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!

Changing Seasons

How many of you all notice a difference in your writing habits with the changing of the seasons? So many times we see examples and hear stories of authors who love to go out in the woods with a notebook or sit on the porch with a nice glass of tea or lemonade and write to their heart’s content in the spring and summer. On the other hand there is also the old adage of the mysterious writer bundling himself up inside during a “dark and stormy night” or while the snow pours from the sky in the winter, all the while slowly slipping into a state of lessening sanity. I paint a great picture of my profession, don’t I? But anyway, speaking from experience the weather can definitely have an adverse effect on the writer’s mind in many ways.

When it comes to spring and summer I love the feeling of going outside and sitting in various places, be it the porch or in the middle of the forest, and writing away. The ideas really flow for me when I feel close and involved in all kinds of nature, particularly storms. I have actually been writing during a storm and felt such powerful inspiration that it allowed me to see the full development of the universe I was currently creating.

Snow, for me, is a bit different. When it’s snowing outside I do tend to feel a bit creative at times, but I also occasionally get the sensation of hitting a brick wall whenever I try to write. Personally, I find the sunnier, warmer months better for my writing because I feel have more chance to get out and interact with nature in a way that allows me to bring my writing with me. When it comes to the cold winter  months I feel unable to go outside and enjoy my writing because either it’s too cold or the snow is blowing in on the porch too much for me to be able to actually go out and be productive. This is obviously a problem! But at the same time, looking outside of my office window and seeing the snow pile up on the world can still put me in the mood to write a story like no other. As a matter of fact the “snowpocalypse of 2015” in my area, which left my town under 41 inches of snow and a few inches of ice, inspired a few stories that dealt with people dealing with a frozen world that was nearly uninhabitable, which brings up the topic of how your surroundings can affect your work. I think that will be my next post.

But the point of this post remains; the weather can be a very big inspiration to artists of all sorts. Of course, painters can’t go outside in the pouring rain anymore than writers, we can look at the world in whatever way we can to glean the inspiration that is there. So which seasons are better for your work? Do you, like me, find yourselves feeling much more productive when you can feel the sun on your skin and the warm weather on your face, or do you prefer to feel the frigid touch of winter as you produce your masterpieces? Leave your answers below, and feel free to request any topics that may interest you and ask any questions you may have. Subscribe and share this blog with anyone who may find it helpful or interesting!

Interesting Writing Prompt

So I recently followed a blogger who gives Friday writing prompts and this one really tickled my fancy so I thought I would give it a go. I will link the original post either at the bottom of this post or in the comments so you can all check it out if you’re interested.

I held the note in my hand, barely aware that I was squeezing the crumpled paper tightly enough to make my knuckles turn white. My body shook as the meaning of the words I’d just read sank in. White hot tears filled my eyes, burning lines into my pallid flesh as they ran down my cheeks. How could this have happened? I could see the words every time I blinked, the severity of the barely legible scrawl seared onto my eyelids, giving me no hope of escaping them. The note itself was small, barely filling one Post-it, but the words themselves seemed to bear down on me with a weight I wouldn’t have believed.

“There was a shooting, your father didn’t make it.”

Those words, circling in my head on consistent loop, made my stomach clench as I opened the note to make sure I hadn’t misread it. Tears splashed onto the page as I felt my heart pounding in my chest. My father, the greatest police chief the city had seen in decades, had been shot. Killed. I hunched over as the first dry-heave wracked my body. I had begged him to stay away from the gang fights, told him to send in S.W.A.T. teams and let them handle it. I knew he wouldn’t listen. He had always felt that one man standing in strength, speaking in peace could do more than a team of men with guns who were ready to kill. In his defense it had always worked, until now.

There was no doubt in my mind that it was my fault. I had seen it happen before I even spoke to him this morning. The dream had terrified me so much that I called my father at four in the morning to beg him not to go, the vision of his body being torn apart by bullets playing in my head as I heard his voice go from being groggy to stern. I told him I knew something was going to go wrong and that he didn’t need to prove anything to anyone. His response was as I expected.

He was stubborn as ever in his certainty that a single man could save the day, and no stupid dream was going to stop him. The silence of the phone had only reminded me more that I was alone, as I had always been. I was aware that the people around me were trying to speak to me, but I couldn’t respond. My tongue filled my mouth, almost cutting off my air, making it impossible to speak. Reaching my hand up, I felt the stubble of my growing beard graze my hand. I looked down at the barely legible blue ink there, the old shape of a half-assed coffin printed on the flesh between my pointer finger and my thumb.

My father had practically disowned me the first time he saw that mark, knowing that when I told him I’d killed a man the week before I hadn’t been lying. He had kicked me out of his house against my mother’s will, leaving me to fend for myself or go to the gang for help. I chose my own path. The gang had hounded me for months, finally giving up when they remembered I had two younger siblings. I couldn’t convince my father of this no matter how hard I tried. He was certain my younger brothers were stronger than I was, that they would never make the decisions I had.

I struggled to my knees, trying to stand as I heard the doors open, a gasp coming from everyone who could see the new arrival. I had seen this part as well and knew that I must prepare myself for what was coming. Screams broke out as my brothers pushed their way into the room, their large pistols pointed right at my face. I had just enough time to realize every bit of my dream had been true as I saw the bloody shape of blue coffin, freshly tattooed on the flesh on my youngest brother’s hand as he pulled the trigger.

 

I know the prompt says no violence, and I honestly didn’t intend on having any here. This story literally just came through me in a way that I’ve described this week, and I have to say I like it. I know some of you might not like it, just like I know what I tried to do may not have come through, so if you have any questions or issues please feel free to leave a comment! I hope you all enjoyed this and I hope you’ll participate!

 

 

The Power of the Muse

Life is absolutely full of things that affect us. They can change how we see the world around us, how we feel about it, even who we are, and they can most certainly affect our work. In the process of creating a new piece of work there are so many things that can alter the way the piece comes out. Even the most minuscule thing can change the types of words we use, the colors we use in a painting or the dialogue our characters use in the work.  In turn these alterations go forward into our lives and determine how others view the works, whether or not they are well received, whether they become bestsellers or grow dusty on the shelves. We never know from one word to the next if we are pushing our story in a direction others will enjoy, and in all honesty that’s kind of part of the thrill. Granted, if you produce a work that someone else calls complete crap then you might feel less than thrilled, but that extreme of a reaction is something that likely wasn’t expected no matter what you think of the piece.

That is the power of the muse. Everything from the breakfast we had this morning to the material of our socks and how it feels on our feet can have an effect on what we produce and what we produce can have a direct effect on everyone who sees it. There are countless images and anecdotes about how artists just sit on their pedestals or at their desks endlessly, sometimes hopelessly, waiting for the muse to appear and give them the inspiration and ideas for the next great piece. As silly as it sounds, that has its own amount of truth. The muse is everything and can be everywhere, but sometimes it takes a little action on your part to find it and get started.

I’ve spoken countless times about the things that give us inspiration, siting my own as coming largely from the powerful feeling brought on by the weather and music, etc, and I’ve mentioned that literally anything can give us inspiration, but I’ve spoken little about the effects that inspiration can have not only on our work but on those that consume it. (I know I’ve used that word ‘consume’ a lot lately, but I think it works best when looking for an all encompassing word to describe the way people enjoy the work of all types of artists) As I sat down at my computer to get ready to write something for the blog, I had a lot of trouble. I knew that I had something to say, but had no idea what it was. I had moderate annoyance at myself at the thought that I wouldn’t be able to bring anything to the site today, so I relaxed and turned on some music (Dave Matthews on Spotify, to be specific) and before even twenty seconds had passed I had my idea.

That’s what I’m talking about here. The power of our inspiration can vary just as much as the inspiration itself. The sun shining on a lake, creating that lovely sparkling water effect the Melville was so fond of can mean ten different things to five different people! The sound of a certain instrument being played can change the lives of the right person should they get to hear it. A single crack of thunder can send one person into absolute panic while causing another to become eerily excited (myself being the latter), and that’s almost nothing compared to the effect their inspiration can have on others. Melville has become almost a household name after being inspired to write his most famous piece, and if he isn’t known by some then you can almost bet that Moby Dick is. That’s power.

Anyone anywhere can be inspired by just about anything and from there it only gets bigger. When someone out there reads a piece that had powerful inspiration it can pass to them as well. Have you ever been moved by a book or movie, felt the power in a piece of music or art? You can just about guarantee the author was too. That’s the power of the muse. It isn’t about sitting in a dark room waiting for some magical fairy to come and whisper the meaning of life into your ear, it’s about looking at the world around you and finding what moves you and using that. If you hear a piece of music that makes you feel happy and upbeat, helps ideas to flow through you, use it. If you hear or see something that brings you down and makes you feel sad and downtrodden use it. Take the inspiration that is all around you and use it. In my own experience there is immense power in inspiration and the effect it can have on us, but that can sometimes pale in comparison to the power our work can have on others. And that, my friends, is the true power of the muse.

Giving In

I do apologize that this post will be going up a day later than I’d prefer – we were plagued by Old Man Winter again here in my neck of the woods and that put me a bit behind. But now I’m whittling away at the topic I talked about last week. Let’s jump right in, shall we?

I’ve mentioned countless times before in my blogs and when speaking about writing that, for a good artist (no matter the medium), you may often find yourself sitting down and producing a work that turns out unlike what you thought it would be. Often times you will sit down with your pen and paper (if you’re old school like myself) or in front of the computer with the spark of an idea and it seems like when you start to let it out the floodgates open and before you know it you’re knee deep in pages and working on a part of the story that you hadn’t even known was going to happen.

This is when you know you’re really meant to do the work you do, and most especially that you’re seriously meant to produce that particular piece, no matter what it is. I included that last part because, as I discussed in depth on Thursday, we may find that occasionally we’ll produce a piece that we aren’t particularly fond of, but those pieces can still be of crucial importance, especially if they are ones that write themselves in this manner. I refer to it as a story that writes itself for the obvious reasons, of course, but some people still feel this is an odd way to put it, so I’ll give a bit of description.

Sometimes when we get an idea for a story or a piece we find ourselves writing it without even having to really think about where things are going or what is happening. If the piece is a long one, like a novel, the process may take quite some time and we may find ourselves unable to think of anything else at times. In a case like this a lot of people find that the second they sit down to work on the piece it takes off like a rocket and they produce immense amounts of work without even trying. You’ll find yourself realizing that you know exactly what should happen, exactly what your characters should say and do and exactly what they are feeling without even considering it. When this happens, in my opinion it is a sign that this work is not only going to be great, but that you were MEANT to do it.

I’ve heard a lot of quotes that more or less say that when you have a story idea you should definitely write it because no one else can do it the way you can. I want to take that even farther by saying that when you have a piece that can virtually write itself while using you as a medium, then that piece is one you are definitely meant to write and it is one that you should put on the forefront of your schedule. When you can feel and hear everything within the story as you’re putting it on paper, almost as if the characters are speaking through you and the whole piece is telling you where it should go, then you have a piece that is writing itself.

Sometimes this feeling is one that will irk people or confuse them, but it really shouldn’t. In my opinion this is the type of work that is the most rewarding because, at the end of the day, you have a piece that worked its way out of you and is now just waiting to be consumed by someone else. These types of works are often very in depth, very active, very alive. And that is perfect. When and if you are able to grab a piece like this from the depths of your brain, you may be a little startled at it, may even be tempted to let it go and throw your line out again and try to hook something different. DON’T.

For a piece to come to the surface and be so developed that you can pull it directly from your subconscious as if the muse herself is whispering it in your ear, that is a real blessing. That piece is absolutely yours and you should embrace it wholeheartedly. Take my advice on this one. The next time you sit down to write and you feel the story running away with you, let it. Let the idea take you to the ends of the Earth and back, and don’t dare let it go. It may be the most rewarding thing you have ever done.

As an addendum to this post, I would like to add that I’m thinking of changing the name of this blog again ( I know, I know) and would love to have feedback on what you all think would work. As of right now I am thinking of calling the page “Writing is Life”, which is the name of a page I currently run. Also, for those writers (or other artists) interested, I would love for you to join said Facebook page “Writing is Life”. If you  have trouble finding it, let me know and I’ll link it in my next blog. If there are any topics you’d like to see me touch on, feel free to let me know in the comments or in a private message. I hope you all were able to relate to this post!

Did I Really Write This?

This topic is one that may sound a bit odd right out of the gate, but hopefully I can explain it in a way that will make sense. This idea comes from my post from last week as well and the intention is to explain what it’s like to produce a work that you don’t particularly care for and why you shouldn’t give up on those pieces.

In my own experience ideas can come from just about anywhere and can lead to just about any type of work. The plus side of this is that you can stumble upon many ideas in a day and that one may even relate to another in ways that you wouldn’t previously have thought. One important thing that I must touch on in this post is that quite often when the muse comes to us, no matter what type of work you do, there will be many times that, if you let it, the work will just flow through you and put itself down onto paper without much real effort from you. In essence you are a conduit for an idea or a piece that is so powerful that it knows exactly what it needs, where it needs to go. The characters will often know exactly where they need to show up, what they should say or think and how they should feel and, rather than you having to brainstorm for hours on end to find the right turn of phrase, they will tell you if you let them. That has to do with surrendering yourself to the piece and letting it work its magic, but that is another post- likely my next.

The point of that description was to come to the fact that, every now and again, we might come upon a finished product that we’ve labored on for hours, take one look at it and feel absolute contempt. We might think the work in front of us is the worst thing we’ve ever produced, may even be almost ashamed of it. It can be written to perfection with not a single mistake to speak of, yet we just don’t feel the passion for it that we may feel for other pieces. When this happens the temptation to crumple the piece up and toss it in the wastebasket may be almost too strong to resist – but you really need to resist it.

Personally, as I’ve said before, I’ve had works that I love and hate. I’ve had things come from my mind that I think no one will like or buy and it ends up being someone’s favorite. Like I said last week; my first rejection came from a work I adored and my first publication was a work I didn’t care much for at all. That’s just how it goes sometimes. I know I always tend to refer to Stephen King in these posts, but that’s because he’s my favorite author. He literally threw Carrie in the trash because he hated it so bad. He felt it would never be a hit, it would never even be good, but his wife convinced him not to give up. What happened? Carrie got picked up almost right after completion and put King on the road to being the true master of modern literary horror.

On the other hand, as an artist, we may feel a particular attraction to a piece that comes to us and we may decide to spend untold amounts of time on the piece and end up having to publish some of our lesser liked things just to keep afloat and not become lost in the tide. My real humbling experience in this area came when I was invited to a publication reception for that piece I didn’t like very much.

I was sitting at a table with a number of people who had somewhere between 20 and 60 years on me, easily. I hadn’t really spoken to anyone, hadn’t introduced myself to most of them and was generally in awe at being invited to read my piece at an honest to goodness literary reception. Many of these people, I would later find out, are actually a part of the Appalachian Heritage Writers Guild and arrange the annual symposium I taught at last summer, and they had known each other for years. While sitting in near silence on my end of the table, the man who arranged the reception asked one of the older ladies what she thought of the issue of the Clinch Mountain Review we had all been featured in.

She responded in a way that astounds me and flatters me to this day. She said she felt the issue was one of the strongest in the last few years and that she particularly loved the piece by Damean Mathews. She said she felt my use of imagery and symbolism was just great and she had a wonderful time reading the piece. The editor of the journal, who knew who I was smiled at me as I looked at the lady, who has since become a friend of mine, and thanked her very much for complementing me so much. My heart was in my throat, pounding hard enough to deafen me, and I couldn’t have been happier. The piece that I had published was one that I felt sure was just going to fall to the wayside and end up being forgotten because it wasn’t much good at all, but this clearly wasn’t the case.

My point here is really something I’ve said many many times. We are always our own harshest critic. We will tear our work and ourselves down time and time again and will be absolutely relentless in our efforts to convince ourselves that we have failed in some way or another. But why? All of our pieces come to us for a reason, right? Each and every idea that we have been blessed to have flow through our minds has done so for a reason. Some pieces we will naturally be more drawn to, just as we will be drawn to certain pieces of literature over others, but many factors can come into play there. So many things have to be taken into account in these cases that there really isn’t enough space in one to post to list them all. But one thing we must never do as artists of any kind is give up on a piece. It has come to us for a reason and we must treat it as such.

I understand some of us draw or write only for ourselves, never letting anyone else see our work, but this post can even still apply to cases like that. We must never look at any one piece of our work as being more or less worthy than another. They have all been given to us for a reason and, whether anyone else will ever see the work, we must recognize that it is ours and it is important and special in its own right. That’s not to say that we still can’t have a favorite piece of our own work that we feel expresses who we are as an artist better than another piece might, because that is just nature. We will always be drawn to certain things and we may always feel a little less attached to others, but no matter how we feel, we need to give all of our pieces equal respect, because that piece you  hate, the one that part of you might wish you’d never written or that you might wonder what it means that you did, might end up being your biggest hit – or at least one that puts you on the map.

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 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.

Finding Ideas

It’s been said that the average person passes hundreds, even thousands of story ideas each day- but the lucky ones see five or six of them. In my opinion that’s one of the most accurate quotes about the craft I’ve ever read.

Most writers, after making it big, will say they are often asked where their ideas come from. Speaking from experience, this can be one of the easiest and hardest questions to  answer. For me ideas can come from absolutely anywhere and I usually get bombarded by them at the most unexpected times. The inspiration for this blog actually stems from one such experience that I had earlier today. I was driving through town and glanced up at a street light and then was hit with an idea for a strange but interesting idea that I can’t wait to start working on.

Oddly enough this very occurrence is actually one of the things that tends to put me behind like nobody’s business- but that’s another story.

One of the things that made me feel the most positive about my yearning for the written word came to me during my sophomore (technically senior) year of college. I was taking a literary criticism class and one of the first pieces of material we had to read was an essay in which the author insisted that without art life would be little more than a monotonous cesspool. He didn’t use quite those words, but that’s how the work made me feel. it made me feel like, as a writer, I was contributing to life in a way that broke the monotony and could even give someone an entirely new reason to get up in the morning. The author went on to discuss how, without art, we are trapped in the day to day life with little or no escape from the things that can become habitual background information.

As an example of this he used the experience of driving to work to symbolize a habitual action. We get in our cars, get on the road, typically take the same route every day and go to work without really considering it. Often, if we really think about it, we’ll find that we barely remember the drive itself or anything about it. The action can become so ingrained in our psyche that we don’t even have to think about what we are doing anymore. Now insert the music, talk show, book on tape or news that you listen to on the way to work (and I know not everyone does this, but for those that do you’ll understand).

After introducing this element to our drive, it not only becomes different and more of an actual changing experience, but there will start to be parts that we remember better. Maybe your favorite song comes on the radio a few miles from your house and it puts you in a good mood, causing you to notice more about your surroundings. This wouldn’t have happened without the music. The same goes with gaining the idea for new works.

As the quote says, countless ideas surround us every single day. Sometimes I’m hit with a few a day, sometimes I’m lucky to get a few a week, but no matter how many I get, they come from out of the blue and are typically completely unexpected. If we take the time to examine the world around us, there is no telling what sort of things we can come up with. The ideas that we get can completely change the way we, as artists, look at the thing that inspired them- and this can be passed to those who enjoy the work as well. If someone paints a snowy field that has one lonely, broken tree in it, it can mean ten different things to ten different people. The same goes for music and literature and so much more. Art is truly the thing that brings life a renewed vigor- if we let it.

As an artist of any type we are told that art imitates life, while others argue that life imitates art and everything in between. Regardless of which opinion you think is correct, one thing that can’t be denied by most is that inspiration absolutely comes from life. It can be something as simple as hearing a footstep in a dark alley or contemplating the chemical process that happens each time we breathe in oxygen and release carbon dioxide.

One bit of advice I can definitely give anyone who is seeking the best way to find new ideas is this; keep your head up and your eyes and ears open. Never dismiss anything. The idea for the next international bestseller could slam into your brain from even the most unlikely source. It can come from something we have looked at every single day for years on end before seeing it in a new light, or it can be something we see for the first time five minutes before working on a draft of the idea it inspired. In my opinion, one of the most important things to remember about a new idea is that the source of the idea itself is much less important than what you do with it

The Influence of Doubt

As I said in the comments of my last post, doubt can be a very detrimental thing to a writer, but it can also be very powerful. As artists (and human beings in general) one question that is likely going to come up time and time again while we do our work is “why”. It’s a simple enough word, a simple enough question, but the answers to it almost never are. When it comes to something that we are passionate about, asking ourselves why can be the difference between succeeding and failing miserably, achieving a goal and fall short, and happiness or a permanent sense of failure. You might look at that statement and think I’m being a little dramatic, but think about it. How many times have you stopped yourself from doing something just by asking yourself why you would do it, or what good would come of it?

Have you ever attempted to take on a task that you felt strongly about and then gave up on it because you questioned it? I’d be willing to bet we all have.

Whenever we are presented with a thought that develops into a real desire we must consider everything about the possibility before us. Whenever I am getting the idea for a new piece settled down and trying to hammer out the details one thing I try to look at is just how well I think I can develop a piece about the particular topic at hand. When I started writing Maverip (the magnum opus of my budding career) I felt very confident in the work I was doing. Having been a lover of the paranormal my entire life, with a particular interest in vampires, working on that piece just felt RIGHT.

Speaking from the point of view of someone who has completed many other works since the start of that series I can easily say that it doesn’t always feel that way. Sometimes you get an idea and you can feel that the idea is just absolutely awesome but once you sit down to actually work on it you question your ability to do it correctly. This is often the case with some people, unfortunately. We will begin a new project, perhaps one that is just outside of our comfort zone or slightly off center from our typical line of work and we will be plagued by the thought that, since it isn’t the same thing we always do, we will be unable to make it work for one reason or another. Often my own bit of doubt is that, upon completing the piece, whomever reads it will absolutely hate it and I will be little more than a failure. In the case of Maverip my doubt has really only kicked in fairly recently, but it is that I won’t be able to make a convincing argument for my piece and that, either in the advertising of the book or with the presentation itself, I will fall short and no one will take the time to check it out. But that is a different post as well.

Regardless of whether or not you feel doubt, the real clincher is how you react to it. So often people will just give up and stop the work the second they get that first hint of doubt. This is one of the most self destructive behaviors I have ever seen. Doubt acts as a cautionary emotion for us, guiding us in the right direction and helping ensure that we don’t take the task at hand too lightly. Unfortunately people don’t always see this. I have spoken to a number of people who have had the desire to do something, be it writing or painting or any number of other things, that have never acted on the desire because they doubted themselves, feeling that they would never be able to perform their desire well enough to suit others or consider themselves a success. This is rubbish. When looking at doubt one must never allow it seep into their psyche to the point that it interrupts the passion that is kindled there. This is such a terrible waste of talent and opportunity. As a matter of fact, for those readers who have a religious background, think back on the parable of the talents that we are told in Matthew 25; 14-30. Three men are given talents and each of them treats the gifts differently. Two of the men use the talents given and get more in return, gaining the favor of their master, while the third buries his, not using it for anything and returns it to his master alone.

The basis of this story is one that can easily be rendered applicable even to those who don’t look at the religious aspect (or choose to adhere to a different belief system). Basically what it says is that when you have something and you don’t use it, you get nothing from it. Would you buy a car just to put it in the garage and never look at it or drive it? Would you buy a house just to let it sit on its plot, never lived in or used? Would you buy food just to let it rot and go to waste with no intention of touching it? The answer to those questions was likely no, right? If not, I’m personally glad someone with such a financial blessing is reading my blog, but I must discourage the behavior! The same mindset should be applied to this. If we are so blessed to have a passion for art (or anything really) we cannot allow ourselves to be discouraged!

Doubt can be one of the scariest things you can experience as an artist of any kind, but it is also well worth the fight. If you give up on a project every time you doubt your ability or the possible outcome of your efforts, chances are you will never know what you are capable of. However, if you push through the mire of this heavy and scary feeling it can be replaced with the satisfaction of completing the work in question and having it taken beyond where you thought it could go.

By pressing through the doubt the weighted me down for the days before sending it, I was able to see my very first piece in print in a small, nonprofit circulation five long years ago, and I haven’t looked back since. Such is the case with many incredible talents. Even the horror master himself, Stephen King, was plagued with such doubt that he threw the manuscript for Carrie in the trash. His wife retrieved it and, after looking through it, convinced him that, rather than giving up, he should trudge on. She recognized the potential in the work (as well as the man himself) before he even did. Carrie went on to become King’s first published novel and has since had three movie adaptations, one spin-off sequel and countless stage performances. And it was literally plucked out of the trash.

The rewards for overcoming doubt often will vastly outweigh even the harshest of situations in which the doubt can be proven to hold even the most minimal amount of truth. In reality, if we finish a work that we have some doubt about and move forward with the process of getting it out there, what’s the worst that can happen? Someone won’t like it? Big deal. There are over seven BILLION people on this (that’s 7,397,799,570 people  at the time of writing this for those of you that want exact numbers). There is bound to be AT LEAST one person out there who likes the work, who is thankful you finished the work and who may even be inspired by the work. The bottom line is, even if your work only truly touches one person, that’s still one person who is better off because you didn’t give up. That’s one person whose life or confidence may be saved because you pushed through your own sense of doubt. And you tell me; isn’t that worth the battle?

Feel free to add your thoughts to this post or send them to me in a message. I love getting to hear all of your thoughts on these blogs! Until next time remember; don’t give up- embrace your doubt. Trust me, it’s worth it.