Writing is a unique activity, in case you haven’t already noticed that. It’s not necessarily done in an office; oftentimes, in fact, it’s better done at home. It’s usually best done alone, but the writer who writes entirely in a solo vacuum is one who is destined to fail, I would argue. The process of writing a book is different for every writer; although there are principles and recommendations and tools that many writers swear by, they tend–nay, even have—to be applied differently by every writer for every book. The fact that most fiction writers (like me) are driven to produce books, which can take years, blood, sweat, and tears, without so much as a promise that it will be published, or if published remunerated or recognized well, is both the definition of insanity and the crux of creativity to me. And that rejection is such a big part of the process.
I started writing fiction in earnest three years ago. Since then, I’ve written and revised one book, queried and pitched it fifty times, received a few requests for partials and fulls, and almost finished writing another book. I swear when I’m finished with this second book that I won’t write anymore; the fifty rejections I’ve received for my first book make me think that this is too hard. Yet, a book I greatly enjoyed, by an author I greatly esteem (Elana Johnson), was queried over 100 times before it was published. We’ve all heard the tales of J.K. Rowling’s multiple rejections for Harry Potter, and I cling to the fact that some of the works of Shannon Hale, one of my top ten favorite authors, were rejected multiple times. According to Elana, and others I’ve asked, I should keep querying my book (called Forced). Indeed, they say that I should embrace, even pursue the rejections as part of the process.
“Really?,” you say, as do I. “Surely, the fifty rejections are enough.” According to Kim Liao of Literary Hub, they are not. “Collect rejections,” she says, quoting a friend of hers. “Set rejection goals. I know someone who shoots for one hundred rejections in a year, because if you work that hard to get so many rejections, you’re sure to get a few acceptances, too.” Well, sure, and we all know that it only takes one real acceptance to make it all worthwhile. But how does one “collect rejections?” Unless one has the ego of a thousand Trumps (disclaimer: I am in no way praising or shaming our president-elect), is it possible to endure the cycles of self-doubt and castigation that are an inevitable part of the process?
“Yes,” say a surprising amount of sources, “and here are other reasons why and some possible how-to’s.” Liao paraphrases authors David Bales and Ted Orland as they tell the story of a ceramics class in which half of the students were asked to focus on producing a high quantity of work while the other half was asked to produce works of high quality. “For a grade at the end of the term, the ‘quantity’ group’s pottery would be weighed, and fifty pounds of pots would automatically get an A, whereas the ‘quality’ group only needed to turn in one—albeit perfect—piece. Surprisingly, the works of highest quality came from the group being graded on quantity, because they had continually practiced, churned out tons of work, and learned from their mistakes. The other half of the class spent most of the semester paralyzed by theorizing about perfection.”
So, we should pursue quantities of rejections, then, because it forces us to continually practice and learn? Well, okay. That makes sense too. But I’m not sure how many more form rejections saying “your work is not for me” I can take. Margaret Dilloway, a middle-grade fantasy author and guest poster for Writer’s Digest, says I should keep going, as she did, doing the following to overcome self-doubt:
To that list, Jordan Rosenfeld, another Writer’s Digest guest poster, adds that we should define exactly what we’re afraid of, exactly what composes our self-doubt, as a step to overcoming that fear.
“Have you done those things?” you ask. “Have they worked?” Actually, I have, especially the making of other art and the spending of time outside. They do wonders to replenish me both spiritually and creatively. I know what I’m afraid of–that even if I do ultimately get published by a Big Six publisher–whatever I publish will wallow in mediocrity and anonymity, and I’ll barely make any money. But I’m still writing. And enjoying the process. “Why?” you ask. “Are you crazy?”
And I answer: “Yes, yes I am. I’m embracing the craziness. It’s my kind of craziness. Join me in it, won’t you?”
As the leadership of the Utah Valley Writers, we strive to meet our members’ creative needs, whether that be writing craft, business instruction, or connecting with other like-minded individuals. That’s why we periodically ask for feedback from our members. What do you want from your writing group?
Last fall, we sent out a survey, and have formed this year’s programs based on its results. I want to share with you what we learned and how we’re meeting those needs.
Sample questions we asked (I’ve condensed them from the original):
1. What topics would you like to learn about in field trips and demonstrations?
We gave some possible topics and opened it up for suggestions, as well. About 45% were interested in a fencing demonstration, and getting booked by the police. 35% were interested in going to the shooting range or the horse stables. The range of suggested topics was fairly broad without much overlap.
2. What kind of mini presentations would you like from your fellow members?
Again, we had possible topics and the option to write in suggestions. Most were interested in Scrivener, space science, abnormal psychology, and self-publishing. From the suggestions, we noticed an interest in technology and history. The other common thread was writing craft such as character development, plotting, and adding tension.
3. What are your areas of expertise you are willing to share with our group?
The answers to this question were really cool. We have a lot of experts in our group. (Though some neglected to give us their name, so we have no idea who they are.)
After looking through the responses, we brainstormed the best way to address these needs and came up with several experts we knew, whether member or not. With that, we immediately began planning the program schedule for 2017. You can see some of it in our calendar as we confirm with the presenters.
We felt it was important to continue the tradition of bringing industry professionals, but we wanted to be more selective of which authors to invite. We considered authors who are well-established, and who have impressed us in the past with their speaking skills. Our first author was Hugo award winner, Mary Robinette Kowal. If you missed her presentation, I’m sorry because it was fantastic. We plotted a story together using her method and a couple random nouns (eternal mongoose). We sent out her worksheet to our members. If you didn’t get it for whatever reason, let us know. We are also excited to host Jennifer Nielsen and Jennifer Moore this year.
For the other months, we have added member presentations, fieldtrips, and extraneous activities. The sword demonstration in January was super cool. We learned about the history as well as the swordplay and we came away with resources for further research. Next month, we will be taking a fieldtrip to the police station for a booking and session with the K9 unit. We also have a short story contest coming up in March, a speed dating manuscript activity to help members find matching critique partners (details forthcoming), and a trip to the shooting range with an impressive array of fire arms tentatively planned when the weather warms up.
Critiques are fundamental to improving our writing skills. The quality of a critique is just as important as the critique itself. So, we have a standard and instruct members on how to give and receive critique. This happens as a mini presentation a few times a year. We have at least one full critique session every month. There are also smaller groups who meet between meetings. Please contact us if you are interested in joining an additional critique group.
What are your thoughts? What would you like Utah Valley Writers to do for you? Comment below or email us at uvchapterinfo at gmail.
Ready to join? Click here and choose membership with Utah Valley Writers.
Mary Robinette Kowal is the author of The Glamourist Histories series of fantasy novels. She has received the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, three Hugo awards, and the RT Reviews award for Best Fantasy Novel. Her work has been nominated for the Hugo, Nebula and Locus awards. Her stories appear in Asimov’s, Clarkesworld, and several Year’s Best anthologies. Mary, a professional puppeteer, also performs as a voice actor (SAG/AFTRA), recording fiction for authors such as Seanan McGuire, Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi. She lives in Chicago with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters.
Mary is also a member of the popular author podcast: Writing Excuses. She often presents at the Life Universe and Everything Symposium (LTUE), and will be there tomorrow. Come learn from a master storyteller and teacher. We will raffle two copies of her new book, Ghost Talkers, to two lucky UVW members. Make sure your membership is up-to-date to be eligible.