Thursday, July 21, 2011

Try, try again

This week the UW got her very first, official rejection letter for a piece she wrote.  And she knew this day would come, and everyone goes through it, and this is part of the business of trying to be a writer.  That said, it still stings.

Thanks to her recent paramour, the personal essay, she managed to fall into the pandering trap.  Having read a lot of publications she enjoyed, she tried to craft something that would fit perfectly to what they publish - in essence art by imitation in hopes of a short cut.  It failed.  And with some perspective she can say rightfully so.  Her piece wasn't great.  It wasn't worse than what's being currently published, but that's another matter.  She tried to cheat her way into getting out there, instead of writing something authentic and genuine and in her own voice.  She was that girl who decides to like everything her date does in hopes he will pick her to go steady.  This was an important lesson to learn first hand.

That said, you still just want to think what you write is good enough.  And you wrote it, so it's very hard not to take it personally.  A writer friend said, after he finished his Grad program, it was difficult to walk into a bookstore.  Because you have labored over a genius novel that you can't get any takers on and there in front of you is shelves upon shelves of sub par work that is being gobbled up by the masses.  It feels like that a lot.

In order to withstand the onslaught of rejections that still lay in front of her, the UW has had the realization that to stick with a piece and continually submit it, you truly have to believe it's good.  In hindsight, the piece in question was not (and has since been served up a brief, literary death at hands of the UW's filing system).  She has one short story that she does believe in, and has submitted several times and is sure she will do so several more.  Now she just needs to write more of those.

But in addition to laziness, the UW has a SERIOUS problem defaulting to giving up.  About all things.  She is, although you aren't supposed to be, kind of a quitter.  Being a 30 year old grown ass woman without a driver's license is proof.  If she fails at something, she is very lousy at getting back on the horse.

In the spirit of saddling up again, she put together a list of things that got passed over initially that went on to success.  Hopefully it helps you swing yourself back onto the steed as well.

  • Animal Farm by George Orwell  was rejected by a letter saying ‘It is impossible to sell animal stories in the USA
  • Lolita by Vladimir Nabokov got the brush off saying ‘... overwhelmingly nauseating, even to an enlightened Freudian … the whole thing is an unsure cross between hideous reality and improbable fantasy.  It often becomes a wild neurotic daydream … I recommend that it be buried under a stone for a thousand years.’
  • Stephen King actually threw an early draft of Carrie in the trash after becoming discouraged with his progress writing about a teenage girl with psychic powers. His wife retrieved the manuscript and encouraged him to finish it.  
  • Just as The Help’s main protagonist found the publishing world difficult to navigate, so did the book’s real life author, Kathryn Stockett.  The number one selling book wasn’t an instant success. In fact “The Help” received an astonishing 60 rejections.  As Kathryn wrote:
"In the end, I received 60 rejections for The Help. But letter number 61 was the one that accepted me. After my five years of writing and three and a half years of rejection, an agent named Susan Ramer took pity on me. What if I had given up at 15? Or 40? Or even 60? Three weeks later, Susan sold The Help to Amy Einhorn Books."
  •  Ayn Rand has sold over 6.5 million copies of The Fountainhead. But before that happened it was rejected twelve times.
  • Madeline L'Engle completed the book A Wrinkle in Time by 1960, but more than two dozen publishers rejected the story before Farrar, Straus and Giroux finally published it in 1962.
  • When they completed the first Chicken Soup for the Soul book, it was turned down by thirty-three publishers in New York and another ninety at the American Booksellers Association convention in Anaheim, California, before Health Communications, Inc., finally agreed to publish it. The major New York publishers said, "It is too nicey-nice" and "Nobody wants to read a book of short little stories." Since that time more than 8 million copies of the original Chicken Soup for the Soul book have been sold. The series, which has grown to thirty-two titles, in thirty-one languages, has sold more than 53 million copies.  
  • Although The Giving Tree, was published in 1964, people said no before they said yes.  An editor by the name of William Cole sent Shel Silverstein a rejection letter, stating that it would never sell because it fell between the interests of children and adults.
  • John Grisham's first novel A Time to Kill was rejected by a dozen publishers and over 15 agents before breaking into print and launching Mr. Grisham's best-selling career   
  • J.K. Rowling's first Harry Potter novel, Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone, was submitted to twelve publishing houses, all which rejected the wizard boy. But then, upon the enthusiastic response of the CEO’s young daughter, a small London publisher named Bloomsbury, decided to print the book.
  • Dr. Seuss' first book, And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street was rejected 27 times before he finally got a yes.  One of his most famous rejection letter excerpts read, “This is too different from other juveniles on the market to warrant its selling.” 
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald, considered to be one of the best American writers, wrote The Great Gatsby in 1922. While the book is now ranked #2 in Modern Library's 100 Best Novels of the 20th Century, he once received a rejection letter that read: "You'd have a decent book if you'd get rid of that Gatsby character."  

Friday, July 15, 2011

Things to do while you wait for editors/contest judgers to respond to your submission

  • Work at your day job for, oh let's say 40 hours a week
  • Paint your nails with the full intention of chipping them off once they dry
  • Chip your nail polish off
  • Look up a recipe to make your own apple butter
  • Look up how to grow your own apple tree in your tiny postage stamp urban backyard
  • Laugh, laugh, laugh
  • Get the really spicy peanut sauce on your noodles so you can complain about the heartburn all afternoon on Facebook for attention
  • Make a Facebook profile for your pet
  • Delete it
  • Get depressed
  • Review your life choices to pinpoint exactly when you veered off the Noble Laureate track
  • Buy fancy dresses with excessive tulle online that you know are too short on you so that you will be ready when your life finally reaches that "wearing short fancy dresses all the time" phase you have been stockpiling for since you were fifteen
  • Choose names for all your future pets, children, & diseases you will be the first to cure
  • Read other blogs and websites that are really smart and funny
  • Get depressed again
  • Look up the nutritional information of a large Dairy Queen blizzard
  • Cry, cry, cry
  • Write something new
  • Deem that new writing total crap
  • Start to question if the things you are waiting to hear back about were the best writing you will ever do
  • Eat a pizza by yourself
  • Decide to take up photography
  • Take thirteen still life photos of the bananas starting to rot on your kitchen counter with your camera phone
  • Realize your talents are limited
  • Delete them
  • Change into yoga pants because wearing jeans seems too fatiguing
  • Read about all the additional uses for a paperclip in this month's Real Simple
  • Find a paperclip in your junk drawer
  • Clip two old grocery lists together
  • Take a nap from sheer exhaustion
  • Search IMDB for the name of that actor that you liked in all those mid-90's movies but now is in papertowel commercials
  • Buy papertowels
  • Try to assess whether you will hear back from said editors/contest judgers in the time it takes to birth a human, birth an elephant, or birth a nation 
  • Watch 17 hours of Law & Order in a row
  • Cut your own bangs
  • Fine tune your signature wink
  • Sigh
  • Remind yourself that even if all the editors/contest judgers in the world think your writing is lousy and unprintable, that you can always still post those homeless pieces here, on this fine blog, and that maybe one of the lovely and amazing readers out there will give a hip hip hooray about it and that will be just swell as well.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

I'm just not that into you (right now)

Dear Fiction:

Hello!  I hope this correspondence finds you well.  I have been meaning to write you for several weeks now, but have not found the time nor the courage.  Fiction, we need to talk.

After careful consideration and much deliberation, I think we need to take a 'break'.  Not a break up, just a trial separation.  I think you are amazing.  I mean you are Fiction, god damnit.  What is better than Fiction? (answer: nothing, unless you are counting oreo blizzards).  You are smart, you are imaginative, you are lyrical.  You enchant, delight, horrify, and move thousands of people everyday on long commutes and the restless path to sleep.  You are amazing.  And always have been for the trillions of years you have been around.  You have your own Pulitzer Prize in your name.  You are the

Here is the thing, you are also wearing me the frig' out.  I have been trying to write you for quite some time now with moderate degrees of success.  You are complicated.  You require thoughtful plot, well rounded characters.  You need a clearly defined voice and engaging narrative.  You are looooong.  So long.  Even for a short story writer.

I also have to come clean.  I have been taken in by a foxy temptress.  One with cheap, easy thrills and a self-satisfying edge you never had.  Her name is Personal Essay and she is a vixen.  She makes it easy to write, quick to spill out ideas and characters and stories (because they all kinda happened already).  She can be trashy, I won't lie.  And she doesn't always require the same level of skill you do.  But she is fun.  And it's summer, Fiction.  The best time of year for fun.  I know you will argue that you offer up plenty of Jodi Picoult and Janet Evanovich for the season, but I can't write that kinda stuff, Fiction.  You know that.  My stuff is sad and weird and will never be what you are dying to curl up with under a giant beach umbrella as the sand sifts into the seams of your swimsuit and you slurp your lukewarm diet coke.

This won't be forever, I promise.  By the fall I will come crawling back, ready to snuggle under your densely worded prose and endless descriptions of dilapidated houses and well worn relationships.  I have loved you ever since I wrote that piece of crap story about a fountain in third grade that was such a horribly obvious rip-off of Tuck Everlasting.  You have my heart, Fiction.  And you always will.

But for now, I need a summer dalliance.  And this summer it is personal essays/David Sedaris impressions.  No, they are not great.  But they are easy.  And sometimes, when tube tops and flip flops abound, you just need easy.  So I am briefly trying to join the army of people already much more established on the interwebs writing bitchy snarky clever things about everyday real life to be enjoyed by the masses/lost in the chaotic traffic of the world wide web.  To that end, I have sent out two personal essays this week to actual factual online publications (which is why i have neglected you and the blog recently).  I know, when i get the obligatory "No thanks, silly Lady-who-thinks-she-can-write" rejections that you will have the urge to say 'I told you so.'  I will deserve it, but please be kind anyway.

Summer fling- don't mean a thing, Fiction.  But oh those summer nights...

hugs and kittens,
the Undisciplined Writer

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Rules of Engagement

There was a great article in The Guardian with a gaggle of writers offering their 10 rules for writing:

These would be the UW's 10 favorites:

Never use the words "suddenly" or "all hell broke loose". This rule doesn't require an explanation. I have noticed that writers who use "suddenly" tend to exercise less control in the application of exclamation points. - Elmore Leonard

You most likely need a thesaurus, a rudimentary grammar book, and a grip on reality. This latter means: there's no free lunch. Writing is work. It's also gambling. You don't get a pension plan. Other people can help you a bit, but ­essentially you're on your own. ­Nobody is making you do this: you chose it, so don't whine. - Margaret Atwood

Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer's a good idea. - Richard Ford

It's doubtful that anyone with an internet connection at his workplace is writing good fiction. - Jonathan Franzen

Put one word after another. Find the right word, put it down. - Neil Gaiman

The two most depressing words in the English language are "literary fiction". - David Hare

Proceed slowly and take care. - Annie Proulx

Keep a light, hopeful heart. But ­expect the worst. - Joyce Carol Oates

Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand – but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never ­being satisfied. - Zadie Smith

The first 12 years are the worst. - Anne Enright

Friggin' Franzen

So the UW lied about starting to read "Freedom". She borrowed her sister's copy and put it on the shelf. End of story.

Actually that isn't 100% accurate. After putting it on the shelf, a few weeks later the UW was at Powells (the coolest bookstore in existence) and saw a used copy of "The Corrections". So she decided to read them in chronological order. No, she understands this isn't "Twilight" and it's not a series. But there is something hopefully inspiring in seeing how a writer develops from earlier work to later stories. Especially when they had 9 years to do so. She would like to think her literary skill will also sharpen with age, but there is a fifty-fifty chance it goes the way of a decorative pumpkin come mid-December.

"The Corrections" so far is amazing. Which is a problem. Because A: she wants to reread every sentence and savor its awesomeness. (It's a 567 page book and the UW is lazy, so this could take her YEARS to finish.) And B: she is an 8th grade girl wearing a useless training bra in gym class when she reads great fiction- all self consciousness and self doubt, with mild chafing about the armpits. As evidenced by the wild success of torrid Troll tales, you don't have to be on Oprah's book club list twice to make it. But she is pretty sure you have to be better than she is now. And that thought makes her tired and crave a sleeve of Chips Ahoy cookies. And by sleeve she means an entire package.

F-you Franzen and your gifted, lovely prose.

Friday, July 1, 2011

Funny Girl(s)

Warning: Below is a rant. If you are anti-rant, have a lovely weekend and we will see you next week! If you are pro-rant, strap in.

There is a zeitgeist afoot, and it is that woman are funny. Who knew? (Actually, this lady did.)

Turns out women writers are funny on twitter:

They are funny on the interwebs:

They are funny on the tvs:

They are funny in your bookstores:

And they are funny at the movies:
(God did the UW LOVE that movie to bits and pieces. True story.)

But let's be honest, if we can speak off the record and under a shady bridge somewhere down by the waterfront: women have always been funny. They are just now coming into a spot where people are actually making money of their humor (yes you, Judd Apatow). And in our capitalist snow globe of an existence, that's when it matters.

This isn't a man hatin' rant, as Bette Midler has been known to say "Let's hear it for the boys." But rather the UW wanted to pause and give some credit where credit is due. And that is to these fab 4.

Go ahead, groan. Not again.

Here is the thing. The UW has a treadmill that she runs on daily (by daily she means more than monthly, less than weekly). When she runs she watches a wall mounted tv and plays dvds since the cable sucks in the office. Back in January she was recommitting herself to this endeavor and needed a new show to fuel her early morning burn. She sifted through her DVD library and came across the SATC entire series that her sisters had so wonderfully gifted her for her 24th birthday. She popped the pilot in and proceeded to watch the entire series plus the first movie over the course of the next 2 months.

The first surprise was the number of ridiculous 3 line cameos that big namers now made back then (Bradley Cooper, Elizabeth Banks, Chandra Wilson, Jenny Aniston's newest squeeze managed to be on the show twice as different characters). It was fun little random trivia everyday to see who would pop up to say their short piece and then head off screen (and onto eventual stardom of their own). The UW was also amazed at how much had changed since then (out dated references to MCI phone cards and Carrie upgraded to a clamshell mac).

The real surprise though came one day when she was watching a snippet of commentary on the last disc. And in it the writers were saying how the topics they broached on the show were ground breaking. To which, in her head, the UW thought "really?" Surely that can't be true. Then she showered and went about her day. But the thought nagged at her and she realized she could not place another show that had been as frank and open and honest about dating, relationships, and lady life in general. Having been in her early 20's when it originally aired, she had grown to take for granted that anything was fair game. How no topic was off limits or too much. But racking her brain she could not think of another sitcom where you will ever have the storyline of a woman get her period mid-sexin' with a senior citizen. Where they talk so openly about impotence, infertility, funky spunk, trimming lady parts, neediness, independence, aging, and how challenging it really is to date (despite what e-harmony has told you).

The sad thing is that the show eventually succumbed to the trap most all successful series tumble into. In order to make a show realistic and plausible but also interesting, you start your characters in their late 20's early 30's. A time where life is fun and sexy, but people have their shit together enough to have decent looking apartments, some semblance of career and don't whine nearly as much as 22 year olds do (sorry 22 year olds). But if you are lucky and your show lasts 5-8 years you hit a tough crossroads. Unless you are Matt Groening, your characters have to age. And 35-40 is far less sexy and fun in TV land. It's a time of settling down and having babies and chaining yourself to all consuming careers with health benefits (some say the same is true of the real world, the UW says the jury is still out). And in the process, even the most edgy and interesting of shows become lame. Queer as Folk, arguably on of the biggest envelope pushers to date even fell prey to the baby/commitment trap in its final season (but GOD weren't you so excited to see Justin & Brian Kinney finally in love). Friends went there. And to some extent so did Six Feet Under. The UW still thinks her friend Michael Patrick King (jk, never met him) could have made that slow slide into schmaltz more tolerable by leaving out Mikhal and easing up on the melodramatic voice overs. And there is no real excuse for the second movie, as much as the UW secretly kinda liked it (minus the horribly offensive middle east jokes).

In the cosmopolitan snark that has trailed in the wake of the SATC franchise, it needs to be remembered what the show started off as - which is fresh, daring and funny. They had the fart, poop, and bodily function jokes that Bridesmaids is garnering acclaim for. Yes, the clothes were too much, the shoes were too much, the apartments and general lifestyle were far too much. Even the constant focus on men was too much (as Miranda would periodically remind us). But in the beginning it was sharp and tackling the things in real life that are actually funny (bad dates, awkward sex, messy post-it note break ups, weird hygiene, tranny neighbors, fleet week). And it gave a cultural context for a lot of things we weren't sure if we could talk about. In the sanitized realm of network television, we may not see it again soon.

The real equality that the women comedy 'boom' is seeking is not that we get to behave badly and tell poop jokes too. It's that we get dimensional characters with actual conflicts. We are not all Kate Hudson/Anne Hathaway/Katherine Heigl struggling with shiny hair and perfect skin. Within our own coven of chicas we have class issues, status issues, job issues. Our friendships with eachother are not cute, but complicated (well demonstrated by SATC and Bridesmaids). We struggle with getting married, with staying single, with being stay at home moms, with being staying too late at work moms, with not wanting to be moms at all. We struggle with eating (and not just in the tragic eating disorder way). We want jobs that are fulfilling and pay enough to be equal financial partners. We have politics. We read. We write. We dream big and want happiness in a million different forms. And we do not talk 100% of the time about men and shoes.

And the best part is, when we aren't flipping our hair and batting our eyelashes, we are damn funny.