Never Give Up. Never Surrender!

Okay, I’m definitely letting my geek flag fly here.

This quote from Galaxy Quest (see IMDB link here) sums up the difference between a successful writer and a writer who lets rejection get to them.

After a long email conversation the other day with a friend of mine, this phrase came to mind.

I’ve been kinda frustrated lately. Rejections can be frustrating, and that’s okay. Sometimes you can learn from them. Sometimes it just feels like a kick in the teeth.

A single rejection doesn’t mean anything…unless there’s some personalized reason to take into account.

So this has become my catchphrase as it pertains to submissions…

 

Never give up! Never surrender!

Gone With The Wind

When I was in the fifth grade (I’m guessing, but that sounds right to me, around ten or eleven years old), I discovered that my grandmother had a book that I very much wanted to read.

It was GONE WITH THE WIND by Margaret Mitchell.

I’d seen the movie at Grandma’s house. (Funny that I remember specific movies that we watched at her house…and so do my siblings and cousins…and we all remember the same movies…Gone With the Wind, Big Jake, Disney’s Robin Hood, and the Three Amigos are the ones we all remember.) I’d loved the movie and when I saw the book, I wanted to read it.

If you remember from my last (non-picture) post, I was the kid who read EVERYTHING.

Grandma caught me reading it when I was at her house, and told me that I was too young to understand it.

That only made me want to read it more.

For the next year or so, every time I was at Grandma’s house, I made sure that I knew where that book was. Whenever she wasn’t looking, I snuck it out of the shelf and hid in another room to read it. If I spent the night at her house, I hid it upstairs where I could stay up and read after she went to bed.

Oh, I’m sure I wasn’t as crafty as I thought I was when I was a kid. I’m sure she knew I was looking at it. I got caught a few times, and was, again, told that I wouldn’t understand it. I was too young to read it.

About a year or so later, I’d read the whole thing. I loved the book.

When I was sixteen years old, Grandma bought me a lovely, brand-new, hardcover edition of my own for Christmas, with the statement that I’d always wanted to read it so she thought it would be a good gift for me. She was right. I tried very hard to bite my tongue, but the story came out eventually…I told her I’d read the whole thing, but that I would read it again, and would savor my copy because she had gotten it for me.

You know what? She was right.

Re-reading the book at sixteen made a whole lot more sense than it had five years or so earlier.

Did that diminish my ability to read it and enjoy it when I was younger? Nope.

Would I have stuck with it if I’d been allowed to read it on my own? Good question. Honest answer is that I don’t know.

I’ve always been the contrary one. Tell me I can’t read something or learn some new skill or reach a certain goal and be darned if I’m not throwing everything I’ve got toward reaching that goal, or reading that thing, or learning that skill. Her statement that I was too young for that book meant I was going to read it come heck or high water.

Why do I bring this up?

Well, other than a great story about me, my grandma, and a wonderful book, I bring it up to illustrate the utter ineffectiveness of telling a kid what they can and can’t read.

There are some kids out there that won’t read something until you tell them they can’t. Then they will make sure they do.

The writer in me hates the idea of censorship of any kind. The reader in me feels the same way. But the memory of that eleven year old kid I used to be? Well, being told no probably lit a fire under me to do more, to push myself harder, and to push my way through parts I didn’t understand, because I didn’t want to admit that I didn’t understand them.

So you know what? Probably smart to take stock of the kid you’re talking about. There probably wasn’t a better way to motivate me to read that book than telling me I couldn’t. Another kid probably would have put it down and walked away.

And I have to admit to still being stubborn today. But that desire not to give up still burns.

Go ahead. Tell me I can’t do something. I dare you. Not that it’ll work for things like breaking the law, or being unethical. But if I’ve set a goal for myself and you tell me I can’t do it…you’ve pretty much guaranteed that I’m not giving up until I’ve done everything within my power to get there.

Oh, and telling a kid they’re not supposed to watch that movie or play that game or read that book? Pretty much guarantees they’re gonna do it anyway. Only thing forbidding it means…at least for me as a kid…was that I didn’t go talk to anyone about trying to understand the parts I didn’t get. How much more would I have understood if I’d asked about it?

Anyone else have a book like this that they read as a kid when the adults around them said no?

Kids and Reading

You know, there are some out there who believe that parents should control what their kids read. I respect that. I’m not sure it’s realistic, but I respect that. And I agree that parents should at least know what their kids are reading, whether they’ve read it cover-to-cover themselves or not.

I say that because I was the kid who read everything. And no, I’m not being facetious. I read books so fast it was hard to keep me in new ones. I read books from Mom and Dad’s pile. I read my own books. I even read my brother’s comic books. When I started earning a little money of my own, I didn’t spend it on clothes or shoes or frippery…I bought books. I read the newspaper. I read the Bible from cover to cover when I was twelve. I read magazines. I read the directions for the silly games on the back of the Cheerios box while I ate breakfast.

I’ve joked that I would read anything that wasn’t nailed down…and sometimes I read that, too.

And it wasn’t just what I read, but where I read.

I read in the car while Mom was running errands.

I read while I ran the vacuum cleaner. I once got in trouble because Mom had told me to vacuum and I didn’t want to stop reading, so I went upstairs and turned on the vacuum for the noise while I sat down on her bed and read my book. (By the way, kids, if you try that one, make sure to MOVE the vacuum around every once in a while, and watch the clock. If the vacuum’s been running for 45 minutes in the same room, and hasn’t at least sounded like it’s been moved around, you’re going to get busted.)

Once I got my driver’s license, my car became another place to stash books (NO I did not read while I drove and I don’t recommend it); some kids hid things in their cars that they didn’t want parents to see…I minimized my book buying habit by stashing books in the car. I’m sure that my parents thought I was hiding things in my car. I’m just not sure they realized it was books.

I still sometimes have books in the car. Not to read while driving down the street, but if you’re in a bank drive-through, or a fast food drive through, or a construction related traffic delay, you might catch a few minutes of reading while you’re waiting. And that means less frustration at the delay.

Mom was a teacher, but I think even she was bewildered at the amount I was reading. In fact, a lot of adults didn’t really believe me when I told them how fast I was finishing books.

When I was in the fourth grade, Pizza Hut began sponsoring the BookIt program (which is still going on, by the way…it’s changed, but still, pretty cool). I was ecstatic. I’d get to EARN something for my reading. When I was a kid, you earned rewards based on the number of books you read.

It was ON.

I really applied myself.

Needless to say, I was reporting so many books finished that my teachers didn’t really believe I was reading that much. They said something to my mother, who asked me to show her which books I had read. I handed her the stack. She picked one, read it, and quizzed me on it.

You guessed it: I answered every question she posed. And I got them right. She reported that back to the teachers, with the statement… “Yes, she really is reading that much, that fast. And yes, she understands it.”

I’m not sure my folks really had a lot of control over what I read, because I read everything.

Oh, sure. We lived out in the country. It wasn’t like I could walk to a store. I didn’t get an allowance as a kid, so until I started working part time at age 15, I didn’t have a lot of my own money to get books.

But both my parents read. They took us to public libraries. They did buy us books. There was the school library. And birthdays and Christmas. And cousins and aunts and uncles and friends to borrow, swap, or inherit books from.

There was no way they could keep up with it…they worked full time jobs, had two other kids, and other things competing for their time.

I, on the other hand, was the eighth grader who read NORTH AND SOUTH by John Jakes on the drive from Ohio to Colorado for vacation. I read ROOTS by Alex Haley on the way back. They didn’t really have to worry about me misbehaving in the back of the car if I had a book. I didn’t get motion sickness from reading in the car. It wasn’t like I could help with the driving…I wasn’t quite thirteen yet.

I’m not saying I was smarter than other kids. I got good grades but I wasn’t the smartest in the class. Because I read so much, I really had the reading thing down. The more I read, the more I liked it and the better I got at reading comprehension and the faster I got.

Because once I was beyond picture books, my parents had a choice…slow me down by making me wait until they had time to screen everything, or just keep me talking about what I was reading. If they saw a book in my hands that they had a question about, they asked about it. We talked about whatever it was that was a concern.

They gave me a gift…they trusted me enough to ask questions and let me explore and learn.

Oh, and now they borrow books from me.

Obviously this won’t work for every kid out there. Thank goodness my parents recognized what worked for a word-nerd, reading-freak, day-dreaming little geek like me.

Lessons from the Querying Trenches

When I first started the writing thing, I think my parents were a bit bewildered. My siblings were, too.  Several friends were in the same boat. 

It wasn’t that they were unsupportive. Far from it. They just didn’t know how it all worked. (I didn’t either, but I was researching my happy little butt off, learning it all for myself at the time.)

Heck, co-workers and colleagues always seemed just a little be befuzzled when I started talking about query letters or writing a synopsis or edits or revisions or getting ready for a conference, but I kept talking.

You know why?

Well, there’s the peer pressure for one thing. If they all knew what I was up to, they were going to ask if there had been any progress. This, of course, makes me feel like I need to be able to have progress to report. It motivates the Butt-In-Chair instinct to actually sit down and DO IT. Writers write. Wanna-be writers talk about wanting to write.

I actually went to the county fair last year with a friend and was walking around looking at exhibits and stuff, telling stories of high school escapades, and just enjoying the trip down memory lane. We went to the pig and calf scramble that night for the same reason. (I caught a pig when I was in high school; my grandfather used to do the announcing for the event, and now my cousin does it.) At the scramble, one of the law enforcement officers (I know him from my day job, of course) working security at the event stopped me and asked what I was doing there. I’m sure I gave him a dumb look, and muttered something about watching the scramble, when he smiled and told me that I should be home writing, “because I’d never finish my book if I didn’t go home and write.”

My jaw just about hit the ground. I hadn’t realized he even knew I wrote fiction. And then I remembered that I’d friended him on Facebook and I’d been updating my word count and posting writing updates. There’s a lesson there on social media, but it also served to motivate me to be able to post later that I had made progress, even if I did stay to watch the scramble that night.

I wasn’t the only one learning. My brother sometimes reads my stuff. So does my cousin. Mom has read some of it, and has asked for more. Dad’s read some of it, but it’s really not his thing. My sister’s not really a big reader, but she’ll ask from time to time if I’m writing on a day off.

They are NOT my critique buddies. I’m actually in two different critique groups, and I go to workshops and conferences, and have beta readers and writer friends all over the place. Family members reading are not doing so because I want them to pat me on the back and tell me how awesome I am. I love them, I trust them, and if they ask, I’m okay with letting them read stuff. I don’t ask them for critique; I have asked Mom, a former teacher, for copyediting grammar mistake type help. Brother has read some things and helped brainstorm ideas. So has Dad. But they are not the ones I go to for “make it better by making it bleed” revision. That’s not fair to put them in that position, and it’s not necessarily going to help me as a writer if they could be uncomfortable doing so. Better to just avoid it altogether.

The amazing part is that my parents and non-writer friends have all started asking questions about submissions and progress. I answered them, at first because I’d let them read some of the early stuff and then started panicking that they’d go out and self-pub it as a birthday or Christmas gift, something I DID NOT want to do. Probably an over-panic on my part, but I wanted to make sure that this didn’t happen. So I began telling them, a bit at a time, over dinner, or in passing, where I was at, and what my goals for publication were. And I explained specifically, the whole “money flows toward the writer” principle.

Fast forward a few years. Just the other day, I ended up telling Mom just how frustrated and disheartened I was with the writing in a phone conversation. I indicated some frustration with the query process, the “positive rejections” and hey, it was a bad day, with multiple rejections coming in. Let’s just leave it there. No matter how thick the skin, multiple rejections on the same day hurts. I was thinking it was a night for cookies and a glass of wine. Oh, and maybe some video games where I could kill things.

Her response, without qualification or hesitation? “You just gotta find the right place to send it, right?”

Spot on. Took the wind right out of my sails. And an answer I should have said first. And she’s right. She’d been listening to some of my talk about the querying process, and all the research and how it all works.

I’ve been at some gatherings with my parents recently, and they asked how it was going. Well, I made some noise about some frustration with market trends that had been cited to me in rejection letters, and some of the reasons I’d gotten for the “no.”  I was venting about it. (I’ll note…it’s way okay to vent, bitch, rant, rave, or otherwise do this in private, or with trusted friends and family members, but not okay to do this on your blog, on Facebook, on Twitter, or in the crowded bar at a writer’s conference.  Please note that I’m NOT going into the reasons for the rejection, or how many there had been, or WHO had rejected my writing. Also, please note, I said, rejecting my writing, not rejecting ME.)

My father listened to my rant, and didn’t say a whole lot. Then he asked me some questions.

“Do you want to write the stuff you’re complaining about?”

Honest answer for me was “No.”

His response? “I didn’t think so. I didn’t think you wrote stuff like that, and I can’t see you writing stuff like that. Don’t give up and don’t write stuff that isn’t you.”

Gulp. He was right. And it shut me down pretty hard. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately.

He’d been listening. Mom had been, too. In fact, they’d been listening to me more than I had been. Talk about a reality check.

Respect for writing time only happens when people know it’s writing time. If you don’t tell them you’re writing, then you really have no grounds to get annoyed at the phone ringing, people talking to you, questions being asked, the doorbell ringing, or invitations to go, well, anywhere.

If they don’t know you’re writing, you can’t hold it against them.

I talked to a friend on the phone recently, and she wanted to know if I had weekend plans. I had indicated to her that Saturday I’d planned to write, but otherwise I didn’t have any other plans. Her reaction? “Oh, that’s okay, we’ll make plans Friday or Sunday then.” Color me surprised. I didn’t have a deadline to meet. I could have easily worked in Saturday plans, and write before or after I met her for dinner. She wouldn’t hear of it, no matter how much I protested that I could change my schedule.

There’s a lesson there in that the people who care about you are listening to what matters to you. If writing matters, they’ll see it. It might take a while, but they’ll see it. And they’re learning as you are. They might have advice. They might have some kind of help they can offer.

Even if it’s as small as weeding your flowerbeds while you write the next chapter.  And that’s not a hint, but I certainly wouldn’t turn that down!