Tag Archives: Perseverance

Rough Writing

This post is one I originally posted on Facebook at the end of July and was one of my most viewed posts ever! It’s a deeply personal account of a tough moment in my writing “career.” I’ve posted about it before but this seemed to resonate with many writers and readers. Here ya go!


Last year, I learned a valuable lesson in regards to my writing.

I wanted to turn one of my four NaNoWriMo novels into a publishable book. I choose what I thought was the best one and revised it then hired an editor to look it over.

When I got the edits back, I was also given a brutally honest assessment of the work. It wasn’t something I wanted to hear, but man it was so helpful and so spot on. I cannot thank that editor enough for opening my eyes to the problems it had and how far from being ready it was.

Then, a few days later, I attended a writing conference where they were doing a blind reading of submitted stories with a panel of agents and small publishers. Anyone that wanted to could submit a three page sample of their story and they’d read it out loud for the entire conference to hear. Once it got to the point in the story where that agent or editor would’ve rejected the submission, they were to raise their hand. Once a majority of the panel rejected it, they’d stop and offer a critique of why they rejected it (or if it went the entire length, why they would’ve asked for more).

I submitted my three pages. So did about a hundred other writers. They only read five submissions but guess whose got read? Yeah, this guy right here! It was the same story I had my editor work on. Already feeling bummed about the comments received so far, when they started reading mine I was in shock but also curious.

boy-859364_960_720When they got to the second page, hands started flying up. I sipped my Diet Coke like nothing was going on but inside I was crushed. I wanted to crawl in a hole and die. Their feedback was brutal. Much like the editor I worked with, they didn’t hold back, however this was in front of a room of over a hundred writers! Fortunately the only person that knew who’s story they were critiquing was myself.

Those combined experiences with that draft made me question everything I was doing. Was I good enough? Do I have a clue about what I’m doing? Was I mistakenly claiming the title of “writer?” Should I give up?

My drive home from that conference was a dark, lonely drive. However, when I finally pulled in the driveway, I determined to use this for good.

I vowed to get better, to try harder, to continue progressing in my craft because I love it. I enjoy writing and it’s a part of me now. I chose to take their criticisms not as a personal attack, but as my alarm to improve my writing. I had skill, but it needed work.

It was a tough lesson to learn, but in the end the most valuable thing to happen to me.

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Ready for Rejection?

Rejection sucks! Whether it’s from another person, your boss, or anyone else – rejection sucks! This past year has been a boon for me in terms of rejection.

I’ve got a file I keep of all submitted stories and queries. I’ve got over 40 rejections with only 1 acceptance! I’m not the greatest with math, but the percentage of my work accepted is pretty dang low. I thought about it and there are a few reasons why I’ve experienced so many “no” emails and only one “yes” email.

My first and most important thought is my writing needs to be better. I don’t blame others for my failings. I own my shortcomings and learn from them. I do think my writing needs improvement. I work on it almost daily. I’ve gone to a writer’s conference earlier this year and I work on the craft much more now than I ever have. I can see improvement in how I write from a year ago. I’m positive if I continue to hone my craft, I’ll get better as I practice. It’s kinda like running. I can’t go out and run a marathon if I don’t start training. I have to build up my body in order to run the race. Writing is the same way. If I work at it and learn my failings, I can grow and be a better writer.

I’ve mentioned this before, but in one of the rejections I received for a manuscript, the publisher was kind enough to offer a few critiques. The one that’s stuck out with me was “you can write, but you can do better.” It was validation that I’ve got some talent but could still learn a lot more. I was grateful to get such a response.

Second, maybe I’ve been sending it to the wrong places. I’ve targeted the major markets (Daily Science Fiction, Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, Nightmare Magazine, etc) hoping to break through and grace their publications. Nope, not this year. And that’s fine. It’s a learning experience. Fortunately I don’t need to sell stories in order to support my family. Looking at magazines and journals that don’t pay pro rates might be where I need to focus. It would help build an audience and get my name exposed to more and more readers.

Lastly, and this ties in with the second, is that I’m incorrectly identifying my stories and sending them to the wrong places. It’s possible my work doesn’t fit their magazines at all and I need to look for other sources to get my name out there. I need to reevaluate my stories and where I send them in order to find better matches.

I believe in my work. I trust I have some amount of skill. More importantly I enjoy writing stories. When I get so involved in writing that I can see the characters as vivid as if they were standing in front of me and hear them speaking to each other, that’s when it’s the absolute best. There is nothing like it.

I’ll continue to submit stories. I’ll keep sending queries. Maybe this time next year, I’ll have another list of rejection but a few more acceptances. I won’t know unless I try.

Nearing the End

As I write this, I’m just over 34,000 words into my latest NaNoWriMo attempt. I intend on getting to the end and completing my fourth novel. With the upcoming long weekend, I should find enough time to power through and hit 50k by the end of day on the 30th.

You can actually read what I’ve written so far. I’m using the Tablo writing platform and I’m quite impressed by the experience so far. I’ve had someone comment and I’ve received over 120 reads. You can find the story here. I do caution you to read it with a certain amount of understanding. It is a very rough draft with all sorts of problems. But, you can still read the story and get an idea where I’m going with it. I’m open for suggestions and critiques as well.

What I’ve discovered over the years participating in NaNo is something that correlates to my day job of sales rep.

Writing daily and uploading my word count on the NaNo site gives me instant visual verification that I’ve accomplished something. It shows me how many words I’ve written since the last time I uploaded my word count, my average word count, my expected completion date if I continue at the current pace and many other quantifiable bits of data to help me push on.

In sales it’s very much the same. I have monthly and annual goals. Every order counts. Every dollar adds up. I can break down my goals by week and day if I want to. Small orders eventually add up to larger totals. I could have a weak sales day and counter it with a spectacular day that covers for the shortages. Daily I can check my totals and watch as I get closer to my goal.

That attitude and ability to be patient when the days aren’t going the way I’d like have helped. Of course I’d rather make the goal as soon as possible but knowing if I stay the course I’ll eventually get to the end is a comforting thought.

Writing a novel isn’t easy. Heck writing short stories and essays isn’t easy either. But with determination, patience, and a willingness to trek on when everything seems against you, you can get to the end. You can make the goal set for you. You can do something amazing.

If you are writing this month, I wish you the absolute best. Don’t worry about editing or if your story is going where it needs to go (see the link to my story in progress for confirmation of this) Use this time to write. Editing comes later. Fixes can be made when the month is over.

I know I write about NaNo a lot. It’s something I get excited about. It’s a month long sprint to 50K and there’s nothing like being engrossed in your work so much that it’s the only thing on your mind. Characters become good friends. Settings seem like memories of a real place once visited. Plot lines intermingle with one another.

If you’ve never tried it I challenge you to do so. If nothing else, it will get you in the mindset of writing. It will give you an excuse to put your story down on the screen or paper.

Good luck to all the writers this month. You’re almost there! If you failed and won’t make the deadline, don’t worry. You’ve started something wonderful. Keep at it. One word added to another gets you that much closer to the goal. You’ll finish and that accomplishment is more meaningful than you know.

 

 

Sharpening My Sword

July was a weird month for me. It started off great with the All Write Now Conference. Then it took a turn.

I started the month giddy with myself, anticipating further progress with my writing. Going to my first ever writing conference seemed like a natural step to take. It was. I met many new people and attended several classes that either reinforced what I’d been doing or gave me greater insight into the craft. Off of that high, I still had a story pending with Daily Science Fiction.

I’d made it past their first round of review and was anxiously awaiting their final say. It didn’t go my way and they passed (rightly so) on my story. Then within a day of that I received a letter from a small publisher I met at the conference who’d asked for my manuscript after I had a pitch session with them. The letter was a rejection, but at least they did me a huge favor and offered a short critique. That has helped me more than they’ll ever know.

Within a day or two of that letter, I received another rejection of a different story I’d submitted. I tried sending the story to another place and had another rejection within a few days.

To be fair, the story probably needed rejection. It wasn’t ready. I’m reworking it now to make it stronger.

What all of this has taught me is that I need to hone my skills. Certainly I need to take time with my work and make sure it is the best possible representation of my writing. I don’t need to go storming prematurely at the gates of publishing expecting entrance when I haven’t prepared my sword yet!

The rejections hurt, they always do. I’ve got a nice growing list of stories that were rejected and by whom and when. It’s enlightening to see that but at the same time, I know maybe the stories weren’t ready or maybe I tried the wrong places.

I’m not  giving up. I know I can do better. Rejection doesn’t mean the end of things. To me it’s like a nice way of saying “not yet, but soon.” It’s up to me to put the effort into it.

I’m sharpening my sword right now, staring at those gates, ready to make my way inside.

Claimed

I’m a writer. There, I said it. Take me to task. “What have you written?” you may ask. “Are you published?” you might follow up with. OK, slow down.

Just know, I am a writer.

Do you know how long it’s taken me to claim that title? It’s not like I woke up one day and thought, hmm…today I think I’m a writer. If only it were so easy.

Others have a preset idea of what “I’m a writer” means. I was one of those people. Now, not so much.

I no longer think a “writer” has to have published a NYT bestseller. A writer need not have actually published at all. Some have written far longer and more prolific than I have, yet they don’t have a single published credit to their name. Are they writers? Of course they are! And probably better than I am.

I’m fortunate to have at least one published credit to my name (*cough, cough: http://www.everydayfiction.com/cat-got-your-tongue-by-jason-j-nugent/) I also have this blog which has gained readers every month. Add my work on a video game and the three unpublished novels I’ve written, and I’ve got a decent start to what I’d like to call my “writing career.”

Not that any of that makes me more of a writer than others. I’ve been fortunate because I’ve put myself out there for others to read and I’ve had mostly positive feedback. It’s not always been a pleasant process, but I believe in what I do and I’m not afraid of rejection. Well, not that afraid.

At a recent writing conference I attended, the question was posed, “Who has had a story rejected before?” About two-thirds of the class raised their hand, including me. The instructor applauded us because you can’t get published unless you try. Part of the process is rejection.

I’ve been writing seriously for maybe seven to eight years. I’ve enjoyed creating stories since high school, but I never devoted time and resources to it like I do now.

I was scared at first to call myself a writer. What did that mean? How would others think of me? Do I have a right to claim that title? Do I have enough “cred” to call myself a writer?

Yes. Yes I do.

I might be a sales rep. at a screen-printing company. I might be a husband and a father. I might be a part-time runner and wicked bocce ball player.

But I’m also a writer. You’ve got it in black and white.

Support Your Local Skateboarder, Part 3

I continue to write for myself, because I have a story to tell.  I enjoy the act of putting thoughts on paper (or more rightly, on a screen) and sharing it with others.  I write because I have to.  I write to let out the creativity inside.  I don’t write for money or fame, though if I’m honest, I wouldn’t mind any of that.  It’s just not the reason I put my thoughts down for all to read.

In a way, skateboarding taught me this lesson.

Skating was so much fun.  I met many interesting and diverse people.  I had a skate team in Cleveland (the Circle P) and when I moved to Illinois, I found a great group of skaters known as the PMC, Purple Moon Commandos, and I’ve been a part of it ever since.  The PMC was a group of skaters that wanted nothing more than to skate because it was fun.  We had no delusions of being professionals.  We had no attitude like we were better than others.  We accepted and encouraged all skaters.  We were a community interested in building each other up.  To this day, we relate to each other because of our skating days.  We may have lost members of our group (thinking of you Erik) and we may not skate anymore, but we all learned so much from our time together.

For me, the greatest lesson learned was to never stop.  Stay persistent.  Continue on just because you love it.  Push that “stunt-wood” around for the heck of it.  Money and fame were not the reason we skated.  We skated because we wanted to, because it was in our blood.

Writing has become that for me.  I’d love to make a living off my work, but that’s not the end goal.  My reason to write is because it’s in my blood.  The persistence I learned in skating transferred to my writing.  I’ve been writing fiction for maybe 5-6 years now.  I started because I enjoyed it and others encouraged me, just like skating where I had others supporting me.  I continue to write to challenge myself.  I want to improve and write better.

The next time you see one of those “skate punks” out there making black marks on concrete or falling down in the street, take a moment to encourage them.  You have no idea what they’ll end up being in life.  But you can bet they will work hard at it.

Support Your Local Skateboarder, Part 1

Skateboarding meant so much to me for a long time. To this day, I feel an attraction to it. I enjoy watching skaters do their thing and learn new tricks and try pushing themselves further. I still have a skateboard and on occasion take it to the street and mess around, however falling hurts a bit more than it used to!

 Skateboading has taught me so many life lessons that I often don’t realize how important it was forming me into the person I am today.

The most important thing I’ve learned is perseverance. This trait continues in my writing, how I train to run, and with my family and work.

When trying a new trick for the first time, failure is expected. Most likely I’d fall because my weight wasn’t balanced correctly or I was at the wrong angle. No problem. I’d pick myself back up and try again with the knowledge gained from failure. Of course I didn’t always do the trick correctly after that first failure. But I’d learn from each mistake, get back up, and try again, tweaking my approach to the trick until I got it right. I’d learn how to fail (and reduce the pain of it) and try harder to get it right.

This approach has informed my life in powerful ways. I fail at writing. I fail at running. I fail my family and work. But what I learned from skating is that I can reduce the pain of those failures and learn from them. When I fail, it’s an opportunity to learn and grow and improve. 

Failure is a sign that I tried. I can’t fail if I don’t try something I’ve never done before. Getting rejection letters from editors only serves to teach me I need to improve my craft. Getting a slower time in a race teaches me I need to train harder to get faster. But all of these failures mean I’m trying. It means I see a goal and I’m reaching for it. 

I doubt any other activity would’ve made such a lasting impression as skateboarding has on my life. It’s something I lean on every single day as I seek to improve myself.