Friday, May 20, 2011

Two Thoughts about Rejection

Two smart people have written recently about rejection.

First, marketing guru Seth Godin addresses the standard rejection advice, "don't take it personally." He says that it's not about you. It's personal to the "other guy." That person is rejecting you because that person has wants, needs, interests, whatever that you don't meet. The disconnect doesn't mean you don't provide value.

Which is true. Except that it's easy for writers to cop the "I'm a misunderstood genius" defense. Which Godin also addresses by saying, "Do your work, the best way you know how." That, to me, says "Keep learning," because it's always possible to add to what you know.

And then there's Daniel Menaker, writing in the Huffington Post about the ways in which his memoir met rejection before its ultimate acceptance. If you are as unfamiliar with him as I was, this bio is enlightening: he has written fiction, worked at The New Yorker with really good writers, and worked at HarperCollins to publish important stories (Sister Helen Prejean!). He has moved; he has shaken.

An impressive pedigree, yet many editors rejected his memoir, even with its juicy insider info about The New Yorker.

Is his lack of immediate success reassuring to the rest of us? Sure.

However, he is also just plain wrong about something. He is very happy to have had his manuscript accepted by "a great publisher and editor," because if it had not been, he'd have had to deign to approach a publisher in [gasp] New Jersey, or even [double gasp] Winnipeg.

Where, presumably, great publishers and editors don't exist.

Which is patently untrue, as those of us who are seacoast-deprived well know. (I can't speak to the publishing scene in Weehawken, of course.)

Here's the membership list from the Association of Manitoba Book Publishers. See? there are options. Manitoba is smack dab in the middle of the continent; central location has its benefits. Sure, Turnstone isn't HarperCollins, but a big fish like Menaker in a smaller pond might well have received the special treatment he apparently didn't get from his New York buddiess.

Just sayin'. Not that I'm taking Menaker's rejection of publishing in "flyover country" personally, of course. Because as Seth Godin says, it's him, not us.

And my quibble with Menaker doesn't really dilute his point: publishing isn't easy.

Writing isn't, either. But it's what's important.
Friday, May 13, 2011

Depending on the "Click"

I am not a "real" photographer. I just happen to live in a beautiful place. And lately the weather has inspired me to pick up whatever camera is handy and shoot stuff. Like this.

That's an island lurking out there.

So yesterday I was snapping away and noticed that the camera was acting funny. (Technical term! Many more to follow!) When I pushed the round "take a picture" button, the image in the viewfinder froze as it usually does, but there was no sound. No "I just took a picture" click. I wasn't sure, till I uploaded these shots, that I had actually taken pictures.

The "I just took a picture" click of a digital camera is apparently without a useful purpose. Yet I depended on it, and didn't realize how much until there it was, gone.

The experience got me thinking about writing. One of the hardest parts of working as a freelance writer has been the lack of routine feedback. Business experts may scoff at formal performance reviews, but I found them useful. Getting ready for one was a great chance for me to evaluate my own performance and plan for the future, and learning how I was perceived was usually interesting. However, freelancers usually don't have performance reviews. Though I have substituted regular check-ins of various types, the type of feedback isn't the same.

As a freelancer, it's also more difficult (though not impossible) to stick my head in the boss's office and say, "I'm thinking of this, whaddaya think?"

The real feedback is the "yes" of the assignment and then the "yes" of future assignments. That's enough, of course, to know that you've done something of value to someone.

Mechanisms for feedback can be even more scarce for creative writing. Send out a piece and not only do you sometimes wait months for a "no," sometimes you don't even hear that much--just crickets. Getting a "click" is a good reason to belong to a critique group or to meet other writers TO WRITE (not to complain about writing). And yes, to keep submitting.

But here's another thought: what if you just did the work and didn't worry about the "click" at all? Could the doing of the work be enough?

I still took pictures yesterday, even without hearing a "click." Similarly, if I'm writing, I'm still writing, even if/when I don't get feedback on a specific piece.

Do I depend too much on the "click"? Do you?

No answers. Just questions.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Little Things: Action and Reaction

If you've been on Facebook this week, you may have already seen this conversation.

I've seen it several times, and I still laugh when I see it, mostly because the action/reaction is perfect.

For example, 16 seconds in, the human says the word "bacon" and the dog's eyes shift. At 37 seconds, the human says "beef" and the dog twitches.

Whoever wrote and performed the script paid attention to the little things and got them right. Impressive -- and funny.

Little things. So important!