Tag Archives: Revisions

My First Rejection Letter

18 Dec

I knew this day would come, but being so close to the holidays, I was hoping to put it off. My first rejection letter came in the mail today. I just had a feeling it was a rejection letter as soon as I looked at it, not even touching it to see how thin it was. My heart seemed to stop when I saw my name in my own handwriting and a return address with a journal title. I imagine many of you reading this have had similar experiences.

Because I felt like I knew what was coming, I made myself ready for it. I had cookies prepared in the kitchen and I put on sweat pants. If that’s not ready for rejection, please tell me what is. When I picked it up to open, I saw how thin the envelope was and my heart sank. Permission to print forms were at least one, if not two, pages and this didn’t even feel like a full page. Wouldn’t an email have been more environmentally friendly?

Unsurprisingly, there as a third-of a page letter inside addressed ‘Dear Writer.’ I won’t print it here, but it was what I can only imagine is standard. “Thanks for your submission… We receive over 2,000 during our reading period… If you’d like to purchase your own copy…” Boiler plate. Cold.

Being the child of the 21st Century that I am, I turned immediately to Facebook (for the record, my husband wasn’t home). Within minutes, support was flooding in. My non-writing friends were sympathetic (“I’m sorry, 😦 ) and also supportive (“At least you had the guts to send something, like JK Rowling”). The best advice came from AP, who insists that I frame it. KK reminded me that everyone gets turned down, even the elites of writing. It’s funny that this happened to me today because I just finished the section of Stephen King’s On Writing where he talks about how consistently he was rejected when he first started writing. So timely. Another fellow writer said she’d gotten a rejection letter herself earlier that day, letting me know I’m not alone. Nicole offered to come reenact the scene from The Proposal where Sandra Bullock dances to “Get Low” with Betty White. I’m keeping that offer in my back pocket.

It’s ironic that this came the same day my “How to Date a Writer” post went up. I’d read the list to my husband when I found it and I guess he listened well because he was very polite about the letter and wouldn’t let it get me down. He offered me caramel popcorn (not chocolate, but still delicious) and reassured me that someone would want to publish my poem. Probably the best thing said to me was when he said “At least your first rejection is a poem and not your novel.” So true, Jay, so incredibly true.

I’m fortunate that a lot of good things happened yesterday that are equaled out by the letter. I got a $50 gift card, Jay got Christmas gifts from his catechism students, I was able to blow my mother-in-laws mind with how much I write (I think) and this morning I got my company Christmas gift. But underneath all of this, there’s a voice saying “Not good enough, not good enough!” I want to punch that little voice, but he’s nagging me.

So where do I go from here? I’ll take another look at the poem, maybe ask one or two more people to read it and tell me what they think. I’ll revise it a bit and then send it out again. I’ve pulled up two magazines already. I’m determined to see it in print, whatever form it ends up taking. I’m going to start a spreadsheet and keep track of where something’s submitted and when I get rejected so I can send it again. I’m going to put myself out there and let the rejections come if they will because I won’t know what I’m lacking until someone tells me.

Reader, I’m not going to ask for your sympathy. I’ll use my mom for that if I need to. What I want to hear from you is how you deal with rejection? Does it motivate you or make you cry in the corner? Did you get a rejection letter on Monday also?

Until next time, write on.

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Writers’ Workshop Advice: Tighter Prose

8 Oct

Hello, blogosphere!

Once a month I go to a writers’ workshop.  The participants vary though there are a few regulars.  I thought with my Wednesday night job that I wouldn’t be able to attend anymore, but I had no appointments this week and was able to go!  One of our regulars is a professional editor who is always handing out great writing advice.  A few of his sticking points have to do with writing on the ‘word-level.’  By this I mean that it’s not focused on voice, flow, or technique as much as on engaging a reader through word choice.  I took notes on his advice and I want to do an experiment!

I found an old prompt that I wrote a while back.  The prompt was: Write a death flashback scene of a villain’s life.  I want to go through it and work on the four things this editor recommended for tightening up one’s writing.  The four things (I’ll go into reasons later) are:

  • Adverbs
  • Adjectives
  • Forms of the verb ‘to be’
  • Prepositional Phrases

I’ll mark up the writing using the key above (ex. adverbs in dark purple, adjectives in green, etc.).  Then, I’ll go through each of the editor’s suggestions and explain why it helps to tighten up writing.  Then, I’ll re-write the passage with those suggestions in mind and you can tell me which you prefer, what parts you like best, and why.  Here we go!

David felt his heart clench inside his chestFrantically, he stumbled toward the phone in the living room but collapsed on the rug ten feet short.  He started to crawl, but the pain was too intense.

There was no one else in the house and he knew he was having a heart attack.  No one ever visited the big farm house.  No one would even know he was gone until he didn’t go around to pay the wages, and pay day was four days away.  David’s heart clenched again, this time in fear.  He was going to die alone.

There was no wife to rush to his side and cry over his body.  Jeanine had left twenty years ago and there were no children.  David had regretted how he acted, but he didn’t know another way.  He spent all day talking to his workers, treating them like the scum of the earth that they were; it was hard for him to come to Jeanine at the end of the day and be polite and loving.  His personality wasn’t a switch to turn on and off.

No friends would be his pallbearers at the funeral.  Come to think of it, there was no reason for a funeral at all.  The closest thing he had to friends were the men he bought fertilizer and farm equipment from in town twice a year.  They knew his name, did that mean they would mourn his passing?  UnlikelyMaybe the banker would mourn him.  David visited the bank frequently to inquire into his stock values and interest rates.  The banker would notice he was missing.  But he never came to visit so David couldn’t be saved.

His mother might arrange a funeral, if she was still alive.  When he’d left home, David had never looked back.  He was so determined to build a life for himself as far from the one-room house on another man’s ranch that he’d severed all ties.  He hoped his father was dead so that he didn’t have to bare this embarrassment in his father’s mind.  David remembered hearing that you shit yourself after you die.  His father would only laugh at that.

The room grew darker around him, but David could still make out the dear possessions in his living room.  The television set he never watched, purchased only to see the looks of jealousy on the faces of everyone else in the general store.  There was a bookcase filled with classics and first editions of which he’d never cracked the spinesPriceless art hung on his walls and David couldn’t help but wonder who would inherit it after he was gone.

A single tear rolled down his face.  It wasn’t from fear of death because David knew that Death would be a welcome ending.  It wasn’t from pain, as David considered himself above pain and suffering.  It was a tear of loneliness, one solitary tear.

So there’s the starting point.  Now, I’ll go into the four suggestions and talk about how they can lead to stronger writing.

Eliminate adverbs: This same topic came up on The Daily Post last week.  The basis of this argument (shared by many writers, including the great Stephen King) is that an adverb can be removed and replaced by a stronger verb.  Writers who find themselves using adverbs to excess are likely using the same basic verbs over and over, making for repetitive, boring, and weak writing.  The advice: use them sparingly if at all.

Minimize adjectives: This is a similar argument to the adverb argument.  Adjectives describe a noun.  Someone overusing adjectives is using weak nouns.  By minimizing adjectives, the writer forces himself to find more varied, unique, and impactful adjectives (now there’s a list of adjectives I should eliminate in a revision).

Avoid passive voice to the extreme: I say ‘to the extreme’ because that was what impacted me the most.  More than not using the passive voice (the SUBJECT was PAST PARTICIPL(ED) by the DIRECT OBJECT), this editor recommended getting rid of anything that could be construed as the passive voice and eliminate as many uses of the verb ‘to be’ as possible.  What a challenge!  This again related to the adverb advice: you can use a stronger verb.  ‘To be’ is one of the backbones of English and any language, but it’s such a common verb that it’s vastly over-utilized.  A stronger substitute works better.

Avoid prepositional phrases: There are two caviots to this advice: (1) keep it in dialogue and (2) unless it reads awkwardly without the phrase.  Wow, I would have never thought of this!  We can relate this one to the adjectives advice in that prepositional phrases can many times clutter a sentence with unnecessary description that detract from the message the writer wants to get across

Armed with this advice, I’m going to attempt to follow as much of it as possible and clean up my earlier prompt into much tighter, stronger, and impactful prose.  Here goes nothing!

David felt his heart clench.  He stumbled toward the phone but collapsed ten feet short.  He started to crawl, but pain coursed through him.

The empty house provided little relief from his sufferings.  Few visitors came visiting and no one would notice his absence.  The workers only spied him on pay days and one had just past.  David’s body tensed, realizing he would die alone.

The silence surrounding David struck him.  His wife had left him and their caustic nature never brought on a tendency toward children.  David regretted how he acted, but he’d never learned how to behave.  He spent all day working and treating the employees like scum; he couldn’t come home and fake polite and loving.  His personality didn’t turn on and off like a switch.

No friends would serve as pallbearers.  Come to think of it, a funeral would be a waste.  The men he bought farm equipment from might come but additional seats would remain vacant.  The men knew his name; did that mean they would mourn his passing?  Unlikely.  Maybe the banker would mourn him.  The bank allowed him to watch his money grow.  He and the banker used Christian names together but didn’t visit each other’s homes.  David had no savior coming.

His mother might arrange a funeral, if she still lived.  Once he’d left home, David hadn’t looked back.  He’d challenged himself to succeed and built life far from the one-room house on another man’s ranch his parents called home.  He hoped his father had passed so he wouldn’t have to hear this embarrassing end.  David remembered hearing that the recently deceased shit themselves.  His father would laugh to find David’s pants full of shit.

The room grew darker, but David could still make out the hoarded possessions surrounding him:  the television set he never watched, purchased only to see the clerk’s jealous look;  the bookcase filled with classics and first editions he hadn’t read;  the priceless art smiling sadly back at him. David couldn’t help but wonder who would inherit it all.

A single tear rolled down his face.  It didn’t reflect a fear of death because David knew that death would bring a welcome ending.  He was in no pain, as David considered himself above pain and suffering.  David shed a tear of loneliness; a solitary tear.

So there we are!  An original and a tidied up version.  Which do you prefer?  What (if anything) do you like about the cleaned up version?  Leave me a comment and let me know!

Novel Girls: Revision Process

16 Sep

One of the writerly topics I’ve been contemplating is the revision process. When I was in school, nothing I wrote ever needed major revisions; I could get away with changing a few words, at most a paragraph. Now, as I write entire manuscripts, I realize that I’m not so lucky.

Nicole and I met up to work on our novels yesterday. After my Novel Girls meeting on Thursday, i realized I had a lot of major updates to do. (Many times we meet, KK and Nicole will give me some major things to change and I usually put them off. They’d caught up with me.) These major changes hanging over me, along with a blog post I read by Emily on Adventures in Fantasy, made me start thinking about my own revision process.

For the WIP I’m currently on, I’ve done a re-write and I’m now going through chapter by chapter in a workshop, which is bringing out a few scenes that need another re-write. This weekend I’m going to do a read-aloud to help point out a few more scenes that sound weird/are inconsistent that need a re-write. I have a plan to take all of my dialogue and make sure that each character has a unique voice as far as idioms and speech pattern. I have a writing workbook that I’m thinking of going through as well. After that, I have a few betas lined up, which should lend itself to some more re-writing. Hopefully I can micro-edit from there and call it ‘done!’

Being the planner I am, I already developed a plan for my NaNo. The obvious first step: write a 50K+ word novel in 30 days. Easy enough. After that I plan to leave it alone for at least a month if not two. I then plan on doing what I call ‘the notecard thing’ which is where you write your major plot points from each chapter on a notecard. Then, you throw the notecards in the air and put them in an order that makes sense. You might have notecards you can take out, or might move the order of the plot to something more logical. (You can also have someone else put the notecards in order. They might be able to come up with something you missed and needs to be added a bit better.) Then, I’ll do a re-write without even looking at the first draft. I figure that at this point, I’ll know my characters better and this re-write will have more character consistency and development. I’ll go back through the rough draft and do what I’ve decided to call ‘digging for gold’ where I highlight sections that I absolutely love in the rough draft and re-write scenes to bring them into my second draft. Depending on how useful I find the workbook and dialogue pull from WIP 1 revisions, I might try those. From there, chapter by chapter workshopping, specific scene re-write, betas, and micro-editing before I’m done.

I’m a very methodical person and I need to have a plan to work to. What’s your process? Do you have a standard process you go through before you call a manuscript ‘done’ (or at least ready to send out)? Do you have suggestions for me? Please leave a comment and let me know!

Novel Girls: Two Writer-ly Questions

9 Sep

Today, Nicole and I met up at a Starbucks to do some writing reviewing.  I think we picked the world’s smallest Starbucks.  There was one free table when I got there and there were only five tables total!  Add in a co-ed bathroom and my vote is in for smallest.

Anyway, it’s good having someone to chat with who’s going through some of the same writer-ly problems.  I thought I’d enumerate a few here.  Leave a comment if you have some similar problems or any advice on overcoming them.

  1. Feedback from critique groups: This was a problem I proposed to Nicole.  I recently took the third chapter of my novel to a monthly critique group.  (Nicole has read my manuscript in whole and is usually the person I bounce changes off of before doing anything drastic.)  One of the critiques I was given at the group meeting was to change the ending of the chapter.  The father of one of my protagonists reveals a big plot element at the end, and the critique group said that he gave up the information too easily!  They were shocked that he would reveal this information to his high-school age children and a trusted family friend.  In the meeting, I told them that the children are going to help him solve the problem created by this plot element and their reaction was that these characters are children and they are too young to help.  I was appalled!  In the 1920s, most teens over 15 held a job and not many went to college.  Getting married at age 18 was common and many people were working in their career at the same age.  At 16 and 17, my characters are practically adults.  All the same, this group recommended I change it so that the father does not as quickly divulge said information.
    I had an issue with this.  If the father knew that his children were going to be helping, why would he hide the information from them?  Nicole knows what happens a few scenes later and agreed with me that I should keep it as is; it makes sense in the grand scheme of things.
    So this brings me to my problem, Do you ever get feedback from a critique that you completely disagree with?  Does it make you feel compelled to change something in your story?  When do you decide to ignore it or change your plot based on it?
  2. Planning a story:  This is something I’ve been toying with.  My completed novel, I wrote out a multi-page outline, complete with a chapter-by-chapter breakdown of what was going to happen in each part.  I’m working on a similar outline for the story I’m going to write for NaNoWriMo.  Just to be different, there’s a novel I’m working on casually right now that I’m not outlining and trying to ‘fly by the seat of my pants.’  Nicole is in the middle of one story with an outline, and she hasn’t yet started outlining her NaNo, and isn’t sure if she plans to.
    Question number two: Do you have better luck outlining a novel before beginning, or figuring the plot out as you go?  Do you ever write yourself into a corner without an outline?  Do you find you lose plot points?  With an outline, do you find writing point-to-point is too boring and lose interest?

I’ve love to hear any and all opinions on these questions!  Dealing with feedback and planning are probably the two hardest points for me as a writer.  Thanks for taking the time to read!