Monday, June 15, 2009

Thanks, But No Thanks

I collect nos. And if you're a writer ( or anyone looking for a job these days), you probably do, too. Unless you're Stephen King's wife or Mary Higgins Clark's daughter, you're likely to amass hundreds, if not thousands of rejection letters. I refuse to count, but I have a friend who keeps a tally. A student alphabetizes every rejection by the agent's last name; another catalogs them by date received. Some people hang them up on a wall; some burn them in a cleansing ritual; some simply toss them in the trash. I'm saving mine for an art project worthy of a National Endowment for the Arts grant or for gotcha bragging rights when I become famous. Whatever works.

Of course there are variations on the "no." Some are mere form letters, untouched by human hands. Some are more emphatic than others. The " No way in hell," is rarely bluntly stated, but often implied in the short " Dear Author" form card. But just as quickly as such an austere standard brush -off can slam the door shut, a slightly warmer rebuff can open a crack in the window of literary fortune."Not now," especially if written in hand with something akin to, "But try us again," offers a glimmer of hope. A real personalized letter with actual suggestions and a " try again later," is nothing short of promising.

All writers---novices and pros alike--need encouragement. It may seem counter-intuitive to find such a boost from a rejection letter, but it's there. Look at it this way: sending out your work is a positive step ( assuming it's ready to be seen by editors and agents). It is your foray into the literary lottery. And like love and lotteries, the submission process is very much a numbers game. Frequently you have to endure a succession of nos to finally arrive at that one coveted yes. But that one sweet yes can swiftly eradicate your rejection dejection.

And you never know who will see your work along the way. An unsolicited call from an editor asking me to write an article or a festival director seeking to produce one of my plays can help me rebound from a recent batch of rejections. Just the jolt I need to re-energize my creative juices, refuel my resolve to keep going, fortify me for yet another round of submissions.

So every time you get a rejection letter, file it, count it, catalog it, toss it. Do what works for you. But make sure the ritual includes savoring each rejection as a symbol of your commitment and faith in your own work. And know you're not alone. There are millions of us collecting nos. Like that famous little train, if you think you can convert those nos into a yes, you can.

I think I can. I think I can. And I think you can, too.

Drive safe. Play nice. Think peace.


Thursday, June 4, 2009


Start with the smell of burnt toast. Or look for a pair of missing earrings. Try falling out of love. Or waiting for an interview for a job you desperately want ( or one you never thought you'd have to get). Start with a line from a song or a classic movie. Look at a snapshot from a family album. Or a photo from the newspaper.

These are all prompts I have used in creative writing workshops to help writers tap into the creative well that is available to every artist. We typically use the first fifteen to twenty minutes of each session to just write, write, write. The prompt is merely a suggestion- a jumping off point, which can be used or eschewed in favor of an image or idea rumbling around in a writer's head. The premise: uncensored, uninhabited writing can open the creative passageway often blocked by the raging self-doubt of that pesky inner critic that seems to tag along for the ride.

After we finish writing, folks can share or pass ( I'm the only one who never passes; I think as the facilitator it is incumbent upon me to share). No one offers criticism. How can we? We know the work can't be very good; it is after all, a very raw, rough draft. People can, however, mention a particular image that stood out, if they are so inclined.

The surprising thing: many of the images, turns of phrase, characters, are often vivid or amusing or touching. Some even serve as starting points for stories and poems, scripts and even books. You'd be amazed at what your inner artist can do when s/he is left to play without fear of recriminations, without that pounding " it's no good," " no one will care," ' no one will ever publish this."

These exercises give you permission to try, to play, to experiment. And once you dip into that creative well, you're apt to dip in again and again.

Is something burning? It may be your desire to connect or re-connect with your inner artist. Or it may just be your breakfast. Either way, it's time to get started.

Drive safe, play nice, think peace....