Tuesday, April 30, 2013

The Writer's Lament - Please, sir, may I have another?

As most writers in today's market know, there are many more rejections received than contracts.  It's a sad fact, but true.  The emails can be cordial, nicely written, even complimentary of your work, but the fact remains they are still rejections.

About thirty years ago I wrote and sold some short stories, as well as film reviews.  In those days, the rejections came in the form of business letters, coldly impersonal and to the point...usually a form letter with your name and address typed on it.  At least in our electronic age the rejections are more personal. 

I spent many years in the theater, both as an actor and director.  I like that system best.  As an actor, you hear about auditions for a play with a part that you think would be perfect for you.  So, you read the play beforehand, practice your monologue (if one is required), or practice your song, whatever is needed for the part.  On the day(s) of the auditions, you dress in your most flattering outfit - the one that fits in best with your view of the character, style your hair, apply your make-up, hitch up your nerve and go.

Sidestep - I once auditioned for the role of Leatherface's mama in the remake of "The Texas Chainsaw Massacre."  I got a callback, too, but lost out to another woman.  Oh well, there went my Razzie...

You may get to read for the role a little or a lot, depending on the director and the turnout at the auditions.  You may be asked to read for a role you hadn't considered...but hey, it's a shot at a part, after all, and you want to be cooperative - show how flexible you can be.

After two or three nights of auditions and maybe callbacks, you should hear fairly quickly whether or not you got THE part or any part.  Yes, if you don't get the one you want, you are disappointed.  If you don't get any part, you can be devastated.  But then the rationalizations set in - oh well, there'd be all that rehearsal time with your nights and weekends booked, so it's just as well...that sort of thing.

Life does go on, you bounce back and write it off with negative thoughts - "oh well, I wouldn't really like that part anyway..."  Soon you're searching the notices to see if any other theater is holding auditions.  After all, to an actor, "The play's the thing..."  Bottom line is, you know you have no control on the decisions of a director.

But with a novel you've invested much more time and energy in producing the finished product.  In many cases, you write, then rewrite and polish for several years - in this case three.  You enter the novel into numerous contests to get the feedback from the judges to improve your work.  You step out of character and work with critique partners (which is hard when you don't play well with others in the first place.)

The novel is filled with people who invaded your thoughts, your waking and sleeping moments.  You developed a story, a world from your imagination, creating them at stoplights or in line at the grocery.  Your family and friends become accustomed to you zoning out into your own little world at odd times when an idea hits or a scene comes together out of nowhere.

You've done extensive research into the social customs of another time, another place, to make them real.  These characters become your offspring.  You know their thoughts, their expressions.  As the writer, you want to protect them.  After all, they're like your children, while you are their anxious mother, sending them off into the world of publishing and hoping for the best.

Then the nicely worded, compassionate rejection comes.  The first one was full of suggestions for the story line and encouragement to submit more of my writing for their consideration...

But you know what?  Even though it's nicely worded, encouraging, you still feel like the fraternity pledge, bent over for the pledge master and cringing as he eyes the wooden paddle.  Somehow you gather the courage and shout, "Please, sir, may I have another?"  You know it's going to hurt just like the first one, but you go for it anyway.

I got my first rejection of this novel early last year.  I worked furiously rewriting the story, improving the hero, making him seem more "heroic".  I worked to up the emotions on both the hero and the heroine.  I added flashbacks with action and high drama.  Then I pitched it to another editor at a conference.  She asked if it could be a "sweet" story for their market.  I said, "sure!"  So she advised me to send the full manuscript to her. 

I worked for another month and a half removing the sex scenes to make it a "sweet" story, polished it some more and sent it to her late last year.

The second rejection arrived a few days ago.  It was even more complimentary than the first one I received.  In it, I was encouraged to send it on to another publisher or self-publish the novel.  That was nice to read. 

WHACK!!! But there's the paddle again.

Mentally rubbing my abused posterior (read that ego), I decided I would shelve the novel..."I'm tired of fooling with it."

Yet in the last couple of days, despite the fact that I know the paddle looms, I've thought about shopping for other publishers.

Actually I've got other writing projects in the works for which I may get the paddle, anyway.  Therein lies the difference between writers and actors...While both can be determined and stubborn when denied what they want, actors have other opportunities sooner and can rebound from the dreaded rejection in short order.

Writers are a truly stubborn lot - working for years on a project; submitting it to endless criticism to improve it; and pouring more of their time and energy into it after each rejection.

Sigh.  Why couldn't I have stayed in the theater?  There I can flit on to the next project with little thought other than "OOOOOhhh, I see something shiny!"  We creative types can be a little weird...

Even though my ears still ring with the WHACK of the last swat of the paddle, I am preparing for the next one...hardheaded writer.

"Please, sir, may I have another?"

Okay.  Stay tuned.  I will be posting a review of "Silver Linings Playbook" later on this week.

In the meantime, enjoy our pop culture - watch, read, or listen...but if you sit down to write the GREAT AMERICAN NOVEL, don't let the sound of the paddle interfere. 

Take care.

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