Just a few tidbits to tide you through the weekend:
If you’re a native of Northern Colorado you’ve seen this magazine floating around restaurants, theaters, bus stations, and the like. It’s hard to miss. They’ve recently decided to expand online and I’ll be helping out as a local reporter and general rabble-rouser (I’m not sure if that last part is official, but they get it for free anyway).
If you’d like to check out my newest article, head on over. Make sure to leave a comment and let me know what you think. And don’t forget to return, because there’s a lot more coming.
-On Monday I’m thrilled to announce we’ll have a special guest in the form of U.K author and writer extraordinaire, Clare Davidson. She has a new book that you’ll get to hear about, as well as answers to questions like “If you could pick one literary character to do your day job, who would you choose?” (Coming up with these questions is a gift, I know.)
That’s it for now. Enjoy your weekend, drink some absinthe for your ol’ pal Nic, and try not to fall down any wells (always a danger with writers).
I’ll see ya’ll Monday.
What other profession can claim that?
But it’s not always sugar plums and unicorns. Sometimes writing is freaking hard. Some days you can’t pull yourself out of bed to face that blank page again…some days you hate writing.
Hey, it’s alright. It happens to all of us. There’s a thin line between passion and abhorrence, and sometimes you end up on the wrong side of the line.
So what to do? How to make yourself start writing again? Or, more importantly, love writing again?
Here are a few things that work for me:
-Take your poor dog for a walk.
Look at that pooch over there. Yeah, the one sitting in the corner licking his, uh, well, just look at him. You know what? Your story can wait. Take that pitiful thing for a walk. Get some fresh air. Maybe throw a frisbee, or two.
There’s something rejuvenating about taking a walk when you’re putting off work. That crisp air, the tang of fresh-cut grass, the yell of your neighbor as your dog starts squatting in her yar—HEY! Knock that off! You can do that at the park.
No matter how much you hate writing, I guarantee once you return from that walk your blank page is going to look a lot more inviting.
-Write some fan-fic
It’s easy to get caught up in your WIP, whatever that may be at the moment. You get wrapped up in your head, stressing over the little details, the characters, whether anyone will like it, all the damn changes you need to make. ACK!
It’s enough to strangle your creativity.
So borrow someone elses.
Now, I’m not a big proponent of fan-fic. I think it’s a waste of your time and talents, and possibly insulting to the original author. But this isn’t about the ethical dilemma that comes from playing in someone elses sandbox, this is about sparking your prose.
And when you’re exhausted it’s nice to stand on someone else’s shoulders.
So take a minute and write about one of your favorite characters. Harry Potter, say. He’s safe enough. I wonder what would happen to him as an adult? He didn’t do well at school, so nothing academic I suspect. He wanted to fight the Dark Arts and all that, but since Voldemort’s gone there’s no demand for Aurors. He would probably end up a drunk.
A drunk wizard, pestering anyone who’ll listen to buy him a drink so he can relive his glory days…
I feel inspired.
-Meet your deadline (whether you have one or not)
The difference between professional writers and those that go by that ridiculous prefix “aspiring” (there is no aspiring, you either write or you don’t), is one word: deadline.
I was never much good with deadlines. I used to blow them all the time when I was in school, and then either B.S. or charm my way to an extension. But editors don’t give a Newton’s Fig whether you’ve come down with your third case of Mono. There’s no charming an editor and they live to eat excuses. They want their damn story.
And that’s a good thing, because whether you’re tired or not, it’s going to force you to write. And once you start writing it’s all down hill.
So what do you do if you don’t have a deadline? You make one up, of course. You tell yourself you’re going to finish that story/novel/article/fan-fic/tabletop/youtube video in three weeks and then…
(And here’s the important part.
Wait for it.
I guess that’s enough drama.
Or is it??
YOU TELL THE WORLD!
Not just your Uncle Bob and your faithful hound, Rex. You need to post that shiz on the book of faces, the tweety bird, the picture place, everywhere. You want everyone to know your deadline, because when you’re feeling blah and don’t feel like putting pen to paper you can remember that if you don’t finish in two weeks everyone will know.
Shame. There’s no finer motivator.
-Find yourself a cheerleader
There’s a reason writers drink. There’s a reason we’re anti-social ghouls who hide in our basements and hiss at sunlight. There’s a reason we don’t want you to read our story yet.
It’s because we are
constantly getting rejected.
Now, rejection can be a good thing, and criticism is vital to developing your story, and you need people you can trust who are willing to rip your story to shreds, and yada, yada, yada. You know what? It gets damn tiring listening to all the things that are wrong with your writing.
That’s when you need a cheerleader.
Someone who loves your work. Loves it. They devour every sentence, remember every character, and best of all? They want to know what comes next. They need you to write the next part.
Often this is your mother, or your aunt, father, sister, hobo you met on the street, whatever. It doesn’t matter. It doesn’t make any difference what their “qualifications” are, either. They’re a human being (this, unfortunately is required. Rex won’t work), they read, and they think you’re a great writer.
Everyone needs to get pumped up. We all need a Mick to our Rocky.
Just don’t ask them to dress like a cheerleader. That’s your mom, dude.
The sharp-eyed reader might have noticed over the past month that I’ve trimmed by blog posts from twice a week to a lonely, drunken one. A third of that’s intended, another third is laziness, and the last and final third is because my cup runneth over with writing obligations.
This is a good problem to have. A fine problem. But still a problem, because it limits the amount of time I can spend conversing on this
rant blog with you fine people. Believe me, if I could find the time (the fourth third, if you’ll suspend your mathy judgement for a moment) I’d be throwing up posts every day, full of the unsolicited, rambling, vitriol-filled advice you’ve come to expect when you visit Nic Widhalm is Mad. But sadly, one post a week will have to suffice for the moment.
All of this is a long-winded preamble to sheepishly admitting that I’ve come up a little short this week. But don’t worry! I’m good for it (just ask my bookie…but don’t tell him I sent you).
I’m just not good for it this week.
Why? Well, if you’ve made it this far without leaving in disgust I’ll shower you with some half-ass excuses (Never understood that expression. Do you want a full-ass excuse?).
- I’m working on the final, FINAL, draft of my novel, “The Tenth Order.” It’s the first book in a planned trilogy, and I’m working day and night to polish that puppy for submission. I’ve worked on this little guy for about five years, so this final push is taking a lot out of me. That said…I’m excited for you all to see it.
- Another short story is coming down the pipe-line. I’m incredibly humbled that my story, Razors and Rust, has been received so well, and now I’m preparing a new tale to inflict on the masses. A short-story (well, closer to novella if I’m being honest) involving reincarnated hobos, questionable Lotharios, poor dental hygiene, nuclear Armageddon, and a Subway train with sub-par safety standards (see, there I go again. Sorry Mrs. McGuire). I’m hoping to get this bad-boy out for digital consumption by October. Cross your fingers.
- Guest Blogs, interviews, and bears…oh my! Some of my colleagues have been crazy enough to invite me for a session of blog-pollution, which I’m just egotistical enough to accept. More to come.
- THE SECRET PROJECT! Oh yeah, and on top of that I’m working on a little secret project that I’ll reveal early next week. This is what’s currently occupying my time, and I’m sthuuuper excited to show it to you guys.
So there you go. As half-ass as they come. But please, stick with me, because I plan on making it up to you all very, very soon.
And since there is no blog-post today, I’ll leave you with this video instead:
Rejection isn’t pretty. You can present it however you like, call it nice names and spray it with perfume, but it never gets any easier. Or, as my Grandpappy used to say “You can dress a pig like a swan, but it’s still going to taste like bacon.”
Now, my Grandpappy was a great man (used to make the Rocky Mountain Oysters fresh off the bull, which is something you do not want to see), but with all due respect to my elders, he can take his advice and shove it. Sometimes a pig can taste like a swan.
And sometimes rejection can sting in a good way.
Here are nine ways you can make rejection taste like sweet, succulent swan:
1. Merit Badges
Last week I discussed a couple of ways you know you’re a writer, and one of the things I mentioned were Merit Badges. I love Merit Badges, because you usually get them for crap you already know but need to feel special about. Like eating your broccoli, or avoiding the clap.
But I’d like to think that Writer Merit Badges are something else. Something special. Something earned, fought for and paid for with the blood of your fallen World of Warcraft enemies.
And rejection in the queen bitch of Merit Badges.
It’s something every writer has endured. A mark of pride, honor, a badge you can show off to your children (or the totems of idea-babies sitting on your desk). Writers get rejected like Paris Hilton gets herpes. It’s going to happen, so start preparing, take your antibiotics, and toughen up.
And, you know, maybe stay away from B-List Celebrities. Just sayin’.
2. Free Revision
You know how much a good editor costs? It’s more than a pack of Magic: The Gathering cards, I can tell you that. How about a good critique group? Pshhaw, I’m a writer, I don’t socialize with other people. Beta Readers? Umm…does my mom count?
Hey, sometimes it’s freaking hard to get decent feedback for your story. So, you know what? Instead of looking at rejection as a personal attack or a denial of your special writer spark that makes you so much better than everyone else, and eventually Kevin Gardner from second-grade is going to see how good a writer you are, even though he said your story about Space Worms from Dimension Thirteen was worse than the third Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, and…uhm…what was I talking…
Oh! Right. Rejection.
If you’re lucky enough to get a rejection letter with some honest-to-goodness feedback on it, treat that shiz like Willy Wonka’s Golden Ticket. Because the agent/editor/sister-in-law who sent the feedback actually took time to read your story, note what’s wrong, and tell you. Folks, that doesn’t happen often.
Take the good feedback where you can, and if you’re not feeling like a beligerant ass that day send the agent a thank you note. Just a few words letting them know you appreciate the feedback. It’s something decent human beings do, and you never know, maybe that agent has a friend who’s going to read your manuscript someday.
A kind word can go a long way.
3. Where the Greats Have Gone Before
Let me throw a few stats at’cha:
J.K Rowling was rejected by a dozen publishers before she sold the first Harry Potter novel.
Stephen King received thirty rejections before he published his first book, Carrie.
C.S. Lewis (I love this one) faced rejection over 800 times before he sold a single piece of writing!
I could populate a hundred posts with nothing but lists of famous authors rejected repeatedly before selling their first, second, or sometimes twelfth novel. I’ve already said that rejection is a mark of honor, but it’s also a tradition. A way to compare yourself with the greats. A chance to walk a mile in Stephen King’s
Anyone who has written something great has faced rejection on numerous occasions. Someday you will be able to add yourself to that list.
4. Spruce Up That Office Space
And speaking of Stephen King…
There’s a great story in his legendary book, On Writing, discussing how he dealt with rejection. In King’s case, he would meticulously collect every rejection letter, smooth them out and hang them from a spike nailed into his bedroom wall. He would look at them every day and remind himself of what he was doing, what he was trying to accomplish.
The lesson is your rejection letters shouldn’t be stashed away, hidden in some drawer buried next to the dead hooker from that Vegas Publishing Expo (Hey, what happens at a Publishing Expo…right?). They should be proudly displayed, preened, admired from your leather chair as you type away on your next novel, a smile on your face as you imagine how it’ll feel when you finally get that letter of acceptance.
And if nothing else, those letters make a great dart board.
5. War Stories
Rejection can be a mark of pride, a reminder of what you’re trying to accomplish, or just some nice wall art. But what it can also be is a great story. And when it comes time to sit down with some writers at a friendly game of strip poker, you can’t be the only one without a story.
They don’t have to all be winners (“I remember back in ’09 I was working on this real piece of work. Sent it out to an agent and got a still beating human heart Fed Exed the following week.”) but you should be able to nod in sympathy when a fellow wordsmith is lamenting his latest form rejection.
And if you’ve never been rejected? If you have no experience from which to empathize? If all your poop comes out gold-plated and covered in mithril?
Well, hell, I’ll still hang with you. I’ve always wanted some mithril.
6. The Seething Fire That Feeds Ambition
Do an experiment for me real quick, k? Reach deep down past your gut, your large intestine, your small, your bowels, the burrito you shouldn’t have eaten on Monday, and find the squirming little bastard that makes you wake up in the morning.
No, not gas, the other squirming bastard.
Ok, got him? Great. Now get acquainted, because that jabbering, poking, squirmy little dude’s called your ambition, and he loves to eat. All the time.
You can feed him with high-fives, speeches from Rudy, and pep-talks from your mom, but you know what’ll trump all that? What the little guy loves to nosh more than anything else? Yeah, you can probably guess (because of the title of the blog, and all that).
Ambition loves rejection. Love it. Loooooooves it.
Nothing will get your fire going like a nice piece of “You can’t do it.” That stuff works every time, because once you get over the sinking feeling in your gut (that’s the opposite of ambition. It’s called self-pity and it has no place in writing. Or Rudy) and get angry, you’re going to hit your keyboard like a schnauzer on epinephrine.
You may not produce the greatest work, but damn if it doesn’t feel good. And sometimes that’s enough.
7. Learn How to Reject the Proper Way (Or Not)
One of my favorite things about the publishing world is that everything is cyclical. Which means that someday you’re going to be the one sending out the rejection letters.
Now, I’m not saying you’re going to become an agent, but if you stay in the writing game long enough eventually people are going to ask you for something. Requests to read manuscripts, invitations to sit on convention panels, petitions for your social security number (What? They said they needed it for my byline), and as much as you want to say yes to everything, eventually you’ll have to say no.
You’ll have to reject them.
Yay! Now you’re in the driver seat. You can fulfill those fantasies of crushing someone’s dream the same way you were crushed by that dumb agent who rejected you two years ago. She obviously didn’t know that Space Worms from Dimension Thirteen were the next big thing.
Only, she was pretty nice in that rejection. She treated you like a human being, gave you a little feedback (turns out Space Worms played better in Young Adult. Who knew?), and encouraged you to try again in the future.
The point? When you get a rejection letter that is courteous and polite, learn from it, then pay it forward when the time comes.
8. Without Misery What Would We Write?
Boy, is there anything writers love more than a nice, hot bucket of misery in the morning? Not the misery of others, of course, we’re not monsters (we just write about them). I’m talking self misery.
Misery fuels authors like Red Bull and Vodkas fuel Lindsay Lohan. We love that stuff. We thrive on it. And the messed up part, sometimes we go looking for it.
Turns out we don’t have to look far, because the next rejection letter is just an agent away. That means a fresh batch of feeling sorry for ourselves is on the way, and that means writing! Sure, we can write without it. We don’t require misery to hit the keyboard, but sometimes it just…it just…well, dammit, it just feels nice.
So turn that rejection into something productive. Let it fuel your spark of self-pity. And when you’re done, go take a walk in the sunshine. You can’t be miserable all the time.
9. If All Else Fails, Go It Alone
So you’ve been rejected. A bunch. And while it’s nice to know that C.S. Lewis had to deal with rejection eight hundred times, maybe you’ve hit the end of your rope. Maybe it’s time to self-publish.
See, we have to remember that rejection is ultimately one person sitting in an office with a big rubber stamp saying your work won’t sell. One. Person. And even though that person is an “expert” in the industry, and it’s their job to figure out what sells, there are plenty of times they’re wrong.
Like, 50 Shades of Wrong.
So, how do you know when it’s time to self-publish? Well, take a look at those rejection letters. Did you get thirty form rejections? Umm, yeah, probably something wrong with your novel, old son. Better hit those beta-readers. If you didn’t get form rejections, if your letters are full of praise but tell you things like your story won’t sell in the current market, it’s too long, it’s difficult to summarize, Space Worms have already been done, well…those are cues that self-pubbing might be the way to go.
And when your self-published novel goes the way of Amanda Hocking and sells a million copies, give me a holler and we’ll go out for a beer. While we’re there we can swap some war stories.
“Pep Talk” Creative Commons via joellevand
All other images courtesy of stock.xchang
At some point any person who has lifted a pen, swallowed a fifth of vodka, and decided to write a novel will have to make a decision. A decision that will change their lives, their business cards, and most importantly, their dental plan.
They have to decide when to call themselves a “writer.”
That title, writer, is as subjective as they come; a term coined by the devil while sitting on Chaucer’s bones, flossing with Milton’s small intestine and reading King’s “Under the Dome.” Terrifying in its grandeur, intimidating in its simplicity.
So, at what point do you change your Facebook page from “Aspiring Author” to “Writer?” Where is the line, the moderator, the person who says you’ve made it? When do you give your boss the middle finger, stock up on Ramen, and decide to make this hobby your career?
No one person can tell you when you’re a writer (but pretend I didn’t say that until the end, ok?). But there are some signs you’re on your way.
-Call yourself a damn writer, already.
Hey, I can give you a checklist of writerly wisdom, point you in the direction of the liquor market and push, but you’re never going to walk until you decide you’re a writer.
There comes a day when you have to look in the mirror and call yourself a writer (and while you’re there, check out those bags under your eyes. We call those Merit Badges. Get used to them). You have to introduce yourself as a writer. You have to sign your emails “Gertrude P. Morgenstern, Writer.” You have to make a big, flashy, banner on your desktop that says “I’m here to write, because I’m a writer, and that’s a thing we do.”
No one’s going to take that step for you.
That said, I don’t subscribe to the theory that just because you write you should immediately call yourself a writer. There’s a learning curve, an apprenticeship, a trade you must study before you can stand upright, flask in hand, and declare yourself a wordsmith. Trust me, it sounds like more gatekeeping, but this is a good thing. If I had started calling myself a “writer” when I was twenty I would have never improved. And I needed to improve, because I sucked when I was twenty. A lot.
The title “writer” is something you reach for, a brass ring. Something that motivates you. It’s a term that commands respect, because it signifies someone who has studied the deeper mysteries, the dark crevices of writerly lore and come back in one piece
And once you’ve done all that, and seen the things that can’t be unseen (What happens at WorldCon stays at WorldCon), it’s time to own up and call yourself a damn writer, already.
-Time to publish
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: you can’t write in a vacuum. You have to share your work. If no one’s reading your prose (or poetry, it swings both ways) you might as well be pissing in a well, because readers make writers. And that means publishing.
It’s fine and good to have your friends critique your story—they should, that’s what friends are for—but your craft won’t improve without input from the world at large, so strap on your big boy pants and start polishing your query letter. It’s possible you’ll get rejected. Hell, it’s close to certain. But, believe it or not, that’s a good thing because remember those Merit Badges we just talked about? Rejection is the bastard king of Merit Badges.
Put simply, you can’t call yourself a writer if you haven’t faced rejection.
And when it comes to publication, yeah, rejection’s going to happen. But something else will happen, too. Something special, magical, fragrant (uh…yeah)—someone besides your mom is going to read your prose and tell you it’s good. It may take a while. It may take a loooooong while, but it’ll happen eventually, and when it does?
Well, then you get to call yourself a writer.
Awwwwww, yeah, son. Time to make that paper.
You know what separates a professional musician from a garage band? An equity actor from a community theater? A porn star from a porn, uh, wannabe? (Is that a thing? I’d better do some research.)
They all get paid.
Artists get paid for their work. That’s the difference between a hobby and a career.
Now, your first foray into publishing might be pro bono. That’s alright, we all start somewhere. You have to get your foot in the door, grease some hinges (or whatever passes for hinges in publishing, like I don’t know…booze?), and network.
So, yeah, once or twice for free is great. But writer’s should get paid for their work. If you’re giving the cow away and then there’s some milk, and the Big Six Publishing houses drink that milk and…uh…where was I going?
Oh! Right. Money.
Pay the writer.
And I’ll tell you now, the first time you get a check for copy you wrote…well, it doesn’t get better than that. That mean’s you’ve made it, writer.
Now start printing those business cards.