Tag Archives: Writing

some thoughts on rejection

I once dated a wonderful guy.  He was funny, smart and good-looking. Generous. A great listener. My family loved him. And I loved him, too, except not in the way I wanted to. For some reason, he wasn’t quite right for me.

I once was dumped by a guy. He told me he wanted space, which since we were both independent and spent lots of time apart, was really code for ‘I’m over you’. It hurt, absolutely. And for awhile there I thought ‘I’m obviously way too boring/emotional/freckly/fat’. But that breakup wasn’t the end of my dating life. Other people found me tolerable, even delightful 😜. I just wasn’t right for that person.

And I’ve realised that rejection in the writing world is often the same. The work might be great, but there’s a mismatch.

When we receive a rejection, it’s easy to blame ourselves. To spiral into thoughts of ‘my writing is shit’ (which reminds me of the time I accidentally called my manuscript a manushit) and ‘I’ll never get anywhere’ and ‘where’s the chocolate?’ And sure, there must be times when the submission wasn’t up to scratch. It was rushed out, not proofread well, or it’s an early career submission. It has good elements but needs some work.

But over time, as we improve, other factors come into play. The journal already commissioned an essay on belly button lint. We sent a dark story and they’re looking for a funny piece (or vice versa). The style doesn’t resonate with the competition judge (even though another judge will love it).

On Monday, I had dinner with two writer friends. Both women are very talented. One writes screenplays, memoir, novels, short stories, essays and more. The other writes plays, short stories and essays and is an accomplished actor. Both have won awards and fellowships. Both have been published, one in book form. These women are dynamos. And yet, as we ate our yellow curry, they spoke about the rejection emails they’d received the past few days. I chimed in to say I’d had recent rejections, too. We commiserated over pieces we thought were strong, yet were not accepted or didn’t place in competitions. And as we whined and laughed and wined, I had a minor epiphany (can an epiphany be minor?) —

Rejections don’t mean our work isn’t good.

Turns out, the writing world is like the dating world. Not everyone will fall in love with our work (and we won’t fall in love with everything we read, either). As with dating, we shouldn’t try to be who we’re not, to please someone else. They’ll like us or they won’t. We’ll be rejected for sure, but acceptances will come when we least expect it.

And in the meantime, we can write.

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writer’s block – causes and treatment

typewriter

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Let me preface this by saying I just liked the medical sound of that title. I’m not a writing doctor. However, I am an expert in getting writer’s block.

Writer’s block seems to arrive on my doorstep with such regularity that I’m much calmer about it these days. Instead of freaking out and thinking ‘I’ll never write another decent story again’, I now sigh with recognition and say ‘Heyyy, maaaate’ as writer’s block pushes past me and into the house.

I’m currently stuck mid-story (what a surprise and how unusual), so I decided to brainstorm all the reasons I know for writer’s block. I hope you’ll find something here that helps.

Reasons for writer’s block/Possible solutions:

Our health needs attention.
We need sleep, food, exercise, or fresh air. We need to take time off until we’re over an illness or injury. We need to slow down because of a chronic illness or disability. We need interaction with others, for our mental health. We crave the comfort of writers who understand and can suggest solutions.

We’re distracted.
We’re scrolling this, skim reading that. We sit to write and then get up two minutes later for a snack, a toilet break, anything but keeping bum on chair. If we don’t focus on our work for a decent amount of time, we can’t explore the work in depth.

We’re too impatient.
We want the entire chapter/poem/story/essay to emerge in two or three sittings. But our minds don’t always work like this (mine almost never works like this). A piece must unfold at its own pace. It might reveal itself day by day—as we shower, walk, sweep the kitchen floor. Contemplation is writing.

We’re trying to shove a pumpkin into a cocktail glass.
The fit isn’t right between idea and form. That powerful blast of emotion might be a poem, not an opinion piece. The space station comedy might be a novella not a short story. A painful memory might be best expressed through fiction.

The idea needs more.
It needs strengthening, modifying, layering. We’re writing about an older woman who keeps 33 cats and plays Elvis Presley all day but it’s lacking something. We haven’t revealed her hidden past, or introduced the young neighbour blasting Amyl and the Sniffers, or sent a flood that isolates the woman and her cats.
I sometimes use paper and pen to write a question in big letters, then draw arrows from the question, spouting multiple answers. Outrageous, sensible and plainly stupid answers. Just lots of them is key. One will often point the way forward. (Credit for this strategy goes to Jaclyn Moriarty, who described it in a workshop I attended a few years ago)

We don’t know our characters well.
What are their quirks, how old are they? What’s their occupation? Who are their loved ones? And of course the big questions—What’s their secret fear? and What do they desperately want?

We don’t know the setting well.
This is one is easy to neglect. When I need clarity, I use Google Earth, read about the place, look at images online. For places that exist in my imagination, I might draw mud maps and sketch floor plans so I can ‘see’ the places as my characters move about.

Our self-critics are poking up their ugly heads.
It’s important to banish that tall, sneery, pasty-faced inner critic (okay that’s my inner critic, feel free to picture your own) as our first draft emerges. We need to tell our inner critics to piss off (a technique I first heard from Edwina Shaw at a QWC workshop). For now, we’re just getting down words. We can add, cut, rearrange and refine later.

Forgetting joy.
We write because we love it. We choose and order words and ta-da!—we’ve created a poem, an essay, a novel, a play. A short story, screenplay, memoir piece or work of non-fiction. What a magical and powerful act.
It helps to remember joy. ❤️

 

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Filed under the joy of writing, the writing life, writing advice, writing angst

Jealousy and Mudita

summer flowers

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Mudita comes from Sanskrit and Pali, and means sympathetic joy, or joy in the good fortune of others.

An author tweeted recently about a friend who rated the author’s book 2-stars on Goodreads. In her tweet, the author wondered why this person did such a thing. My first thought—that friend is jealous.

Jealousy can creep into relationships in insidious ways. If you have a friend, and you sense a tiny element of delight in their response when your life gets rough, jealousy might be raising its ugly head. If a bestie reacts to your good news with minimal enthusiasm, they might be jealous. If you begin to feel like you’re not safe with that person, if they start to take offence at the slightest thing, they’re probably jealous. They’re struggling to find their mudita.

I’ve had minimal success in writing; I’m just getting going, but it has been interesting to notice different reactions when I have good writing news.

One writing acquaintance stopped contacting me when I was shortlisted for the Richell Prize. Though we’d recently messaged and supported each other, the writer didn’t congratulate me, and stopped interacting altogether. A coincidence, perhaps, but it baffled me. Another friend—not in the writing world—goes through the motions of congratulating me on publications or placings, but she never seems truly pleased. Perhaps she doesn’t realise what each achievement means to me, but regardless, her muted reactions sting.

On the flip side, other friends, some of whom I haven’t seen in person for several years, have been brilliant. High school pals leave excited comments on social media, Uni mates buy copies of magazines or anthologies where my work is published, old workmates send cheery messages. And my close friends are amazing—there for me in good times and bad. I couldn’t make it without them.

So these days, I’m all about spending time with people who are genuine and kind. Those who I can support and celebrate. Those who are disappointed for me when I have setbacks, and who share in my successes. Those who, like me, might occasionally feel jealousy, but who know its perils and brush it off.

To all you lovely writers who chat with me—in person, on this site, on Twitter, on Facebook and on Instagram—to you warm, encouraging and funny people: thank you. You are shining examples of mudita.

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Oh writers, what have we done?

If you’ve been feeling, like I have, that you’ve failed to achieve all you hoped to this year, it’s worth looking back, just for a moment. Adding up all you’ve written, all you’ve applied for, all the work you’ve done towards achieving your goals. Maybe you’ve placed or been shortlisted in a competition, or had work published. Maybe you’ve written something that makes your heart race, something you know is good. Our milestones are so easily forgotten, as we constantly shift the goalposts.

Just now, I tallied up what I’ve written this year. Before looking, I would have guessed 3 or 4 stories. It feels like I’ve struggled to write, with more paid work, my kids needing time, a health issue, and life’s up and downs. I’ve been frustrated lately, thinking how little I’ve progressed.

And yet … I’ve actually completed 8 stories in the past 11 months. I’ve applied for writing fellowships. I’ve sent work to several journals, and entered a number of competitions. I’ve received lots of form rejections, a few lovely personal rejections, a highly commended in the Newcastle Short Story Award. I recently had work accepted for an anthology I’m really excited about. I finished a full manuscript. And I did 3 readings—2 for Amanda O’Callaghan’s book launches of This Taste for Silence (an absolute must-read), and one for Anna Krien’s Brisbane launch of Act of Grace (another wonderful book). None of this is astounding, but it’s decent. I’ve done plenty in 2019.

You’ve probably done way more than you realise, too, if you check. It’s so easy to forget our accomplishments and stew on disappointments.

And if you’re still unhappy with your ‘progress’, remember we’re all living with different demands. Some work longer hours, some have very small children, or lots of children! Some of us are carers. Some of us struggle with mental health issues, chronic illness or disability. We’re all doing our best, given our circumstance. And for that, we deserve to feel proud as 2019 comes to a close.

Congratulations to you — for everything you’ve written, for all you’ve endured, and for anything that has brought you joy.

 

 

 

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catching your (writing) breath

I wrote this a few days ago, then saw an article on the same topic. In any case, these are my thoughts on taking a holiday from writing.

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We’ve all heard the advice write every dayA number of authors say this is the key to success.

I understand this makes sense in certain situations—when on a deadline, when needing to get an idea on the page, or when words are flowing and you don’t dare stop or even want to stop. But as a hard-and-fast rule? I’m not so sure.

Two or three times a year, I stop writing. I stop for a week, a few weeks, occasionally longer. This time out starts because my ideas grow stale, or because I lose faith in my writing. Sometimes it’s linked to an event in my personal life, or follows a painful writing rejection. Other times I just feel overwhelmed.

Whatever the cause, I try not to fight it (A few years ago, I’d fight desperately, trying to bludgeon stories into life. This resulted in truly terrible work). Sometimes life feels like a race, and it’s hard to step away, but I believe writing vacations are important. Sometimes, the best option is to rest and renew.

Things that have helped (for me) during time off from writing:

Walking.
Watching a movie.
Seeing a friend.
Discovering a new place—a forest, a cafe, an art gallery.
Reading.

I’m still learning to take a break, and to know that it will renew creativity.

As of today, I haven’t written for a week (not counting blog posts 🙂). Already my brain is sending inspiration—Look at this! How about that? I’m looking forward to writing again.

What about you—do you take writing breaks? If not, how do you care for your writing mojo?

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like pigeons they fly

Attention short story writers! Got a story that needs to be set free?

A story you abandoned when it was messy and unfinished, that still has potential? One you could revise & turn into something whole?

A piece that’s been rejected once or twice, one you liked but never sent out again because those ‘no thanks’ emails made you lose faith?

Or, best of all, a brand new polished story you love? One that pinches your heart, makes you smirk or just fills you with joy?

Well, good! Because here are some places you can send those babies:

AUSTRALIAN HOMES

Competitions:

Neilma Sidney Short Story Prize, theme of travel (can be interpreted creatively), stories to 3000 words, due November 17.** deadline has been extended – now due December 2**

Alan Marshall Short Story Award, stories to 2500 words, due December 12.

Hal Porter Short Story Competition, stories to 2500 words, due December 13.

Literary journals or anthologies:

Thrill Me anthology. stories that thrill (don’t have to be ‘thrillers’), free submission, flash fiction welcome, to 3000 words and chosen blind, due Oct 31.

Griffith Review, ‘Getting on’ theme, free submission, due November 1.

Overland, no current deadline.

INTERNATIONAL HOMES

Competitions:

Commonwealth Short Story Prize, *free to enter*, for writers from anywhere in the  Commonwealth, stories 2000 to 5000 words, due November 1

Fish Short Story Prize, stories to 5000 words, due November 30.

Masters Review Fall Fiction Contest, stories to 6000 words, emerging writers only, due November 30.

Hamlin Garland Award, stories to 7000 words, due December 10.

Literary journals and anthologies:

Banshee Lit, for flash fiction to 1000 words, stories 1500-5000 words, due by Oct 31

Granta is open Oct 13 to Nov 13, submissions any length but 3000 – 6000 words preferred.

Clarkesworld, no deadline. For sci-fi and fantasy (no horror), 1000 – 22,000 words.

The Fiction Desk accepts submissions of general short fiction or ghost stories 1000 – 20,000 words, due January 31.

The New Yorker, no deadline, free submissions.

Good luck! x

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Filed under general, writing opportunities

Obsessions

It occurred to me the other day that my writing is fuelled by obsessions.

I read about the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in 79AD, and was fascinated by the stories revealed in Pompeii digs. How plaster casts made by filling up holes in the solidified volcanic debris show a man protecting his pregnant wife, the folds in her robes still distinct. The discovery this year of several skeletons huddled together in the central room of a newly excavated house in Pompeii, possibly a family hoping to escape the pyroclastic flow. After reading extensively, I wrote a story about a man with the same fascination.

Last year I watched a documentary about a Fundamentalist Latter Day Saints community in Utah, where each man had more than one wife, and I became obsessed with finding out more. How did these families work? What did the wives really think about this?  I read multiple articles and interviews, researched a specific community and used Google Earth to ‘roam’ around that town. I read more about FLDS beliefs. Then I wrote a story about a second wife getting ready to meet the third wife.

It seems to me that curiosity is so important in any writing, whether fiction or non-fiction, fantasy or realism. What happened? What might have happened, in such a place or time? Who is that person, and how would they act? And if we develop brief preoccupations in the process, I think these are good—powering our writing and imbuing it with the bright sharpness of our excitement.

Current obsession—caving. Tight squeezes, some underwater.

 

 

 

 

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