The Wandering Place

Seeing as how last time I wrote about the figurative “Girigiri Place” I thought I’d continue by discussing the place writers go after so many rejection letters.

I can’t say this is the same for all writers, because I do know someone who keeps all his rejection slips and uses them to fuel his fire, so to speak. And I think that’s a very good attitude to have. “Another rejection? Their loss. Three more queries going out today.” At least it’s proof that you’re not sitting around, doing nothing, waiting for the publisher to come to you.

But how long can such an outlook last? My case is probably a little different, considering I’ve been obsessed with writing a single novel for the past eight years. (And not to be a hypocrite, but I really don’t recommend that.) After eight years, such projects are likely to either die off as the author loses interest or become so much a part of her life that she is determined to get it out there, no matter what.

Until she hits that magical number of rejection letters.

Maybe the plot is trite. Maybe the genre isn’t what’s selling right now. Maybe the agents just didn’t think it was interesting enough, or any number of other reasons. The point is, the author doesn’t know. She starts to doubt that she’ll ever get that novel represented, let alone published. She wonders, and in trying to figure out where she went wrong, she looks to the bookshelves. She shuffles through the pages of her own favorite books, and books she doesn’t like that are on the bestseller lists, and books that never deserved to be published that are somehow flying off the shelves and spawning Hollywood movie franchises with disgusting amounts of profit. And she compares her work to these.

And she wonders what she’s doing wrong.

This is where every writer who’s ever had their heart set on publication goes at some point. It is not a good thing. I found an interesting blog the other day with an article that focused (from an artist’s point of view) on dissatisfaction with one’s work:

This post really hit home with me, especially sections two, three, and four. Perfectionism? My novel should NOT have taken eight years to write. True, it’s hardly what it was in its first incarnation (crap), but instead of focusing so much on “I should change this word” and “should she respond with a frown or a blank stare?” I could have been looking at the big picture, finding out my plot didn’t work, and fixing it years before I finally did.

Higher standards? I mean, who actually does listen to their mother when she says, “It’s perfect just the way it is?” “But mom, didn’t you notice that the ending makes no sense?”

Comparing myself to others — hm. That’s the big one. Of course I’d get published if I wrote like Neil Gaiman. He’s a genius. But I don’t have any desire to try because… he’s a genius. His ideas, his world-building, his characters, everything is so amazing that it’s utterly untouchable. I have way too much respect for the man to even consider copying his style, and way too much respect for my own writing to make myself a copycat.

But then there are certain unmentionable authors — and you can think of a few yourself, I’m sure — who, despite everything, are published. They bend their own rules, have flat main characters who make very annoying narrators, and could probably take the most brilliant plot-line in the world and turn it into fodder. And to top it off, they don’t even seem to have a decent grasp of their native language. It frustrates the author who has yet to be published, if it doesn’t actually make her believe these stories are better than hers.

So, how to overcome this state of mind?

First, you have to be aware that you’re in it, which isn’t always obvious. Haven’t sent out a query in a while? Maybe you just want to tweak it a bit first. Have you? …Has it even crossed your mind since you got your last rejection?

Yeah, might be time to take some steps.

My method is less of a method and more of a “just do it” self-command. Whether I want to or not, I open up the query letter and read it. I send it to a book-loving friend whom I know will be honest as to whether they would buy this book in the store. If I do see ways to make it better, I do it. Eventually, I find myself doing more than staring at the page and drooling. I actually care again!

The doubt is still there, but progress is being made.

Perhaps your query tweaking (or your friend’s brutal honesty) has made you aware of something you should change in your manuscript. I generally have one of two reactions to this — the “oh great, more stuff to fix” reaction or the “awesome, this will make the story perfect!” reaction. If it’s the first, I’m tempted to put off the editing until later. DO NOT DO THIS. At the very least, make notes outlining exactly what you need to do and where; this will make you more willing to actually pick it back up again later. Why? Because starting is the hardest part.

When all else fails, you just have to plod on, even if you’re not working on what really needs it. If you’re querying one project, you should have at least one other in the works already. In my experience, doing something related will keep what you need to do at least in the back of your mind, so you won’t be giving yourself the luxury of forgetting all about it until some rainy day when you realize, “Oops, I’m not published yet. Whatever happened to that ambition?”

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