Reframing Rejection

If you've ever put your work into the world, hoping for publication or recognition, then you've probably experienced rejection. A flat out no. Maybe a "strong work, but it doesn't fit in our publication." Perhaps silence. The silence is the worst, isn't it?

A lot of you have told me that you have a hard time with the rejection, and you're not sure how to deal with it. I've never felt like I had a good answer... and then I entered a contest.

It was a book proposal contest. I'd had no intention of doing it, but then I listened to a series of classes put on by the contest's founder and I got an idea for a book. An idea that really excited me.

I knew that, left to my own devices, I would lose the idea. I'd push it to the back of that proverbial pile labeled "Someday" and never look at it again. I also knew that there were a lot of prizes, and that I liked the runner up prizes best. (I wasn't even shooting for first place, which in some twisted way made me feel like it was a safer risk).

So I submitted a proposal and waited. Which is to say that I dwelled on and day dreamed about all of the following (in no particular order and more than once):

  • They would call me and accuse me of plagiarism (even though I knew it was all my own work)
  • I would win and be able to announce that I was a WINNER. Just think of how that would boost my professional success!!
  • There was no way I could win. I wasn't sure I liked the host of the classes, so how could I win? Just seemed like a terrible energetic match
  • But what if I really did win something? What if it was my time? It sure seemed like an inspired idea.

Well. The results came this week. I scanned the list of winners, and for a brief moment, my heart soared because I thought I saw my name. But no. Allison was a winner, not me.

And to be honest, I was disappointed. Sad. Discouraged. Worried that my idea was bad. And then I remembered: rejection isn't an end game.

Here's what I know. Not winning could be a sign of many things. Perhaps my proposal needs work (after all, I have ideas on how to make it better). Perhaps my work truly wasn't a fit for this contest (they were after "transformational" books, which I now understand to mean "self-help" and I'm not sure that's what I want to write). Or maybe the applicant pool was really, really strong and my work didn't measure up.

Whatever the case, it doesn't matter. My emotional, inner critic can try all it wants to lead me down a path of doom and gloom, but my next steps are simple:

  • Revisit my proposal. Is this still a project I feel passionate about?
  • If yes, then do I see changes I could make? If so, make them.
  • Can I find a contest or an agent that is a better fit for my work? Resubmit it.
  • And if I keep getting rejected, then who can I ask for input? About the idea. About the proposal. About what to try next.

Rejection (especially repeated rejection) sucks. But it's simply one step along the path to success. It's only the end game if we let it be so.

The Power of a Choosing a Goal

When I was in my 20s, I didn't understand how people made choices when it came to anything that mattered. A career. A place to live. Where to travel. It seemed that every time I said yes to something, I was closing the door to about eight other things. And how did I know if I was choosing the right one? The result? For a long time I didn't choose anything. I followed the path of least resistance. Took the jobs that fell in my lap. Lived in apartments that my roommates picked out. And... I never felt fulfilled. Never really did anything that made me feel alive, joyful, and happy.

I see this same line of thinking in writers, too. We all have more than one idea, right? There's the essay about that trip you took, and the children's book idea and someday, the memoir. It's impossible to choose!

But what if saying yes to one writing goal opened the door to the others?

What if choosing one ends the paralysis that comes from choosing none? What if--instead of having half finished essays and a few chapters of a book all tucked away and unfinished--you actually finished something? Saw it through from beginning to end?

When you choose a single writing project, you unleash the power of your creativity: 

~You write instead of thinking about writing ~You explore, experiment, and grow as a writer ~You strengthen your own writing process & it will serve you into the future ~You can say "I am a writer" and it will be true

And most importantly? You'll be more likely to write other books or essays or stories because you'll know the transformational power of making creativity a part of your daily life.

When we don't make a choice, we opt for the very thing we don't want: the failure to write anything at all. 

Making a choice is not about closing doors. It's about opening new ones. If you could choose a single thing, what would it be?

What writing idea makes you feel the most excited? An untapped sense of possibility. That's the one--not the one, but the one to write next.

Understanding Your Own Special Form of Procrastination

You know that moment when you think about sitting down to write, but you find yourself doing the dishes instead? Or cleaning the bathroom? Or brushing the dog? (That's a big one for me, especially during spring and fall. She has this crazy undercoat that comes out in clumps. It's like she's molting! I can't resist.) A friend of mine compares these stall tactics to the way a dog circles the bed before lying down. I LOVE that analogy. Except for when you never actually get comfy and write. When procrastination becomes a pattern or a habit, it's time for a little self-examination. What are you avoiding? What's getting you off track?

One way to do this is to write about your procrastination. The old fashioned kind of writing---by hand. Pen and paper. Keep the pen moving. Don't edit or judge what you write. Start by describing what you do with real detail. What are your vices? Follow your pen until it leads you to a place of understanding. Once you get into the flow, give yourself a prompt.

"I procrastinate because..."

"I don't write my book because..."

Don't take the first answer. See if you can get some clarity on what lies underneath your procrastination. It's the only way to find true freedom.

The discipline myth and the truth about procrastination.

The discipline myth and the truth about procrastination.

Time and again, I hear this from writers: "If I just had more discipline I would..."

Write my book. Finish the book I started. Write those essays I dream of writing.

But when has discipline alone worked to accomplish anything? It's not going to keep you on your diet unless you really want to feel healthier and you believe you can stick to it. It's not going to help you train for a marathon unless you really want to know what it's like to run across the finish line and you think you've got what it takes. Discipline will not help you write a book unless you're feeling inspired and committed to getting it done.

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Guess what? Your writing isn't supposed to be perfect on the first go around.

Somewhere in the back of writers' minds is a secret wish: this time, the editor or the writing coach or the professor will suggest zero edits. Our work will be that good. (Please tell me you've had this thought… I know I can't be alone in this).

It's more like wishful thinking than a wish.

It's an editor's job to read work with a careful eye. The need for job security alone will compel an editor to offer insight, but in truth, you want that insight. A good editor makes a writer's work better. By the time writers finish a draft of anything, we're too close to see it with fresh eyes.

Which is why I know better than to expect a story for the Wall Street Journal to come back without blue typing mixed in among my own. Still, I have developed a pattern wherein I try to avoid the feedback:

1. Reply to the editor with a friendly, "Got it!" message, then leave the file she sent unopened.

2. Open the document a day or two(ish) later, expectant and a little bit afraid.

3. See all the blue words and sigh (at least it's not red ink).

4. Read the comments and 99.9% of the time think, Huh, good point. 

5. Revisions commence.

Inevitably, I don't leave as much time for final edits as I would like, and I find myself working on them while my college students work on their final project in class (and yes, I will admit to that).

But the important lesson is this: it doesn't matter how you read feedback, it matters that you do. Your work will be better, you'll find renewed passion for the story as it becomes better, and you're honoring your writing by embracing the idea that it's not all up to you.

 

Courage: A Key Ingredient for Writing and Retreats

IMG_3810 It takes courage to get on a plane or drive half way across the country for a writing and yoga retreat. I know because it took courage to get in a car and drive over Kebler Pass and put one on.

The aspen leaves were turning and the mountain peaks were capped in snow, and I knew that no matter what happened, it would be a worthwhile and rewarding experience.

But it also felt like going to summer camp. Would the group get along? Would time move fast or slow? Would we get to do everything we hoped to do, or had we planned too much? Not to mention the texts about delayed flights and the last minute concerns about driving through snow (even in October)… Would we all make it to Paonia?

Thankfully, we did.

Azura Winery

And as soon as we started our welcome reception at Azura Winery, I knew we'd be in the clear. Turns out there are a few truths about people who sign up for a writing and yoga retreat:

** People who take time off of work and then travel far from home are looking for more than writing. They want adventure, inspiration, and some time away. That brings an openness to the group and the experience right from the start.

 

** The writers who show up are the ones who were meant to to be there---for themselves, for the group, and for the whole experience.

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** Everyone---and I mean everyone---has original, compelling, and meaningful stories to tell. (Not to mention, I apparently have a lot to say when it comes to writing).

** It takes more than three days to identify and write a story, but there is value in taking the time to let the meaningful story emerge. It can feel messy and confusing, but with a supportive group, it will yield transformation in your work and in yourself.

 

** A mindful risk---one that is undertaken thoughtfully and with some courageousness---will be met with rewards. What mindful risk will you take for your writing?

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Do You Read Like A Writer?

When I was in graduate school and working full time, I walked home from the bus stop every night dead tired. Full day of work behind me, evening of work ahead. I'd push open the door, and bend down to pet my dog, her front paws on my knees. A darn good welcome, but every once in a while it got better. A package waited on the stairs, a priority mail envelope, and I knew there was a book inside.

Good books seemed to flow like water or wine while I was in grad school. Through word of mouth. Reading lists from inspired professors.

But a long lost friend and love might as well have been sitting on that stoop---that's how much those books meant to me. They offered a reprieve from all the deadlines and the hours of work and the guilt that my dog's walks were never long enough. They offered up a reminder of why I worked so hard.

Because you know that feeling you get when you're captivated by a book? Can't put it down. Think about it long after you do. The feel of the book stays with you.

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In grad school, I figured out how to take that feeling---that transformative power of a book---and start reading like a writer.

When I got to the end of a book, I didn't put it down. I flipped back through its pages and looked at the chapters and the paragraph breaks and the sentences. I asked myself:

How did the writer do that?

Why end the chapter there? 

Why weave back and forth between characters?

Why use those words to paint those images?

After a while, answers came to me. I saw that using just the right visual detail could convey an emotion without ever using a word like sad or happy or mad. I saw that sometimes, a power comes with saying less rather than more.

Learning through reading changed everything. I stopped looking for others to tell me how to write (though thoughtful feedback is always, always, always part of writing), and I started figuring out how the how for myself.

Becoming a better writer isn't always about the next class or the next workshop or memorizing the next writing rule. Sometimes it's about being inspired, and spending time with that which inspires us. It's about truly engaging in the act of study.

(Incidentally, it's also how I finally decided that it's okay to not finish a book. There are so many good ones to read... why spend so much time finishing one that doesn't resonate?)

Those books on my stoop were more than a reprieve. They were a window into the kind of writer I wanted to be.

 

 

Procrastinating? 4 Mindsets That Make Writing Less Overwhelming

  The act of beginning---of actually showing up at the page---can be simple. Just remember these simple truths:

1. Writing doesn't have to be perfect on the first try. It isn't about sitting down with crystal clear knowledge of what you're going to say. It's not about thinking something up. It's about jotting something down---an idea, an image, a story.

2. Writing never has to be perfect. Whether you're writing a story or an essay, you have one goal: convey an idea. You can do that most effectively by being yourself and remember that, as Danielle LaPorte says, every masterpiece could have been better.

3. The best writers rewrite and revise... again, and again, and again. Story goes that Hemingway rewrote the ending to Farewell to Arms 39 times. So why expect your writing to be perfect on the first try?

4. We're all born storytellers---each and every one of us. Talking to a spouse or significant other. Talking to a friend. Even talking to our dogs, we are always telling stories. Writing is simply the process of putting the stories we tell on paper. And that's exciting, because it gives us the opportunity to dig deeper and reach more people.

So take three, slow, deep, calming breaths, and then? Simply. Begin.

5 Stories You Can Write Today. For real.

Ready to write but not sure what you want to write about? There's no need to sit with your pen hovering above the page, waiting for inspiration to strike. 

-4Try this instead: Brainstorm a list of 5 life experiences that changed you. Maybe you took a trip to Costa Rica, where you hiked to the top of a volcano the first time. Maybe you were a first responder at a car accident. Maybe you finally had that heart to heart with your mom.

Don't think too hard. Just jot down five experiences that caused you to see, feel, think or live life differently.

Now pick one to explore. Don't worry about whether it would make a good story or whether it's okay to write about it. Just freewrite in response to the following prompts:

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

I never imagined that...  

(Set the scene. Describe the experience that changed you.)

When it first happened I couldn't believe that...

(How did this experience surprise you? Scare you? Push you into new territory?)

I worried that...

(What about this experience scared you, made you nervous, challenged you in a new way?)

At first, I....

(How did you respond to this new experience?)

But then I...

(If your first response didn't work or wasn't enough, what did you do next?)

I learned that...

(What insights did you gain? What knowledge or shift in perspective took place?)

Now I know that...

(What wisdom or knowledge do you now have as a result of that experience?)

- - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - - 

Notice that there's an overall flow to your answers---an arc, if you will---where events happened, you responded, and you were changed as a result.

I teach my students that those are the bones of every story. An event happens. A character feels a certain way about those events and responds accordingly. The transformation of that character (how they were or weren't changed by their actions) provides the meaning. You can also think of them as the layers of a story.

Each of your experiences will have these layers, meaning that each of your experiences is a potential story. You can prove it by using the prompts to explore each topic, or you can use the exploration you just did to write a first draft. Either way, you'll have put that pen to the page and done some writing. Today. And isn't that the point?