How to survive query rejections

Joe’s Post # 32 — Well, the rejections have started to come in (and those now out there for a while might very well be considered rejections since not every agent will get back to you).

So how do you survive the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune?

10 possibilities.

cuddling1) Cuddling. Cuddle your teddy. Cuddle your sweetie while watching Amazing Race. Cuddle your children. Cuddle your dog, cat, hamster or pet snake. The healing powers of cuddling cannot be underestimated. Not only is it snuggly but it helps remind you that there are other more important things in life than a letter that says, “you suck, you totally suck, you need to give up writing and become a professional cuddler.”

2) Alcohol. Not my first choice but the choice of many writers. Whiskey, neat. A Cougar Town glass of red wine. A belini with a pink umbrella. It helps dull the pain, it helps you forget, but it’s pretty temporary (and it could make thing worse, especially if you decide to send off an email to the rejecting agent threatening to send locks of hair to them or something.)

3) Ignore it, it’s part of being a writer. Oh how I wish I could get this mindset. It’s like the guy who can walk over to a pretty girl, get turned down (or in the case of my friend, Sean, get a glass of port thrown in his face) and march back without having lost a stitch of confidence. I’m honestly not sure how to not feel the rejection and that port will stain!

4) Go for a walk. Clear your head. Take the dog, cat, hamster or snake with you. Fresh air helps. I know it shouldn’t but it does. Look at the sea or the trees or the fit people jogging. Hate them if need be. Tell yourself that as soon as you get back, you’ll do #10.

5) Phone a friend. Rant at how unfair the world is. Rant that you wrote the all-time world’s best query letter. Rant that you used the best font, the most amazing paper, the greatest opening ever written by a pasty-faced writer sitting in front of his ‘puter and you even got the agent’s name right. Get it all out. Cleanse that bile.

zombies6) Go do something fun. No, not leave dog poop on the neighbour’s lawn. Go bowling. Blow zombie heads to bits in a video game (or in real life depending on which apocalypse is plaguing us). Watch a movie. Listen to your favourite music with eyes shut and head cradled by a comfy leather couch. Go have coffee with a friend and splurge on extra foam, or whipped cream. Read a book. Remember that fun can still be had.

7) Exercise. (No, this is NOT a sub-heading of the ‘go do something fun’ option!) Like walking, this about getting out of the house and working your body so hard that feelings no longer matter. For me, that’s 2 push-ups, 3 sit ups and a glass of water. Go play tennis until you can’t walk. Go shoot hoops until your arms burn and the little kids shout, ‘hey mister, get off the court, you haven’t made a basket in 130 shots.’ Run until you can barely breathe. Lift weights until your muscles bulge like Swartzenegger’s. It doesn’t matter. For some reason I don’t completely understand, exercise is good for the mind as well as the body. Maybe even good for the soul. Who knows.

8) Feel what you’re going to feel. It’s what my therapist would say. And my dog. The more you fight your feelings, the more they will build up and come back to bite you in the ass at some point. So you repress for a week, then suddenly someone parks in your spot and you go all Tarentino on them. Or someone asks how are you doing and you burst into tears. Feeling sad, it’s ok. Feeling angry, it’s ok. Let the feelings pass through you until only you remain (to quote the fremen of Dune.)

9) Meditate. You know, sit and cross your legs and clear your mind. Can anyone actually do this? Really? At best I’ll fall asleep. At worst, I just get stuck in my mind and pull a groin muscle. But it’s something to consider if you’ve evolved to a higher state of being, like those people who carry around yoga mats and (to quote a friend of mine) “are ready to lay that mat down anywhere and do the sleeping dog.”

10) Get another query letter written and sent out. A rejection is not a failure. Failure is only failure when you stop.

Yesterday, I did 6 of the 10 things.

Today, another rejection and I think I’ll do one of them until I throw up. Your guess as to which one.

No is a two letter word that’s difficult to accept

Karalee’s Post #31

For the last six weeks my body has been controlling me through something physical called pain. Pain in the butt to be exact, and down my left leg. Sciatica.

My dragon boat team started practicing the first week in March. I lasted four sessions on the water and could hardly walk up the dock to my car afterwards. I’d had problems last season, but nothing like this.

I had to say no to staying on the team.

I also had to say no to any activities for the next month.

After four weeks of physiotherapy and medications I was able to walk the dogs six blocks and start back in the gym and ride my bike, all at  50%, but hey, I was back being active. Running was still out of the question. I also couldn’t sit up to write so I made myself a pillow backrest complete with hot water bottle and wrote semi-reclined, much like the position of Paula’s chair a few posts ago.

I was writing well and making great progress. My characters (good, bad, major, minor, walk-ons and red-herrings) were all lined up and migrating together like geese, the characters changing positions in timely fashion to keep the pace sharp.

Then last week I bumped up my activity to 70%, still no running or sitting to write, and I felt quite good.

So, I added in some gardening.

I love to garden and once I get going I usually don’t stop until 4 or 5 hours later. Last week I made myself quit before two hours. This was the time it took me to dig in my winter rye so it could decompose as green fertilizer for my vegetable garden. It had to be done as it takes three weeks after digging it in before I can plant seeds.

I felt okay with only some increased back pain and no leg pain.

The next morning I was back to a massive pain in the butt and down my leg again. Not as bad as initially, but I could only walk the dogs two blocks and had to cut out activities for five days.

I’ve had to say no to gardening.

front yard

front yard

So, I hired my daughter, a landscape gardener, and her boyfriend to weed and mulch my front yard. They’ve done a great job and I appreciate it.

I need to go at a slower pace than what my mind demands, and listen to my body. Really listen. It’s hard to say no to activities I love to do and sit back and wait. The pace is too slow, like a poorly written thriller.

dogs at front door

dogs at front door

I feel so young still, my body should heal fast, right?

It’s important to be a good listener and to be flexible.

I can still spend time with my dogs and my family, bike to have coffee with friends instead of running with them, and of course, I can still write and go wherever and do whatever my characters do.

And that’s a lot of freedom.

If I listen better this time and progress at a steady pace instead of trying to leap into heavier activities, then there is still  time to heal and be able to do the hiking and longer bike rides that I like to do in the summer. I’ll also be able to get back to gardening and running.

But I will continue to say no to dragon boating. My body doesn’t tolerate the bending and twisting. If that’s all I end up saying no to, I can live with that.

Happy writing.

Painful truths

Snoopy Tennis tooPaula’s Post #24 – This week, I’m battling tennis elbow, a common term for a condition caused by overuse of arm, forearm, and hand muscles that results in elbow pain.

tennis elbow

You don’t have to play tennis to get tennis elbow, but in my case, tennis is the culprit.

Mostly.

I’m not complaining. I’ve had lots of fun these past few weeks and, as the saying goes, no pain, no gain. But tonight the pain and inflammation is acute enough for me to cancel tomorrow’s match and cut this blog post a wee bit short.

I have to admit this isn’t the only time i’ve had trouble with the tendons and ligaments in my fingers, hands, wrists and arms. Guess what? Writing causes tennis elbow, too. And not just tennis elbow. Ask Karalee, my 5writer colleague who is also a physiotherapist. She could probably write a treatise on the maladies that afflict writers.

Snoopy Typewriter

Paper cuts aside, most appear to be the result of repetitive strain injuries (RSI’s). For writers, both the keyboard and mouse are the chief culprits, though I have to say that, for me, excessive web surfing and the repetitive action of flicking my wrist back and forth between the return key and my Mac’s trackpad caused the chronic, lingering injury to my right wrist.That one took years to subside, mostly because I kept writing.

That’s the problem with RSI’s. You get them because you do something over and over again, and you do something over and over again because you like doing that thing over and over again. I think Joseph Heller would refer to his conundrum as a Catch-22.

catch 22

I know I need to be careful. But the truth is, I’m not. Not all the time. Not like I should be. Karalee, I know, would be horrified to see me my favourite writing pose, lying supine on the bed, a mound of pillows behind my neck, laptop on my tummy and wrists… well, not always in the recommended position.

Ouch!

Why do I do this? Why do we all do this? I honestly don’t know, but I’m reasonably certain I’m not alone. I’d love it if Karalee could assist in shedding some light on the compulsion that keeps us doing what we know we ought not. In the meantime, I’d like to share a cornucopia of arcane trivia I’ve dug up on the topic of ‘writer’s injuries’.

1. Nitwitism appears to run in my family – this summer my husband, a lawyer, needed surgery on his hand to repair a condition known as ‘blackberry thumb’ caused by excessive twiddling of the buttons on a blackberry’s keyboard. His surgeon asked him if he’d ever heard of an iPhone. That, however, may not solve the problem, as we must be careful to prevent iPad hand, a malady caused by too many ‘swiping’ gestures.

http://www.dailymail.co.uk/health/article-2100414/Got-iPhone-iPad-Now-prepare-injury.html

2. Students at Harvard University in Boston have formed an action group to provide preventative education, advocacy and support for students with RSI, and for those hoping to avoid it. You’d think they’d be smart enough to do that all on their own, but apparently not.

http://www.rsi.deas.harvard.edu/printable.html

3. Across town at M.I.T., those clever students appear equally challenged when it comes down to knowing when to quit:

http://tech.mit.edu/V116/N24/rsi.24n.html

4. One form of RSI is “Writer’s Cramp” a focal dystonia, caused by misfired signals in the brain that make the hand involuntarily cramp.

5. The Guardian Newspaper style guide suggests that phrases such as butcher’s knife, collector’s item, cow’s milk, goat’s cheese, pig’s blood, hangman’s noose, writer’s cramp, etc be treated as singular.

http://www.guardian.co.uk/styleguide/a

6. J.M. Barrie, author of Peter Pan, suffered from writer’s cramp and taught himself to write with either hand. He believed that the works he wrote with his left hand seemed more creative and other-worldly then those written with his right hand.

Calligraphy Brush

7. Writer’s cramp is the colloquial name for Mogigraphia, also known as Scrivener’s Palsy and Graphospasm.

8. The first epidemics of writers’ cramp were reported in the 1830s among clerks of the British Civil Service, where it was attributed to the new steel pen nib.

Quill

So, fellow writers, what maladies plague you and how do you cope? Rest? Ice? Gin? I think I’m going to try combo-therapy and hope that by later in the week, my tendons and ligaments will feel better. Vacation’s over. Time to get on with the rewrites and second draft.

Oh, and Karalee? Don’t worry too much. They’ve already invented a chair for me.

supine work station

Today’s word is… Halfway

Dictionary

Paula’s Post #17 – Today’s word is “Halfway”.

Have you ever used a word all your life but never actually looked it up in the dictionary? Well, for me, one such word is ‘Halfway’. A word I’m fairly certain I’ve never looked up before tonight. An innocuous little word, the meaning seemingly so well,  self-evident. Hardly worth looking up at all. (Yawn). Just a formality, really.

Halfway:  adjective \ˈhaf-ˈwā,

Definition: midway between two points.

Hey… wait a minute!! Did you see that list of a synonyms and antonyms?

Synonyms: deficientfragmentalfragmentaryhalfincompletepartial

Deficient? 

Ugh. That hurts.

Fragmentary?

Really? I’m not liking this. Not one bit.

In fact, I’m inclined to stomp off in a huff and forget all about finishing this blog post. Except I wouldn’t want to get a reputation for not finishing things, and besides:

If it’s Tuesday, this must be Belgium.

Wait, that’s not right.That’s the title of a movie. Or maybe it was a book first and someone made it into a movie? Anyway, I know you’ll laugh, but for lovers of arcane trivia, I’m  probably amongst the 0.5% of my demographic who knows the star of that movie was none other than Suzanne Pleshette of The Bob Newhart Show fame.

Am I proud of my vast wealth of knowledge?

Well, we must wait and make that the subject of a future post. Because this one needs to be short. Really short. And besides, because I’m one of the geekiest people on the face of this earth I know that If it’s Tuesday This must be Belgium has nothing to do with If it’s Tuesday, this must be Monday Night, (as is always the case in my 5writers, alternate universe, since my “Tuesday” blog post is always written sometime before midnight on Monday night).

So, time for me to put pen to paper, metaphorically speaking, and tap out “Paula’s Post” for the 17th time. Week sixteen of our 5writers challenge.But I need to hurry because, sorry, I don’t have time for this today. Really, I don’t, since, you guessed it, I’m only halfway. At least according to the entirely arbitrary, 100,000 word target  I’ve set for the young adult novel I’ve vowed to finish in just 5 months. Er, I mean one month.

OMG!!!!  That’s one half to be done in one fifth the time. I’m sure there’s a fraction to express that, but I don’t have time to figure it out. I need to write!

In her post yesterday, my 5writers colleague Silk alluded to the many obstacles preventing us all from getting words on paper. Amen! One such obstacle is the obligation we’ve made to one another to each take our ‘turn’ writing a weekly blog post. five writers, five posts each week.

Only today did it actually occur to me that, since September 5th, my ‘word count’ for this blog about writing my novel may actually equal or surpass the ‘word count’ for the draft of my novel.

Hmm. That’s not good.

But don’t feel bad. It’s not your fault. I like writing blog posts and I suspect most of my 5writers colleagues do as well. We’re writers, after all. Sometimes, just letting loose with a little stream-of-consciousness prose is a nice, cathartic change from plot, plot, plotting, or  remembering to put conflict in every sentence, in every paragraph, on every page. or ensuring that our characters move and speak and emote and, well, you get the picture.

But honestly, I’ve got to cut this short and shovel some words elsewhere. My manuscript is like a smouldering fire, crying out to be fed. So I’ll cut to the chase and dish up this week’s “reveal” for all who are keeping count:

Pie’s eaten this week – 0

Airplanes rides this week – 2

Airports visited this week – 3

Golf balls lost this week – 4 with an explanation.

Target Word Count:    100,000

Progress to Date:          54,314

Words short of Target:  45,686

Pages Written to Date:  195

Target Page Count:       400

Pages short of Target.   205

Oh my! I’m not really sure why, but if you look at page count, instead of the word count, I’m not even ‘halfway’.

On a roll … or not?

on-a-roll

Silk’s post #17 — Why is rolling the dice like writing a novel? There are several ways of answering that, especially for the metaphorically inclined. The analogy for me – at this particular stage of the game – is quite specific.

We play a favourite dice game with friends that’s variously called 10,000, Farkel, Cosmic Wimpout, Greed, Hot Dice, Squelch, Zilch, Zonk or Darsh. I just Wikipedia’ed that and, as a writer always looking for the right word, was stunned at the variety of cool names. We’ve always just called it The Dice Game, but that moniker obviously needs a rewrite.

The often frustrating junctures in this game are the beginning and the ending. In our version, each player rolls five dice which are scored in a particular manner and the object is to reach a total score of 10,000 first. However, you can’t get ‘on the board’ and begin to score until you’ve rolled at least 1,000 points in a single turn. And you can’t ‘go out’ and win unless you hit the score of 10,000 points precisely. What that means is that you can take many, many turns before starting to score. Sometimes everyone around the table is galloping along with 6,000 or 8,000 points before you have your first point on the scoresheet. But the hare doesn’t always win the race. You can also run through turn after turn with 9,900 points on the board, but overshoot the winning 10,000 number every time – while someone else sneaks up from far behind and hits it on the nose.

I’ve experienced both of these hellish inertia points in dice.  And in writing.

Beginnings and endings. Since we writers seem to love nothing more than writing about writing, many thousands of words have been devoted to the frustrations and challenges of these two critical points in the plot.

“Great is the art of beginning, but greater is the art of ending.”
— Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

“The last thing one settles in writing is book is what one should put in first.”
— Blaise Pascal

“If you want a happy ending, that depends, of course, on where you stop your story.”
Orson Welles

“I rewrote the ending of Farewell to Arms 39 times before I was satisfied.”
— Ernest Hemingway

“There will come a time when you believe everything is finished. That will be the beginning.”
Louis L’Amour

“Begin at the beginning and go on till you come to the end; then stop.”
Lewis Carroll

Indeed.

tickingOver the weekend, we began the one-month countdown to the end of our 5writers5novels5months challenge. Tick tick tick. At this point, we should all be breezing through, or more likely wrestling with, our endings. In Joe’s heroic case (even after his heart-stopping computer debacle) it’s time for polishing his already-finished first draft.

But as I look at the scoresheet, at least one of us is still closer to the beginning than the ending. That would be me.

I got off to a promising start. I actually knew the story I wanted to tell from start to finish. Oh, not all the details of course, but I had the basic story arc, the three acts, the premise and theme, and the main characters all firmly in mind. As it turned out, that was like knowing how to roll the dice … but not how to make them come up with the desired score.

I lost a lot of time trying to roll that first 1,000 points to get in the game. There were false starts, diversions, rewrites, runaway research, and time spent on other ‘worthwhile accomplishments’, which was therefore not devoted to getting the book ‘on the board’.

Blog posts, for example. I haven’t missed a turn. I spent the first week in our challenge designing and setting up our blog. It was fun. It was exciting. But it meant I spent my first gush of enthusiasm on the blog instead of on the book.

What have I learned from this? Writing a blog is a lot easier than writing a book. (I know, I know: Well, duh!). I’ve also enjoyed it as a creative form of procrastination that has allowed me to feel somewhat virtuous even as I’ve fallen behinder and behinder. Hey, at least I’m writing something.

For an A-type who’s competitive to my bones, I’m surprisingly okay with being behind. Why? I’m happy with the book I’m writing. I care about my characters. I’m having fun with it. I know where I’m going with the plot, but it’s still throwing me some surprising turns, and that makes the storytelling exciting. If I felt dead-ended with my book, I’d probably be slitting my wrists, or perhaps taking up something less challenging – like rocket science. But I’m on a writer’s journey of my choosing, and loving it.

It isn’t a game to win or lose.

So as the clock ticks loudly down to the ending, I confess that the likelihood of me hitting the magic 10,000 – of finishing the game in our allotted time – is diminishing fast. My beginning took far too long, and I haven’t even started to wrestle with the ending – though I may jump past the middle and write the end ahead of time, as some revered authors like to do.

But what will I send to my 5 Writers friends on February 5th? Half a book? A beginning and an end? A Coles Notes version? A plea for more time? A bouquet of flowers?

Or will I really get on a roll and make the deadline after all?

As Nobel prizewinner for literature John Galsworthy put it so aptly, “The beginnings and endings of all human undertakings are untidy.”

 

A week in a Writer’s Life

laptopJoe’s Post #16

Dec 27th: Laptop dead. Age 8 months. Brought it in to repair shop. A few hours later, they confirmed the death. No way it should have died that early. Still, everything backed up. Happy to start writing in Jan.

Dec 28th: Fight with laptop company, Samsung, began. They said I broke it, I said, no. Still smug I had everything backed up.

Dec 29th: Wonderful day with family. No need to rush the writing. I can start in Jan.

Dec 30th: Football day. Missed my laptop. Usually, I’d watch football and FB with friends or look up weird facts on the internet or download videos of cute dogs. Monday, dammit, Monday, I’ll begain the massive rewrite.

fetalDec 31st: Great. Just great. The files I’d saved and backed up so carefully, three of them were corrupted. 3 full files of writing. Bad enough the laptop died, but to actually have data corrupted as well? Not a good moment. At first I feared it might be as much as 150 pages lost. Went into fetal position. All of December’s work. Gone. Didn’t much feel like celebrating the New Year.

Jan 1st: Looked up and tried everything to retrieve data. No luck. My only hope was that they can salvage something from the laptop, but if all that’s on there is the same corrupted data, then I’ve really lost the last part of my book, the awesome battle scenes, the epic sacrifice, the kiss that almost was, all gone. Spent a lot of time thinking I was stupid for not checking the files earlier, for not having early versions backed up (which may be on the dead computer, I hope, I pray.)

Jan 2nd: New Day. Like any loss, you eventually get around to acceptance. I’ll bring in the computer tomorrow, but for today, began the task of rewriting the parts of my book I could save, and if the rest can’t be retrieved, I will try my best to write even better awesome scenes of awesomeness. No way I’ll be able to get a completed book done by Feb 5th, but that shouldn’t stop me from getting a bit beyond the first draft. Likely rewriting what I’ve already written will take me a good 10-12 days, and then rewriting what needs to be rewritten, another month or so.

The lesson here, for me, don’t give up. Make mutliple time-line backups and make use of cloud-like technology and hey, print the damn stuff out, paper cannot be corrupted. Foolishly, I trusted that saving then backing up would be enough. The truth is, it should have been, but that loss is worth taking another few steps to make sure I never, ever lose anything this important again.

ab-lesssons-learned1Now, back to writing