I just got another rejection from a publisher for 'Tomahawk Incident' so I thought I'd talk about that this week. It sucks, we all know it, but it's just a part of the business. You gotta have thick skin if you're going to be in a creative field.
My degree is in fine art, sculpture and metal arts. Like everyone else who has been to art school, I developed that thick skin pretty quickly. The weekly flagellation of critiques often felt more like abusive, self-serving 'criticisms' from classmates who were just as beat up and overwhelmed as I was. And instructor's tirades sometimes felt equally self-serving - less about teaching anything than showing their expertise by tearing their student's work apart. But in the midst of all that, there were invaluable, useful criticisms. But I had to have a thick enough skin to hear them among all the other punches coming my way.
I feel like having a relationship with my writing is kind of like trying to be friends with Deadpool. He's a mouthy asshole, but you love him anyway. Sorta... On some days... Uhhh.. Well, maybe not the best analogy.
Writing isn't for the faint of heart. No creative endeavor is. It's about putting our heart and soul out there and having other people judge it. That's tough. And at each step along the way, some new obstacle seems to sprout up that's purpose built to chuck our self-esteem into the chipper-shredder.
You get your rough draft written, Hooray! Tens of thousands of hard won words strung together into something that resembles a complete narrative. Time to celebrate!
Uh, what do you mean the work is just starting?
Next comes what I refer to the as the 'Machete Edit.' You (and hopefully someone else who isn't attached to whatever you're wrting the way you are) hack away a third of those hard won words like Paul Bunyan going after them with a chainsaw. Your novel is a lot tighter after this, but your heart's blood is sprayed everywhere and you feel like the last survivor of a Saw movie.
Dammit, now there's the first polish edit. With great crocodile tears you draw your sacrificial sword following the demand of the writing gods - and murder your favorite children.
What do you mean things don't make sense now because you've cut so much away?
Words, words, words.... hack, hack hack... Hooray?
Nope. Over and over, you go on until finally, you have a manuscript you're ready to put out into the world. You send the precious baby to agents and publishers... What do you mean I have to have a social media presence? Rejection, rejection, rejection... Your baby is too fat, too boring, has too many freckles, not enough freckles!
That's the world of writing. So, while I'm waiting to hear back from more publishers I'm still plowing ahead, working on rough drafts for my next books. As I look up the broken glass and barbed wire incline of edits, polishing and rejections again, thoughts of red wine and ritual suicide by stale biscotti grow larger in my mind like the brake lights of a semi on an icy road.
After all this, why the hell would someone want to write then? My answer's pretty simple.
I started writing because I enjoy it. And don't get me wrong, I still do. I didn't learn the daunting truths about it all until after I was too far down the rabbit hole to turn back. The reality of writing can be pretty succinctly described by the uplifting title of Steven Pressfield's book 'Nobody wants to read your shit.' This was very helpful in driving me further toward the precipice of a red wine and stale biscotti apocalypse.
I write because I love writing. It's not something I can just drop now and say 'Well, that was fun.' It's part of who I am. As I proceed down this rocky path, there are new challenges at every turn. That's part of what makes it compelling - specifically because it isn't easy. I'm constantly learning and growing, not just as a writer, but as a person. You can't throw your heart and soul out onto a hotplate for other people to poke at and not grow from it. At least I don't think anyone can.
I was reading Tom McAllister's article 'Who Will Buy Your Book?', it's about a challenge I hope to have in the future. His article talks about the realities of what happens after you're published. Again, it's pretty stark, but at the end of the day, he hits on the thought I've heard repeated over and over again. I'm just going to steal his summary because he's not only more eloquent than I am, but he's -actually- published.
'As a writer, you need to approach every project with the understanding that you’re doing this work for yourself, and everything that happens once it’s in the world is out of your control. Whatever project you’re working on now doesn’t derive value from your friends’ approval, but rather from the love and energy you pour into it. You can do the work, and you can keep showing up, and that’s all you’ve got. Most of the time, it’s all you need.'
Creative endeavors of any kind tend to be a lonely thing. I'm sure I'm not the only person who sometimes feels like I'm sitting on an island hollering out at the world trying to be heard. Sometimes people hear, but most often they don't. And that's okay. They are busy living their own lives, doing their own things. That's reality. I am fortunate enough to have creative friends whose triumphs I get to celebrate, and they celebrate mine. But at the end of the day, I create for myself. There is a hope that others will connect to what I write and be interested. But like Tom says above, once something's out in the world, it's out of your control. And that's okay too.
So, for all the creatives out there, I can only give you my support and say, 'We who are about to create salute you!'