Celebration Bonfires, Rejection Slips, and Other Writerly Concerns


American Novelist and Short Story Writer, Erskine Caldwell (1903-1987)

“I would go home in the evening and write short stories and mail them to magazine editors in New York. The stories, no matter how many times I rewrote them, were always returned, usually without comment, with unfailing promptness. I received so many rejection slips, and such an interesting variety, that I passed them neatly into a stamp collector’s album.  The only consolation I ever got out of them for many years was in visualizing how big a celebration bonfire I could make with them when I had my first short story accepted and published in a magazine.” Erskine Caldwell*, “Call it Experience,” in The Creative Writer


Many many years ago – circa 1964 – I read The Creative Writer (quoted above), which is out of print now. You can find old copies, not that you necessarily need to. Much is outdated. At the time, I found it helpful and inspirational. The book, a collection of instructional and inspirational essays, was published by Writer’s Digest, the publishers of the magazine by that name.  This was my go-to place to hob-nob with writers and publishers, a publication I read through high school and even into my son’s grammar school years. He told me not too long ago that as a child he found it rather magical that it showed up no matter where we moved.

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My other go-to magazine was The Writer. These magazines didn’t so much teach me how to write as offer me some knowledge of the business of writing, which has changed much since then, a story perhaps for another day. The articles I read  instilled a sense of perspective, rational expectations (do NOT read lowered expectations), and a stronger determination. I discovered that sending my writing out into the world is like applying for a job. I do my homework and refine my technique and that improves the odds. Nonetheless, it’s still a numbers game and I may never know why I get a rejection slip. I don’t always know why I get an acceptance letter (or email) either.

Reading what others had to say about the business of studying markets, writing query letters and submitting work helped me to understand that I had to keep on keeping on. This was a good thing. My first poem was published when I was seventeen and that created some rather unrealistic expectations. I thought I was such a hot-shot that my seventeenth year was also the year I submitted a short story to Mademoiselle magazine (closed 2001) for its annual fiction contest. The contest was for college students. I was still in high school. I lied and put Brooklyn College on the entry form. Joyce Carol Oats won.

All this is to say I am reminded of my history because now and again I get emails from discouraged writers and I’m finally – FINALLY – getting around to reading Victor Villaseñor’s Macho!  Apropos this post, I found his dedication interesting: “To my parents …. after ten years of writing and 260 rejections – my first one! …” 

Also interesting is his author’s note to the 1997 paperback edition:

Mexican-American Writer, Victor Villaseñor (b. 1940)

“In re-reading Macho! I found out that I am not the same person who wrote that book twenty years ago. I thought of rewriting parts of it – feeling almost ashamed of some sections. But then I got to thinking, hell, the 60s were the 60s and that’s who I was then, so I’m not going to change it. It’s rough and sometimes it sings as badly off-key as Bob Dylan – he was no Joan Baez, believe me – but what it says is still important.”

In my small way, I know what he means by the roughness and dissonance. I’ve been shredding years of my newspaper column clips. After reading a couple, I couldn’t stand it. Not only did I dislike much of the writing but I disagreed with the opinions I’d expressed. One problem with writing is that floundering is so visible. I shudder to think who among family, friends and colleagues might have read that material. It does take a certain amount of chutzpah.


Yes! I know what you think. Writing is an art. It’s also a job. Every job has its downside. With writing it’s rejection slips, growing personally and artistically in public, and that aspect of the business that requires some sales savvy, something most of us would rather not pursue. These, however, are part of the package.  


*After some 360 rejections, Erskine Caldwell went on to critical acclaim and controversy for Tobacco Road (1931) and God’s Little Acre (1933), both made into movies. Twenty-five of his novels, 150 of his short stories, twelve nonfiction collections, two autobiographies and two YA books were published. He edited American Folkways, a series of books about various regions in the U.S. Apparently, he got over rejection slips, chalked them up to “experience” and moved on.


My celebration bonfire: Not a bonfire at all, just shredding and shedding of old clips I’d rather not see anymore and feeling grateful for the lessons learned, the opportunities enjoyed, the writing life and my fellow poets and writers who enrich my time on earth with their own art and insights.


c David Mitchell from his Amazon Page

“I got a rejection letter from an editor at HarperCollins, who included a report from his professional reader. This report shredded my first-born novel, laughed at my phrasing, twirled my lacy pretensions around and gobbed into the seething mosh pit of my stolen clichés. As I read the report, the world became very quiet and stopped rotating. What poisoned me was the fact that the report’s criticisms were all absolutely true. The sound of my landlady digging in the garden got the world moving again. I slipped the letter into the trash…knowing I’d remember every word.” English novelist, David Mitchell, author of seven novels, two of which were shortlisted for the Man Booker

© 2018, Jamie Dedes; photocredits, Erskine Caldwell (1975), public domain and Victor Villaseñor courtesy of Jeffrey Beall under CC BY-SA 3.0 license.


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Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. I currently run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers. My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation PressThe Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman. My poetry was recently read by Northern California actor Richard Lingua for Poetry Woodshed, Belfast Community Radio. I was featured in a lengthy interview on the Creative Nexus Radio Show where I was dubbed “Poetry Champion.”

* The BeZine: Waging the Peace, An Interfaith Exploration featuring Fr. Daniel Sormani, Rev. Benjamin Meyers, and the Venerable Bhikkhu Bodhi among others

“Every pair of eyes facing you has probably experienced something you could not endure.” Lucille Clifton

READY, SET, NA-NO-WRI-MO … Tips, Tricks and Writing Rules from P.L. Travers, Henry Miller, John Steinbeck, Jack Kerouac

ravers in the role of Titania in a production of A Midsummer Night's Dream, c. 1924

Travers in the role of Titania in a production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, c. 1924

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Some of us say we write from the heart, some from spirit. P. L. Travers, OBE (1899-1996, Australian national, British citizen),  actress, poet and the conjuror of Mary Poppins, wrote in a Parabola* article that

I sit down inside my abdomen and brood and brood until I figure out how I feel about it.”


 


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I noted the quotation above but I don’t remember the exact context of the piece. I think it was Tavers’ way of talking about the exploration of a painful childhood, one out of which she created a children’s classic. She once told a friend that the people and the objects of her early life were like a spindle around which she wove the threads of her imagination. That worked for her as a writer and for us as readers. In using her childhood to create characters and stories, she gave us a gift that ranks with those given to us by J.M. Barrie, L. Frank Baum, C.S. Lewis and Lewis Carroll.

Of course art-making isn’t therapy, but I often think artists don’t need to be quite so loath to admit some relationship between art-making and therapy.” Short-story writer, Deborah Eisenberg, Paris Review Interview #218, 2016

Travers’ why of writing was – at least in part – to heal and to imagine the childhood she would have liked.

Ultimately, we write for many reasons: to recover, to find closure or completion, to find meaning and understanding and to cherish the gifts of life. I relish life through writing. When I write a poem about an experience or observation, it’s often a way to savor it, prolong or relive the pleasure or heal the wound. It’s a way to live hugely. On the other hand, sometimes I use fiction to reframe experience. I think most people would agree that we also write to have our say and – in the spirit of Joseph Conrad – to help the reader see. That may sound to some like colossal chutzpah, but we all have something to say. We all have a perspective to share.

No matter where our writing comes from or why we write, we have to get the job done. For many of us the muse is a fairly consistent companion. For others it’s a struggle to connect. Either way, we develop habits, disciplines, and rituals to court the muse. It is often as though there is a sort of magical thinking or personal superstition in play. We must sit in this chair at this desk or at this cafe or we simply can’t write. Perhaps that’s why well-known and prolific writers are always being asked how, when and where they write, just another way of saying, “How do you court the muse?”  The answers writers give can reveal demons, superstitions, irritation with the question, or even a tongue firmly in cheek. The “tips” or “rules” can be wise, cool, pragmatic, quirky, absurd or disagreeable. You may end up feeling affirmed, acquiring a useful tool, or finding yourself entertained.

Henry Miller‘s policy was to work on one project at a time. Some will disagree with that. I do. I think many of us find one activity feeds another, that our multiple projects or different artistic outlets form a rich diet for the muse and make us more productive. I have a writer friend who says, “suum cuique” . . . to each his own  . . . though to the old Romans that phrase was about justice (may each get their due), not about writing rituals. But the point is made.

200px-Journal-of-a-novel_cover-smallJohn Steinbeck’s tips are pragmatic, born of a long, intense and consistent experience. In the fall of 1968, Steinbeck was actually too ill for a standard interview and one was pieced together from the East of Eden diaries (Journal of a Novel) and from some letters, which were later collected and published in one book. The tips have been widely published and were also included in Steinbeck’s Paris Review, The Art of Fiction** interview. [The Paris Review Interviews are required reading for writers and poets.]  Steinbeck’s second tip is “Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.” This is consistent with the philosophy and structure of NaNoWriMo. You write, write, write all month and don’t do your rewrites, editing and proofing until after that.

Jack Kerouac’s famous thirty tips are … well, they’re Jack … quirky … but useful  … You can check them out HERE on the Gotham Writers’ Workshop site.

Jack Kerouac by Palumbo

Jack Kerouac (1922-1969), American poet and novelist

The best tip I ever got was to “listen to and feel, see and smell the world around you.” Inspiration is everywhere: in the air and its scents, in the conversations you overhear, in your self-talk and memories, in the arguments with your spouse and the aroma of dinner cooking. It’s in the coo of the mourning dove, in the feel of your child’s hand in yours, in your own hopes and dreams and the life experiences and observations others share with you. Inspiration is in the news and in history. Be open to everything without exception. Nora Ephron constantly reminded those around her that everything “is copy.” We might say that everything holds the seed of a story, a character, or a scene.

Some of my most profitable lessons came from my high school English teacher, Sister Francis of Assisi, C.S.J. who encouraged my early writing. Sometimes I imagine her leaning over my desk and I hear her whispering  …

What is it you really want to say?
Is this word appropriate? It is accurate?
What is your theme?
Does this really have to rhyme? Be cautious of rhyming.
Is this artfully dramatic or is it bad melodrama?
Is that lyrical or flowery?”

Read and read some more:
What writers do you enjoy most? Why? What can you learn from reading their work?
What novels do you dislike? Why? What can you learn from your reaction?

Reorder and rename the everyday. In truth the ordinary is often extraordinary and it’s your job to recognise and illustrate this.

Practically speaking, the muse is probably most responsive to the simple act of gluing the seats of our pants to our chairs and staying there until the job is done. Perhaps the muse is not fickle. Perhaps to be constant she requires our constancy.

Tips, tricks and rules are helpful and can be inspiring, but take them under advisement. In the end, the best magic for courting the muse is the magic that works for you ….

Work calmly, joyously, recklessly on whatever is in hand”. Henry Miller

* Parabola is a magazine of The Society for the Study of Myth and Tradition. P.L. Travers was one of the founders.
** The Paris Review, The Art of Fiction interviews from 1953 through 2016 are freely posted online.

© 2016, essay, Jamie Dedes, All rights reserved; Photo credits ~ P.L. Travers via Wikipedia, uploaded there by Rossiter and in the Australian public domain. The book cover art likely belongs to the publisher or estate and is courtesy of Bookworm  (Mary Poppins) and Wikipedia (Journal of a Novel), Jack Kerouac by Palarmo licensed under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 2.0 Generic


ABOUT

Poet and writer, I was once columnist and the associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers.

My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation Press, The River Journal, The Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman

HEADS-UP: It’s that time of year – Time to Write Your Novel in a Month, NaNoWriMo

 

Logo courtesy of NaNoWriMo for National Novel Writing Month / Fair use

“First steps are always the hardest but until they are taken the notion of progress remains only a notion and not an achievement.” Aberjhani, Illuminated Corners: Collected Essays and Articles Volume



In 1999, Chris Baty founded [inter]National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), write 50,000 words or 1,667 words per day between November 1 and November 30. That first year NaNoWriMo started with twenty-one of Chris Baty’s friends and 149 participants. Now there are more than 300,000 writers (individually, in classrooms, and in families) in ninety countries participating. Chris teaches at Standford University, wrote No Plot? No Problem! and co-wrote Ready, Set, Novel.

 

 

The idea is to write, write, write … no editing until you’ve completed your 50,000. It’s a way to keep writers on a roll. The effort to simultaneously edit and write is often the cause of writer’s block. Rewrites, editing and proofing are on hold until you’ve completed the project.

“Since NaNoWriMo is organized to get people writing, the rules are kept broad and straightforward:

  1. Writing starts at 12:00: a.m. on November 1 and ends 11:59:59 p.m. on November 30, local time.
  2. No one is allowed to start early and finish 30 days from that start point
  3. Novels must reach a minimum of 50,000 words before the end of November. These words can either be a complete novel of 50,000 words or the first 50,000 words of a novel to be completed later.
  4. Planning and extensive notes are permitted, but no material written before the November 1 start date can go into the body of the novel.
  5. Participants’ novels can be on any theme, genre of fiction, and language. Everything from fanfiction, which uses trademarked characters, to novels in poem format, and metafiction is allowed; according to the website’s FAQ, ‘If you believe you’re writing a novel, we believe you’re writing a novel too.'” Wikipedia

When you sign-up for NaNoWriMo, you (among other things) create a profile, name your novel (a working title), get encouragement from pros, connect with social networking friends (find me under G Jamie Dedes), and meet with others in your area to work together at cafés and bookstores.  Whole classes and families sign-up. Years ago, my daughter-in-law and I did it together for at least two years.

As it happens, NaNoWriMo taught me about what I don’t want to do and I had fun in the process. One problem for the poet when it comes to longer works is that poetry allows us to say what we want to say with the great power of economy, not something to be underestimated.

I’m doing NaNoWriMo this year because I’ve been playing with an idea for a novella after someone characterized my writing as “alien” and someone else said “other worldly.” We do learn from and are inspired by readers and critics. Those characterizations made me think of magical realism, a thought that captured me attention and fired my passion. Magical realism will be my experiment this year.

“Magical realism, magic realism, or marvelous realism is a genre of narrative fiction and, more broadly, art (literature, painting, film, theatre, etc.) that, while encompassing a range of subtly different concepts, expresses a primarily realistic view of the real world while also adding or revealing magical elements. It is sometimes called fabulism, in reference to the conventions of fables, myths, and allegory. “Magical realism”, perhaps the most common term, often refers to fiction and literature in particular, with magic or the supernatural presented in an otherwise real-world or mundane setting.

“The terms are broadly descriptive rather than critically rigorous. Matthew Strecher defines magic realism as “what happens when a highly detailed, realistic setting is invaded by something too strange to believe”. Many writers are categorized as “magical realists”, which confuses the term and its wide definition. Irene Guenther tackles the German roots of the term, and how art is related to literature. Magical realism is often associated with Latin American literature, particularly authors including genre founders Gabriel García Márquez, Miguel Angel Asturias, Jorge Luis Borges, Elena Garro, Juan Rulfo, Rómulo Gallegos, and Isabel Allende. In English literature, its chief exponents include Salman Rushdie, Alice Hoffman, and Nick Joaquin.” Wikipedia

I know many reading here have participated over the years but this will be news to some.  I encourage you to join in. If nothing else, you will exercise your imagination and writing muscle, learn somethings about yourself, and end the year on a productive note.

“Since 2006, hundreds of novels first drafted during NaNoWriMo have been published.” HERE is a list of NaNoWriMo books that are published. There are quite a few names you will recognize.

“The world needs your novel.” Chris Baty

To sign-up and learn more link HERE.


ABOUT

Poet and writer, I was once columnist and the associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers.

My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,Compass Rose, Connotation Press, The River Journal, The Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woma

Neil Gaiman’s “Eight Rules for Writing”

Neil Gaiman by Kyle Cassidy CC BY-SA 3.0

“Fairy tales are more than true: not because they tell us that dragons exist, but because they tell us that dragons can be beaten.” Neil Gaiman, Coraline [recommended]



Neil Gaiman (10 November 1960) is an English author of short fiction, novels, comic books, graphic novels, audio theatre, and films. His notable works include the comic book series The Sandman and novels Stardust, American Gods, Coraline, and The Graveyard Book. He has won many awards, including the Hugo, Nebula, and Bram Stoker awards, as well as the Newbery and Carnegie medals. He is the first author to win both the Newbery and the Carnegie medals for the same work, The Graveyard Book (2008). In 2013, The Ocean at the End of the Lane was voted Book of the Year in the British National Book Awards. [Wikipedia] Neil’s Amazon page is HERE.


If you are viewing this post from an email subscription, it’s likely your have to link through to the site to view the video: An Interview witih Neil Gaiman.


ABOUT

Jamie Dedes

Poet and writer, I was once columnist and associate editor of a regional employment publication. Currently I run this site, The Poet by Day, an information hub for poets and writers. I am the managing editor of The BeZine published by The Bardo Group Beguines (originally The Bardo Group), a virtual arts collective I founded.  I am a weekly contributor to Beguine Again, a site showcasing spiritual writers.

My work is featured in a variety of publications and on sites, including: Levure littéraure, Ramingo’s PorchVita Brevis Literature,  Compass Rose, Connotation PressThe Bar None GroupSalamander CoveSecond LightI Am Not a Silent PoetMeta / Phor(e) /Play, and California Woman.