Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Reframing Rejection

Writers get rejected. That's how it goes. Someone else is picked for a project. A different style of work is a better "fit" in some intangible way. Your work wasn't quite what they were looking for.

Recently, I've heard "no" again, after a spell of silence. I didn't enjoy it -- but I did enjoy hearing something.

My family upbringing trained me to say, "Well, that's a setback, but I can get back on track" -- and resume doing whatever I was doing, only more of it and for longer hours.

But not this time. Instead of powering through a blue period by pretending I didn't get rejected or otherwise relying on willpower, I'm reframing, which is a fancy-pants way of saying "looking at things from a new perspective."

Rejection is information. I can learn something from it. At the same time, I don't have to kill myself trying to figure out "what this means."

A rejection might tell me that

1. before I send to that journal or approach that client again, I should quickly check the most recent things they've published and what they're saying online. If a journal is open to submissions only on a particular theme, it is useful to find that out before submitting. If a client has just posted a white paper on Gigantic Software Company's Adoption of Our Software, they don't need another. It doesn't mean my work isn't good -- it might mean I should send or pitch elsewhere.

2. before I send the rejected piece (or idea) anywhere again, I should read it with careful eyes. Yes, again. Maybe I became so immersed in the world of that story or idea that I lost the connection to my target audience. (Also known as the "I know what I mean" syndrome.) Presumably the idea or story has been sitting for some time period (a couple of days, a couple of months) -- great! I've got new eyes; I'll use them.

3. before I even consider pitching the idea or submitting the piece elsewhere, I should revise. As in, a "real" revision. One that involves asking myself hard questions, like "What are you really trying to say?" or "Is this what you mean?" One that requires me to consider a whole different way of expressing this idea -- is it a full short story, flash (non)fiction, poem fragment, rant, essay, list of instructions, field guide, inventory, or something else? Although I'm usually pretty honest with myself about an idea or piece that isn't ready for submission, I am still guilty of the occasional "I'm sick of looking at this so I'm sending it anyway" submission.

So. Rejections provide information. Time to learn what I can -- and then move on.
Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Just How Easy is that Livin'?

It's not summer yet but you can see it from here. Even I have taken the faith-filled step of washing our winter hats, mittens, scarves, etc., figuring it's probably safe to put them away. And once the grass dries, it will need cutting -- a sure sign of summer.

Summer = vacation for those of us still on school calendars, whether mentally/emotionally or practically (by teaching, being in school, or having school-aged kids around the house).

But when you work for yourself, whether you have paying clients or just write for (soon-to-be-less-)imaginary (one hopes) readers, how do you know when it's time to quit? Not quit working -- just quit for the day, quit for the weekend, quit for the summer? Do you take work on vacation?

I recently went away for two weeks. "Recently" meaning "last month." I didn't take work -- a couple of things found me anyway, but I mostly punted them until I got home. It was refreshing.

On the daily level, I usually find it harder to determine when I'm "off work." Part of the joy of working from home is taking advantage of sunbreaks, of an invitation to go out in the canoe or watch the deer, of a really good book that's calling your name, of a two-hour lunch break. What's the benefit of working for yourself if you don't set your own schedule and allow that schedule to be flexible?

But what if that two-hour break means you feel compelled to work at night, either missing out on family time or sleep? Is that just the price you pay? When does flexibility become procrastination or general malingering? (And what a loaded word "malingering" is, so full of judgement.)

I love routine, which can work against me. Two weeks of a real vacation have re-set my routine buttons; NOT thinking about work has felt more the norm than it did before I left. It's been difficult to resume the fully productive life (though I still love those 25 minute sessions of suffering). I also don't want to resume the feeling of always possibly being "on duty."

No answers from me. But two smart writers, Seth Godin and Gretchen Rubin, have touched on this topic recently. Seth's advice, more or less, give or take: recognize that it's your choice to keep working or stop. (Also, and I'm sure this message was directed TO ME: Words with Friends can get outta hand as easily as routine email checks.) Gretchen's: set a quitting time, and then quit.

Hope your long May weekend is/was restful and inspiring! Welcome, summer.
Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Boy oh Boy, Girl

A few weeks ago, I got some interesting feedback on a short story. The story is written from the point of view of a guy. (Although the character is male, I would not call him a man.) The woman who read the story -- someone I'd never met before -- said that she was sure it had been written by a guy.

I took that as a compliment, because she obviously meant to indicate that the character rang true to her -- not that she found it astounding that any female person could create a convincing man (or guy).

But it reminded me of an old podcast I'd just heard: "Mad Women," an episode of The Age of Persuasion on CBC radio. The program looks at advertising, as does "Under the Influence." Both interesting programs. "Mad Women" features work from women in advertising throughout the 20th and 21st centuries. The podcast goes into more detail than the material on the website and is worth listening to.

I don't buy into the idea that "only women can write women" or "for women," or even that "it takes a woman to sell consumer products, because women buy them." Perhaps it did require  a woman to recognize the ways in which women's power in the world had gone untapped to that point -- and do something about it. Since then, the discussion around gender/advertising/ consumerism/politics/writing/publishing has taken some interesting twists. The fact that the larger conversion about (let's call it what it is) power and gender continues is hopeful to me. 

And this creativity thing, it's all about imagination. Can you see the world from another person's perspective? Can you figure out what that person's problem is or what that person wants? That's creating a character -- someone an advertiser can sell a product to. Someone a reader can spend time with. The gender of the character, advertiser, or reader is beside the point. 

Creativity doesn't require superpowers or specific anatomical equipment. Just persistence (and a sharp pencil). At least that's what I learned from my mother, whose voice reverberates in my head and heart this post-Mother's Day week.
Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Taking Stock

In March 2010, I received a grant from the Ontario Arts Council to support the creation of a short story collection.

Since then, five of the ten works I proposed in the collection (and revised extensively, thanks to the $upport) have found homes.

  • * "Iceberg," The Blind Hem, May 4, 2012.
  • * "Improvisation," chosen as part of the Liar, Liar project of Northern Mosaic, an integrated arts organization based in Thunder Bay.
  • * "Walking Out," South Dakota Review 49.3 (Fall 2011). 
  • * "MacDonald Variety," Prairie Fire 32.3 (Fall 2011).
  • * "Thirty-Two Faces," 11th edition of Ten Stories High, the annual anthology of short fiction published by the Niagara Branch of the Canadian Authors Association.

I have nattered around before about the difficulties I get into when I try to apply the mindset and metrics from "writing as a day job" to writing fiction and essays. However, taking stock is one activity that is useful in both arenas. The list above represents part of my journey I've come since submitting my OAC proposal in December of 2009. 

The next part is planning. I do some of this every week -- usually, close-to-the-ground planning, the "what am I sending where next" planning. I also do some fiction/essay planning every year, of the "this time next year I want that novel draft DONE" type. And I daydream, which is like planning to plan. But periodically, it's good to look somewhere between the week and the year. It's time again for me to see where other elements of that collection are, where they could go, what could happen next. 

It's an optimistic time for this kind of planning. The world is waking up. Yang Time is here. Time to get out into the world again!
Friday, May 4, 2012

Fashionably Recognized

My short story, "Iceberg," is featured at The Blind Hem today and throughout this weekend. You can find it here:

The Blind Hem is a site related to fashion. Let me repeat that, for those who have seen my extensive collection of jeans and t-shirts (and flipflops, though they are mostly for show up here) and may doubt the validity of that statement.*

Fashion. The clothing kind. Oh, here, I'll let them tell you:
Our mission is to portray fashion and personal style in an intelligent & honest way, through words and art. We believe in diversity, inclusivity, feminism and truth. Our features range from non-fiction to fiction to art and photography. We are interested in the different lenses through which personal style, feminism and society can be viewed – and we are interested in the stories behind the clothes.
Go there and read -- and although it would be great for you to read my story (and send your friends to read it, too), you should bookmark the site. Visit it early and often. They cover a LOT of interesting ground.

Thanks, Katy!

* Though I do claim to have originated the concept of the "spring sweatshirt."
Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tick Tock, Drip Drop

I've written before about time, and about how suffering for 25 minutes works for me. (Thanks, Gretchen Rubin of The Happiness Project.) It still works for me. Doing the taxes this year has been far less difficult (one country down, one to go). I maintain some knowledge of the complex financial tapestry that is my life, 25 minutes a week (Money Monday). I've worked through nearly all my photos and have a list the length of my arm of other projects to assign to a day.

Little bits of time add up. Recently, I noticed that process in reverse.

The other day, I used the last coffee filter in the package. (Yes, we use paper coffee filters. We're quirky geezers in some ways, and dadburnit, we like our paper coffee filters. Also our traditional 12-cup coffee makers.)

The last coffee filter: one of those moments I wasn't sure would ever occur, which is why I noticed it. We (I) go through a carton of milk in less than a week, so I'm always aware of the milk supply.* We buy coffee nearly every time we're in a grocery store, just because. But coffee filters?

two writers + working from home = a lot of coffee filters 

The thing is, coffee filters come in bargain packages of 450. At one pot of coffee a day, that's more than a year's supply. (Ha, one pot a day! Good one!! But even at 2 pots a day, it's still eight months' worth of filters.) That's a lot of filters. It feels like a lot of filters when you're buying them, at least.

One added benefit of buying coffee filters in bulk is that they aren't, uh, bulky. The bargain package can fit into the awkward corner cupboard into which little else fits and which is conveniently  located above the coffee maker.

So in my mind, we had tons of filters. In spite of the central role coffee plays in my life, I hadn't really paid attention to the steady dwindling of our supply until there it was, gone.

So, because this is what I think about, I started thinking about characters, the frog boiling in a pot of water, the camel and the straw. What is it that makes a person decide to start (25 minutes) or stop (coffee filters)? And then -- how does that person show it? What actions does that person take that shows the different way of thinking?

I set a timer every day. Every morning, I reach for a coffee filter. I suppose that someday, I might do neither thing. What do my characters do? What do they do next? What do they do differently? What does it take to make them change?

Obviously, it's time for a cup of coffee. Except that I'm out of milk.

* People here sell/buy milk in bags instead of those plastic gallon jugs. They put these bags into a plastic poury-jug-thing and serve from that. Bags! Seven years here, and I still can't do it.