot of you know what I’m talking about. Passion for your work can be one of the powerful things in the world and it can guide you better than anything toward the right place. The image and idea of the starving artist is one that has grown famous over the centuries because it is painfully real. So many times writers and artists alike will let the world in in a way that makes them discouraged or tells them that they have little or no chance of success. Other artists feel the pain of the term because they do the opposite. They lock themselves away, feeling the passion of their work in private and never discuss it with anyone or pursue any outlet to share the work. They have this amazing talent and they get in their own way and prevent the world from seeing it. So what is the point here? The title of the article speaks different things to different people, and therein lies the point. Some people look at the possibility of letting the world in as terrifying and they lock their doors and write in secrecy, while others take it almost as a challenge and they choose to shove the idea of their work down anyone’s throat who will let them. In order to be successful and feel fulfilled and allow the passion of your work to spread to the world you must find the balance between the two. You have to let the world in enough that you aren’t terrified of others reading/seeing your work but you can’t run around waving your pages in the air and screaming I’M A WRITER to anyone who will let you.

For those of us who have dealt with the urge to do both, the comfort zone between the two may come easier than for those who haven’t, naturally, but it’s something that you’ll have to find for yourself. Maybe you have friends and neighbors who don’t mind hearing you talk about being a writer or an artist and would love to sit for hours discussing your accomplishments and ideas. Then again, maybe you have family members who couldn’t possibly care less – or even ones who feel that being an artist is just a cop out and will never allow you to see success. Whatever the situation is, true satisfaction with your talent is going to be very hard to come by if you find yourself living either of these extremes. Some things to keep in mind are that, no matter how good you are, there are going to be people out there who don’t care that you’re an artist. There are going to be people who don’t like your work. And, whether we like to admit it or not, all of us at some point WILL feel the sting of rejection.

It’s how you react to these things that can make the difference in success and failure. Taking dislike to heart is just another way of letting the world in too much, but not listening to constructive criticism (i.e. not adjusting your grammar when someone tells you there is a problem, etc…) is an example of a kind of locking yourself away and not letting the world in at all. As artists we have to be able to walk the fine line of understanding criticism and considering the words being said and taking it too seriously and tearing our work to shreds because there may be a mistake with it. This post really goes hand in hand with the rejection posts of last week, and the message is one we can all take to heart. The world, our surroundings, our friends and families can all be wonderful inspirations. They can make us feel wonderful and encourage us, helping us become one of the best at our particular craft. But if we let too much in, if we allow the negative to take hold and if we don’t keep our composure when seeking publicity the world can lead us to falling lower than ever and leave us in a hole that we have trouble climbing out of.

I hope you all have the right kind of passion and know where to draw the line at letting the world in. If you have any questions about this or any other topic, feel free to comment. Also, if you have any topic ideas you’d like to see me write on feel free to let me know. I’m always open to discussion on just about any topic and I love knowing I’m engaging my readers and, hopefully, helping at least one person with my posts. Fell free to share this post and any other with anyone who may benefit from it. Please subscribe, share and weigh in on the topics that interest you!

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.

Working on a Masterpiece (part 2)

As I mentioned before, passion is a very crucial thing when it comes to writing. Your passion will make your audience love your work even more, which is going to help you in the long run of course. But another bit of caution I must throw out there in relation to this fact, and to the first half of this post has to do once more with rejection.

There is a very good chance all of us are going to be rejected at least once at some point or another and we must learn the best way to react. There are a number of ways rejection can happen, just as there are a number of ways we can take it when it does (and yes, one is likely going to rely on the other). One thing that you must not do, however, is despair. Rejection does not mean your career is over. Not by a long shot. You have to keep trying. You’re never going to get published if you don’t get your stuff out there. That is one of the truest things I could say to you, really. You have to try and spread your work before your work can reach the world, and I have to remind you again; the world deserves it. If you don’t send your work out there, it will never get the chance to gain an audience. Rejection does not mean that you are a failure by any means. It just means you have to try all that much harder. The world deserves it, your work deserves it; You deserve it.

Your reaction to rejection is a very deciding factor in your career. You can’t just receive a rejection letter in the mail and then throw your work away and quit. That suggests that writing was never really anything more than a route to fame; which is usually the air mark of someone who wasn’t really destined to write anyway. Your rejection may give you a chance to fine tune your work and turn it into something even you didn’t imagine it could be. There are many possibilities for improvement that are presented us, and we can’t take every rejection as a shutting down of or a direct attack on our work. That will only lead to bitterness and a loss of the real essence of the craft, which is shameful. Too much has been done to the art of writing over the years for those who are meant to continue the legacy to join in on the cheapening of the craft, but alas that too is a different post.

Largely the point of this post is going to be summed up here. Passion is typically the ruling factor in things of the heart, which is what real literature is; a direct line to the writer’s heart and soul. We are all going to be passionate about our work at some point, and many of us are going to be passionate about all of our work all of the time. That is why it is crucial for us to keep a level head when we feel our work come under scrutinization of any sort. If we react harshly it could basically ruin our potential career. I’ve heard of people who have been rejected who’ve gone off on the person who rejected them, taken helpful criticism as cheap shots to their work, given up on the craft of writing and even destroyed their work. This is the exact opposite of what we as authors should do. We, who are supposed to be lovers of the craft, should respect it, and by respecting it we should be able to handle criticism and opinions of our own work and actively work to fix whatever problems that may exist in order to better honor the real art of writing.

My next post will, I think. be about maintaining the sanctity of our own work when under criticism, and making sure our work remains our own. As always feedback is welcome in any form. Hope this was helpful.