Posts Tagged ‘Kim Williams-Justesen’


There comes a time in just about every endeavor when enough is enough and you realize it’s time to throw in the towel. I am not especially proud to admit that I recently reached that point a few weeks ago with a book I was working on.

It was over a year ago when I got the idea for this story. At the time, I was right in the middle of Beautiful Monster, a novel I co-wrote with Kim Williams-Justesen, (author of My Brother the Dog, The Hey Ranger! series, and co-author of Love and Loathing ~ in case I haven’t mentioned her before!) and I wasn’t looking to get started on anything new for several months. Like many stories though, this one gnawed and picked at me, demanding precedence over all else, making me anxious to finish Beautiful Monster so I could get right on it. I took down notes about the new storyline as the ideas came to me, saved them in my “writing” file, and assumed that as soon as we wrapped up the current project, I’d sit down and pound the novel out with the speed of a sugar-buzzed Quarter horse and the light-hearted glee of  a Keebler elf on sixty milligrams of Paxil per day.

That isn’t what happened. I started the story, stopped the story, revised the story, re-wrote the story and ultimately, renounced the story. At first, I was proud of my stick-to-it-ive-ness. I figured I’d hit a rough patch and instead of giving up, I’d see it through, and in the end, be able to say it was a great accomplishment. As the months rolled by and I realized I’d never made it past the five chapter mark though, I began to wonder if maybe it wasn’t time to move on to something else. After all, in the interim, another storyline (one that I liked much better) was beginning to form. But still I persisted, fearing that by abandoning this story, I might be cultivating the very bad habit of cutting all my projects short and thus becoming one of those authors that I’ve vowed never to become who has drawers full of half-written novels but no complete product.

There were a lot of reasons I had trouble with this novel. First, I ended up hating the town I set the story in, not to mention its entire population. Second, I couldn’t pin down the main character’s voice and I seemed to be at a perpetual loss as to how this kid would react to anything. Third, every time I thought I had the plot down, another layer presented itself, negating the previous concept, and as hard as I tried to stick to main frame of the storyline, I found myself constantly wavering in a different direction. Finally (and perhaps worst of all), I developed a powerful dislike for my main character.  I chalked this up to the notion that my writing voice is not that of a small-town, nineteen year-old kid and I even thought I’d been foolish to believe I could extend my creative writing abilities enough to convincingly portray one. But, while it’s true that my natural voice is older than nineteen, the reality is that I stopped caring about this story.

After attempt number five at chapter one (and seven months of frustration), I suspended the story and began something new. It had been a long while since I’d had that kind of writer’s block, and in my experience, this often indicates a (sometimes unconscious) germinating of a different story that needs to get out before any progress can be made. I am certain that one day I’ll go back to this story, and it’s my hope that by then it will have worked out its issues on its own, and I will be able to write it with my usual, natural flow.

 

I’m still hell-bent on not becoming a writer who half-writes their books. I’m still not willing to give up because the writing isn’t easy. But I have come to understand that sometimes, a story just isn’t ready to be told yet. It’s occurred to me that in the case of this recently abandoned project, I had been approaching it all wrong, and that maybe my efforts to write it in the first person were in error. Whatever the cause or causes, the story just wasn’t working and for now, that’s okay.

I am currently trying to recover from the self-doubt that this insubordinate last novel has inflicted on me, and the best way I know to do that is to keep writing. I’ve gone ahead with the concept which came to life in my mind as I was muddling through the other one, and so far, it’s coming off well. I am passionate about this story. I am excited about the upcoming adventures of my main character, I’m a little bit in love with each of the players, and most of all, I’m doing something I haven’t been able to do for far too long: I am enjoying writing again~ and these things have convinced me that (sometimes) it’s not only okay to give up, but it’s the best thing for you.

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One of the first things that will hinder a work of fiction is poor characterization. A good rule of thumb is that before we sit down to write, we should have a firm grasp on the concept of characterization and the role it plays in the overall effect of good storytelling. Unfortunately, passion and inspiration generally beat good form and doctrine to the punch. We plunge into what we think is a brilliant plot concept, making the characters a secondary priority, tossing them in and out of the story as convenience requires it. Then we find out too late that as powerful as the plot is, the fictional folks who people our story have cast a long, dark shadows of suckiness that dulls the brilliance.  I used to do this all the time, and it’s something I still struggle against, but I’ve learned some general rules of characterization that I have found to be very handy.

First, there are a couple of different ways to present a character, which determines right away who these people are. One method is called direct presentation and the other is indirect presentation. In direct presentation, the author lays it out for us in either exposition or through the dialogue of other characters. “Bob Longfellow was a tall man,” is much the same as, “Wendy turned to her friend with wide eyes and said, ‘Did you see how tall that guy was?'” Either way, we know Bob Longfellow is a tall drink of water because we’ve just been told that he is. With indirect presentation, the author shows us the characters through their actions. “Jim Jones strained to reach the jar of peaches on the top shelf, cursing whoever had thought that building a shelf that was nearly ten feet high was a good idea. Losing patience with the whole shenanigan, Bob Longfellow strode over to the supply shelf,  swiped the jar from its spot, unscrewed the lid, and handed it to Jim.” Now you know Bob is tall, not because I told you he was, but because if he can easily swipe a jar from a shelf that’s about ten feet high, he couldn’t be a short man. From that same indirect method of presentation, you also get the impression than Bob Longfellow is an impatient man and that Jim Jones is stubborn.

This ties into the whole “Show vs. Tell” concept that no writer can get away from. As a general rule, readers prefer to be shown rather than told about a person or an event. That, however, just like almost everything else in writing, is subjective. Danielle Steele, for example, loves to tell us detail after detail about any given person, place or thing, but we keep reading her because, well… she tells a good story. However, the direct method usually lacks emotional impact because unlike the indirect method, it fails to present the characters as living beings of flesh and blood. Also, by too much telling, we give the impression that we aren’t crediting our readers with the intellectual capacity to connect the dots, and thereby, we are inadvertently insulting their intelligence, which will make us anything but popular among readers.

Aside from how we present our characters, we also need to understand what kinds of characters they are. There are three types of characters that populate a story: static, dynamic, and stock.

We don’t need to know much about “static” characters. They generally possess only a few prominent qualities and are there mostly to move the story along, or give the main characters some kind of conflict or resolution. Static characters are different from stock characters though, because these guys can have more than one dimension, and can play very large roles in the story, much like a “supporting” actor or actress in a movie. The main definition of a static character though, is that they do not change. Static characters are the same people by the end of the story as they were in the beginning.  We don’t get to see how they are changed by the events of the plot.

“Dynamic” characters are just the opposite.  These guys are usually the main characters and we get to see them change. Dynamic characters are multi-dimensional, life-like beings who undergo a distinct change of personality, attitude or character as the story progresses. One of the biggest mistakes writers make, in my opinion, is creating a main character who is entirely static. Sometimes, avoiding this is terribly difficult though. In the case of “Beautiful Monster”, (a manuscript I co-wrote with Kim Williams-Justesen) my main character was bad guy. A very, very bad guy. Bad enough that there was no believable way to give him a life-altering epiphany that would show him the error of his ways. Furthermore, I had no interest in redeeming him. Still, he is a dynamic character, and therefore, he must change. The possibilities of change for dynamic characters is wide open though. It doesn’t matter how they change, only that they do change.

Finally, “stock” characters are basically stereotypical characters an author uses for the sake of quick and easy grasp-ability by the readers. We are all too familiar with the wicked stepmother, the harlot with the heart of gold, the good-looking, dark-haired man on the white horse, the hospitable southern widow, the manic-depressive artistic genius, etc. Stock characters are just static characters with one single role: to bring immediate understanding to the reader by capitalizing on stereotypes.

The rules of characterization are some of the most important rules of writing fiction. Unlike many of the other writing rules, I believe these ones need to be firmly observed and respected. A great plot is a powerful thing, but without the right characterization to execute it, readers are left with a sense of having been cheated, a reaction that no writer I know wants to get.


It’s been thirteen months since me and my mentor/friend/writing partner Kim Williams-Justesen began writing our collaborative horror novel. Although technically finished several months ago, we are now in the process of revising the final draft. Currently, we’ve been spending anywhere between two and four hours on each chapter and have worked most days of the week. In a novel that contains a total of twenty-four chapters, that’s a lot of hours. (But as I write this, we only have two more chapters to go!)

Although the final round is probably the most arduous part of this process for me, it’s also the most rewarding.  Since writing the words The End, I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve read this novel front to back, but I’m guessing this must be the fifth or sixth time. Needless to say, I would have expected to be sick and tired of this novel by now. I would have expected that whatever passion I’d begun the novel with would have flickered out and died months ago. Strangely though, that isn’t the case. In fact, as we have labored to tighten and refine the novel, my passion has been not only been reignited, but it has climbed to greater heights than ever. I think it’s because this is where writers get to see their work come together, and can view the novel as a whole rather than in fractions. Also, the final round is your last shot to prevent embarrassing yourself before you place the manuscript in the hands of your trusted Beta Readers~ and these are the reasons why I believe this the most important part of the process.

The final round of revisions is the time to address all of the things that bothered you in the previous readings. This is where you must tackle those irritating little, (and sometimes big) weaknesses you’ve been putting off. This is where you add lines, subtract passages, sprinkle detail, rearrange dialogue, fill  in the plot-holes, fine-tune your characters, slaughter your “sacred cows”, and scrutinize all the text in search of grammatical errors and technical blunders. Kim and I currently live several states away from each other, so for us this requires a lot of sitting in front of the computer Skyping and IMing. Currently, my computer sits on a black ottoman in the middle of my living room where I sit on the floor to work. This has given me leg cramps, back aches, and neck and shoulder pain… not to mention a likely addiction to dramamine, given a ridiculously elevated proneness to motion sickness which I seem to have been born with. But that’s okay. This is where the real magic happens.

I went into the final round of revisions with a very clear, singular goal: to heighten the emotional impact. I decided that if something in the story was supposed to have a creepy effect, I wanted my skin to crawl. If a certain scene was supposed to make me feel sad, I wanted to be on the brink of tears. And if something was meant to be sickening, I wanted to feel the bile rise in my stomach. I decided I wanted to know what each character looks like, how each room smells, and mostly, I wanted to feel what every character was feeling.

As we have yet to be finished with these final edits, I can’t be sure how well we’ve done our jobs, but given my own emotional responses as we’ve fine-tuned the story these past weeks, I’m pretty confident we’re damned close to having what we want. In fact, just earlier today, due to my own mounting nausea, I had to take a breather from a particularly graphic scene and ask Kim to please not expound anymore on the topic. I don’t squirm easily, so to me, that’s a good sign.

As an added plus, the final round can reveal some wonderful new concepts. Today, I think Kim and I stumbled upon our perfect working title. As we were rewriting a scene, Kim wrote this beautiful passage that made the hair on the back of my neck stand on end, and both of us paused a moment, thinking the exact same thing. The project that began as An Evil Heart and soon became Gallery of Dolls, is now about to take a new name entirely: Beautiful Monster. Not that a books title won’t possibly change (or be changed) down the road, but I think it’s important to have a strong title. I liked Gallery of Dolls, but it always sounded too much like The Valley of the Dolls (a novel written by Jacqueline Susann in 1966) for my taste. Besides, I think the phrase “Beautiful Monster” in and of itself, is as contrasted as the personalities of our two main characters and therefore a pretty solid title for this book. Plus, to me, Beautiful Monster just kind of pops.

So that’s where I’m at right now. I haven’t been doing much blogging lately due to the demands of Beautiful Monster (I really do dig that title!), so I just wanted to take some time today to keep the connection in tact. Blogging is a bad habit to break!  In the meantime, my third novel is underway (with a much bigger set of balls now), and due to some weaknesses I’m just realizing, I plan to take my first novel, The White Room off the table for a few months to revisit it and give it some upgrades. I predict that in the next five to seven days, Beautiful Monster will be fit to be looked over by some Beta’s and from there, it’s just a matter of fixing any errors they might find, and then sending it out the door to find a home. By this time next year, my goal is to have three (maybe even four!) full-length works circulating throughout the world of agents and publishers… and to be well into the next big literary adventure.


If you would have told me twelve months ago where I’d be at the end of 2011, I would have called you a liar, yes… but I also would have kicked you in the shin for getting my hopes up. At this time last year, I had no idea I would be where I am right now and I have to say, it’s a pretty good place. In 2011, my whole life changed. And I even got some writing done.

In June, I quit my job of thirteen years and moved out of the state. I wasn’t happy and I hadn’t been for a very long time. The cause of this unhappiness was not the fault of my former employer. In fact, I worked for a good company. The trouble was, as good of a job as it was, it had nothing to do with me. What I mean is, I think there comes a point in every person’s life when he or she needs to look at his or her vocation and ask, “Am I doing something that only I can do? Is what I’m doing using any of my personal strengths? Are any of my needs being met by this job?” The answer to these questions for me was a very clear “no.” I knew that early on of course, but it took the right set of circumstances and me gathering enough courage to give fear of failure the middle finger before I dared to take the leap. But I finally did. And it was not a mistake.

The month of August I was in New Orleans where I spent several days with David, my best friend from childhood. We explored the entire French Quarter. We went on vampire, ghost and voodoo tours. We met fascinating people from all over the world. We saw boobs. I wore my pajamas down Bourbon Street. It rocked.

From there, I visited my father-in-law in Georgia where we went to several Civil War museums, saw numerous Antebellum-style homes, learned everything we could about the south and the Civil War, and visited the Cabbage Patch Factory (it was amazing… really).

After that, it was off to Myrtle Beach. We played in the ocean, ran in the rain, and went to famous aquariums, zoos and restaurants.

When the vacation was over, I was ready to get settled into my new life in a new location. I found a job that I absolutely love and just last week, I flew home from New York City where we spent several days. With all of that traveling, I still managed to accomplish many of my writing-related goals, too.

At this time last year, my manuscript, The White Room, was in New York being looked at by an agent.  My mentor Kim and I were just getting ready to start on the story we’re now calling Gallery of Dolls. I don’t think I had even gotten the idea for Alejandro, the book I’m working on now, but I’m sure it was somewhere in my mind, bouncing around and trying to take shape.

Presently, The White Room is still looking for a home, Gallery of Dolls is in the final stages of revisions (and will be ready for submissions within the next month or so!), I’m about five chapters into Alejandro, and Kim and I are tentatively plotting a new idea for our next collaborative effort which we’re thinking will be a story involving witchcraft, love, family betrayal and the Black Plague.

Also, whereas the past year and a half has been devoted to becoming educated on the art of novel-writing, proper grammar, and English in general, I think 2012 will bring me a deeper understanding of the business side of the writing equation: the publishing industry. My new job is one that puts me right in the center of all the publishing excitement! On a regular basis, I get to talk to other writers and even book publishers. I am learning which publishers publish what, why the publishing industry is currently so tough, and (tentatively) when and how we can expect it to turn around. My new job  is thoroughly educating me on the thing I love more than anything: writing… that is a perk I did not expect when I took this job.

If I were to try to summarize the last year and somehow label it, I would say 2011 was a year for soul-searching.  Having exhausted my capacity for impotent wish, this year I purposely walked into unknown territory and made life a verb again. I am working on some New Years Resolutions but I’ve learned that goal-setting needs to be tended to far more often than just once a year. That being said, I hope that 2012 is as productive and happy as 2011 was. I hope this for me and for you!

Happy Holidays and keep writing!


I live my life these days according to an ongoing list of weekly to-do‘s that I design every Sunday night; each day of the upcoming week containing a set of challenging-yet-reasonable objectives that I cross off the list as they are accomplished. I’ve found that otherwise, my life loses direction and time passes by until one day I wake up and wonder what happened to the last week, month, year, etc. I’ve lost enough time this way to take my little to-do list very seriously at this point in my life.

It’s taken many years of soul-searching to pin down my real priorities and learn that I need to focus on those and let go of the little time-wasters that hinder me. This is, for me, the only effective way I’ve found to live. Future-based goal setting is great, but the trouble I have with that is the excuse I will invariably make: “I have plenty of time.” I’ve learned that I’m the kind of person who needs to not only set goals for the future, but also smaller goals that I need to do today which will ultimately lead me to the accomplishment of the bigger goals.

There are two kinds of goals on my list: those things that need to be done daily: exercise, eat right, read, write, make some kind of spiritual contact and go to work (on work days). Then there are the things that are more sporadic: meet with my critique group, clean the house, write a blog, query a few literary agents, meet with friends, etc. In both cases of the daily and the more intermittent to-do‘s, it becomes mind-numbingly monotonous after a while, and eventually you reach a point when you feel like you just can’t do it anymore.

I suppose that all of us reaches a kind of breaking point at one time or another, no matter what path we’ve chosen – and today, I hit a big one. I have the day off work, which means my to-do list is going to be extra long. I woke up and looked at the list, thinking I was ready to tackle the day. But when I saw “query five agents” at the top of the list, my heart plummeted, my spirit sank, and for the first time, I considered putting a big black X on the page and going back to bed.

Instead, I made some coffee, played with the dogs and argued with myself in silence. It’s been several weeks since I queried any agents and I know the rules: do not “query-bomb” (meaning don’t contact every agent under the sun in one blow – they know each other, they talk with each other, and they don’t like it when authors clearly don’t even know who they’re querying.) I know the rules, I respect the rules and I play by the rules.  The point is, it’s been several weeks since I queried anyone, and today it needed to be done. So in the end, I lost the argument with myself and sat down to query some agents.

Here’s what querying agents means for me: first, I need to block out a good hour or two (sometimes more) of my day. Second, I need to locate the agent, (which can be terribly tedious in and  of itself) then research what genres they accept, what kind of writers they’re looking for, and find out if they accept e-mail submissions, snail mail only, or both. Then I need to learn as much as I can about the agent and what he or she represents, and contact them according to their personal guidelines, which varies from agent to agent. Some want just a query letter. Others want a query letter with a synopsis. Some want a query letter, a synopsis and a specific amount of sample writing. Some want all of this, plus a chapter-by-chapter synopsis. Some want all of this in the body of an e-mail (if they accept e-mail submissions). Others want sample chapters as an attachment. Some want you to include not only your bio and platform, but your marketing strategy plans as well. Needless to say, every agent has different guidelines – and that’s okay. The point is that this can be a very challenging process for authors, and as far as I’m concerned, it’s just part of my job. But there comes a point in which you just can’t help but feel exhausted by it all, and that’s where I am today.

I queried the five agents today over the course of about two hours. I followed all of their rules and was a professional through and through. But I was less than enthused about doing it. Counting the five I queried today, I have been through this process 135 times. Of the 135 agents I have queried, one asked to see my entire manuscript, and three asked to see the first five or six chapters. That means 131 literary agents have looked my query letter over and passed without asking to see any of my actual writing. And here’s the best part: this is not only normal, it’s expected. Statistically, I have a good seven to nine more years of this before someone takes an interest in my work. Every writer I’ve ever talked to went through this part of the process too, and they all tell me the same thing: “It’s not personal. Just keep writing.” So I do. And I do so with an unshakable determination to get better and better at my craft.

But… today… I’m creatively bankrupt and void of all inspiration.

As The White Room treks the globe, accumulating endless rejections, my other manuscript, Gallery of Dolls, is several thousand miles away being revised and polished by Kim Williams-Justesen, co-author of the novel. Also, I am at the beginning of chapter five of Alejandro (working title). The plan is to have Gallery ready for submission by the end of January 2012, and Alejandro ready by May of the same year. Under normal circumstances, thinking of the future of these books (and the ones that have yet to be written) gives me a shot of optimism and boosts my spirits. But today… just for today… I’m going to allow myself to dread my future as a writer. I’m going to accept where I am rather than fawning over where I wish I were.  Today, I wish that I wanted something simpler. Today, I wish that all I wanted from life was to get a good job, have a couple kids and settle into the comfort of a nine to five job. Today… I wish I was someone else because I know without a doubt that I will never be happy with any of those things. Today… I surrender.

But tomorrow is another day and I won’t give up on it. I never wanted a simple life. I never expected this to be easy. I had the luxury of walking into this business with my eyes wide open. As Kim told me over a year ago, “writing the book is the easy part.” And she was right. There isn’t much room for pity and there are no shortcuts. Nothing worth having ever comes easy and despite the rejections, I’ve had some wonderful experiences. I’ve met many of my heroes. I’ve had agents tell me some wonderful things and point me in some good directions. And above all, I’ve been able to do what I love: write… and I’ve been lucky enough to get a lot of help along the way.

No, I won’t give up. The people who love me wouldn’t let me and more importantly, I would never forgive myself if I did. I’ve worked too hard for this and I’ve spent too much time to justify walking away. But more than all of that, I don’t want to give up. Today is a bad day and that’s okay… but overall, this is what makes me happy, despite all the heartache along the way.

I started this blog to document my adventures in the world of writing. I’ve always told the truth but I’ve never really said much about the strains and pains of this business because I never wanted to discourage anyone. But to maintain the dignity of my blog’s overall purpose, I can’t really forfeit the darker side, either. The truth is that being a writer has a hell of a lot more to do with sitting down, writing and maintaining a smile while the world tells you you’re not good enough than anything else. It has more to do with working than playing. It’s about getting good at your craft and playing the game. It’s about accepting that there are no shortcuts and loving the process in its entirety, despite its flaws. It’s about understanding that the dream is always preceded by the nightmare. Your job is to write and let the business of getting published take care of itself. In the interim, hold tight to the little things that happen along the way which propel you in a forward direction and prove to you that your path is true.

In New Orleans this summer, I spent some time with my best friend from childhood. He said something that I hold onto. He said, “You’re a writer. You’ve always been a writer and one day you’ll be published. You always had a way of setting your mind to something and getting it. You will get this too.”

And I will. But not today… and that’s okay.


There aren’t many things that are more revealing than art. Whether writing a story, painting a picture, or singing a song, we put ourselves directly into the things we create. Knowing this, many people tend to keep their creations to themselves for fear of judgment from others and/or having their work rejected outright.  The good news about never disclosing your inventions is that you eliminate the risk of being criticized. The bad news however, is far more considerable. First, if no one sees your work, you will never get any feedback. This will limit your potential because we are biased, either negatively or positively, toward our own art. Second, if no one sees it, no one can buy it. And last, but not least, whether you have a natural talent for something, a burning desire for something, or both, you owe it to yourself to take it is far as you can.

The other day a friend of mine asked me how I “overcame” the fear of rejection. It was a subject I hadn’t given hardly any thought to for a very long time. I stared at him and gave him the best answer I could – “I don’t really know.” That question prompted me to give a little more thought to it though. Truth be told, I rarely suffer from any distress over whether or not someone will or will not like my writing. However, that certainly wasn’t the case ten, or even five years ago. So, to the best of my ability, here is the story of how I got from there to here:

When I was young, I often wrote little poems and stories that no one ever saw. As I got older, I kept writing, but still kept it to myself. In my twenties, I took a temporary interest in photography. Photography was much easier to exhibit because I could hide behind the models. I still never became entirely comfortable with displaying my work though. After a few years of taking pictures, I reached a point where I felt I’d taken my photography as far as I wanted to. It was like walking off a cliff. I was left wondering, “what now?” I spent a great deal of time and energy looking for a more powerful sense of purpose, and all the while, only one thing kept happening consistently: I kept writing.  At this point, I was writing mostly poetry, and no one except a very few carefully selected folks were allowed to see it. I was terrified of what might happen to me if someone didn’t like it.

As my seriousness in writing grew stronger, so did my need to expand my confines. I vividly remember the first time I ever posted a poem on MySpace. I put the poem up and took it down three times before finally deciding to let it linger on my “blog” for a while to see what happened. I checked my MySpace a dozen times that day, waiting for the hate mail to flood in.  By the end of the day, an amazing thing had happened: nothing. No one seemed to notice whether or not I posted my poetry, and that is what gave me the self-confidence to keep doing it.

Over time, I accrued a cute little following of poetry readers who liked my work. I also made friends with some other poets and eventually I was featured on several radio shows and some online magazines. I was at the height of my career as a poet! But I was restless and had fast grown tired of the limitations of poetry. That’s when I started writing novels.

I paired up with my friend and mentor, Kim Williams-Justesen, took some writing classes, devoured every book I could get my hands on about the writing process, and above all, I wrote my ass off. In the meantime, I attended writing conventions and workshops, signed up with the local writer’s league, and began to meet all kinds of writers, big names and little names alike. I didn’t have time to be terrified of what people would think of my writing.

Then, the first literary agent I ever met took a strong enough interest in my book to request my full manuscript. I was both elated and horrified. I sent her the book and for the next five months, I obsessed. When she finally got around to letting me know she didn’t feel the market was quite right for my story, I felt as if I had been dropped like a glass ball, and shattered into a thousand little shards of the man I thought I was. It wasn’t fun and it wasn’t pretty. But I had a lot of helping hands putting me back together, and was very quickly back on the wagon, acquiring rejection slips from agents far and wide.

Today, I take criticism and rejection like they’re candy-coated Klonopins, and somewhere along the way, without even realizing it, I have (for the most part) seemed to have misplaced my fear of judgment and rejection. After analyzing it a little, I’ve decided that the answer to that question, “how do you over come fear of rejection?” is that you don’t. You just plug along and take the necessary steps despite the fear. There are however, a few things you can do along the way to soften the blows.

The first, and most important thing you can do to combat the fear of rejection is to be damned good at your craft. Learn everything you can, utilize that knowledge, and experiment with it openly.

Second, give yourself permission to suck. You don’t have to be perfect. You aren’t even supposed to be.

Third, read the works of your contemporaries. I assure you that therein lies much suckiness. The point to this however, is not to scoff at your friends. The point is to stop comparing yourself to Charles Dickens.

Fourth, read the stories behind the success. Stephen King acquired enough rejection slips he was able to wallpaper his office with them… and he did. “Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance” was rejected over one hundred times. “The Wizard of Oz” was called stupid and unimaginative by critics. No matter what an agent or anyone else tells you, art is subjective. No one has the facts on what is good and what sucks. They never have and they never will.

Fifth, accept the fear. Oh yeah… I said it. Accept that you’re afraid and that being afraid is part of the game.

Finally, one of the most important things one can do to combat fear of rejection is to just keep writing. By focusing your attention on your craft and away from the opinions of others, you are putting your energy into the only thing you can control… which is you. Also, by continuing to attend writer’s events, critique groups, and submitting to agents, over time you’ll naturally build an immunity to the scathing reviews.


When I finished my first novel, I couldn’t wait to take a long-awaited and well deserved break. My intention was to take a week or two off and then begin the second one. Because the second book was co-written with a good friend who is disciplined and knows how the writing process works, I didn’t have the luxury of letting too much time slip by before getting back up on the horse. After the second one was finished however, it was a different story. My third book, which was supposed to have begun in May, didn’t get started until late August. Now it is mid-October and I am all of seven (and a half) pages into it.

I could blame this inactivity on a dozen various external sources: I moved, started a new job, I was busy revising the previous book… the list could go on. But the truth is, I’ve let the priority of writing slip into second (or third) place. The reason for this is simple: I am sick of writing! But, I am also sick of combing my hair, eating, going to bed on time, getting up for work, brushing my teeth, and shaving that godforsaken unibrow of mine that just refuses to admit defeat. But I do these things anyway. I do them, regardless of my mood, because when I don’t, I’m not happy, and the same could be said about writing. When I am not writing, I am not happy. So, with this newfound reality check, I decide to put myself in the chair, and just write… whether I feel like it or not. And… an amazing thing happens. Nothing.

The trouble with taking too much time off is that the creative muscle, just like any other muscle in the body, will atrophy with disuse, and be strengthened the more it is exercised. After four months of literary lethargy, I’m having a hard time finding anything to say. The bad news is, this is a form of writer’s block. The good news is, there are a million different ways to combat it. Listed below are the exercises I’ve successfully used in the past to strengthen my writing muscles, and as soon as I am finished writing this blog, I will begin to incorporate some of them, and get my own writing back on track. Also, I hope these suggestions help you build your writing muscles! Grrrr….

1. Read something. One of the most effective things I’ve done when I am faced with the perpetual blank page is read. It doesn’t seem to matter what I read, but a good thirty to ninety minutes of reading something usually gets my mind working in a more creative way.

2. Get some exercise. I don’t know how or why this helps writing, or if it applies to other people at all, but for me, getting some good, strenuous exercise seems to release those mysterious “endorphins” everyone’s always talking about, and gives me the extra push I need.

3. Write something else. Sometimes, I just need to write something totally unrelated to the story I am working on. This is where having a blog comes in handy. I might also write someone a letter, or a long e-mail, or write some new poetry.

4. Reread the story. This one is a tricky one and it wouldn’t be at the top of my list of things to do, but a lot of times, rereading the story I  am working on inspires me to go on with it. There have been times though, that this exercise has resulted in the opposite effect.

5. Pry, spy, and lie. As a natural-born busybody, this one is probably my favorite. I take a pen and paper and go somewhere and find someone (or several people) who strike my interest for some reason or another. I give them new names, new jobs, a brand new past, and if I am cranky, a life-threatening illness. I cast them into a make-believe present situation, usually something very critical and/or scandalous, and ponder the different ways they might handle it.

6. Try something new. As simple as it sounds, there’s something to be said for doing something you’ve never done before, tasting something you’ve never tasted, going somewhere you’ve never been, or talking to someone you’ve never met.

7. Get involved in your local writing community. Wherever you might live, chances are good that you share your space with a few or a few hundred like-minded folks who are part of a local writing community. Getting involved means meeting other people who have fresh ideas. It means submerging yourself in the world of writing and bringing it to the forefront of your mind. It means learning new skills, meeting with new opportunities, and finding new inspiration.

8. Join, or start, a critique group. When you’re part of a critique group, it’s hard to not write. You have a sense of expectation from yourself, and the other members are depending on you to keep the group going.

9. Assign the time. By assigning yourself a certain time of day to write for a specific duration, you are training yourself to respond accordingly. If you know you have to sit down and write Monday though Friday from 6:30 pm to 7:00 pm, it’s just a matter of time before your mind starts to accept its duties. If you don’t know what to write for that half hour, start out by writing about not knowing what to write.

10. Interview the characters. Another one of my favorites, interviewing my characters almost always leads to some kind of revelation about the character or the story he or she is in, and makes me eager to write it all out. To interview the characters, I sit down at the computer and write out a kind of questions and answers game. This exercise is both fun and effective.

These are just a few stars in the endless galaxy of different ways to strengthen your own writing. Whether you’re blocked or just trying to get a little better at your craft, there is no end to the ways you can invigorate and improve your creative writing.

There are many books written on this subject that I would highly recommend to anyone. Among my favorites are: The Writer’s Block by Jason Rekulak, The Pocket Muse – Ideas & Inspirations for Writing by Monica Wood, Writing Down the Bones by Natalie Goldberg, Writing for Emotional Impact by Karl Iglesias, and Fiction Writer’s Workshop by Josip Novakovich.

However you choose to boost and strengthen your own writing, it’s my opinion that it should be fun, and finding all the different methods that will work for you is a big part of that fun. Remember that in writing, what works for one person may not work for the other, and keep in mind that writing exercises can fast become the perfect excuse to get no actual writing done, but if you are sincerely dedicated to writing, there are hundreds upon hundreds of ways to go from this:

To this!

Happy writing!