Thursday, August 23, 2007

It's Raining Typewriters

When you start out as a writer, you get rejections and acceptances. Mostly rejections.

I started submitting work to magazines in high school. At that time, I was dabbling in bad poetry. With every rejection, I was devastated. Soon, I gave up. It was destined to happen. I mean, I don't even like poems.

Unless they're so easy even a caveman can read them. Then I usually hang them on desk. Like this one:

Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather,
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters and clergymen
The martyrs call the world

This was written by either a. George Bernard Shaw, b. W.B. Yeats, c. James Joyce, or d. Frank O'Connor.

I clipped it out of a newspaper quiz, and dumbly, didn't cut out the answer.

Personally, I don't work harder than paupers, but all the good writers say it is difficult, so I'm hoping to feel this way someday, too.

There was a montage during the Oscars of writers in movies. They were screaming, crying, throwing their typewriters out the window...but for me, I just click clack at the keys, as the piano theme from Murder She Wrote cheerfully dances across my mind.

You see, I like writing. I like it as much as Tijuana Taxis from Planet Sub, which I eat at every opportunity. So when I see people throw their typewriters out the window, it's like watching someone throw a sandwich out the window. It just doesn't make sense.

But because I've heard writing is excrutiating for the best authors, I do hope to throw a typewriter out the window some day. (I use a computer, so breaking a typewriter would not stop me from writing, which I love, anyway.)

The best writers are good revisers. They revise and revise. That's what I'm trying to get better at.

But there's a point where I know a story could be better, but I don't know how. Because I wrote it, you know.

It's like drawing. I always have a picture in my mind, but when I draw it, it looks like a two-year-old did it. However, just because I realize I drew a stick figure doesn't mean my second attempt is going to be any better.

Writing is time-consuming, and getting published, even more so.

After college, I pitched magazine stories. Some local publications bit. The national ones didn't. I got enough local work that I stopped querying, which is time consuming.

Now, I send out columns sometimes. I've gotten enough rejections that they don't hurt my feelings anymore. Since I'm not boo-hooing about it, I can analyze the rejection.

There are good ones and bad ones.

Like a jury deciding somebody is guilty, bad rejections come back fast. You realize that you missed the mark. You either sent it to the wrong publication or you wrote something really dumb. Probably, it's the second option.

But good rejections come back later. Sometimes, they have a little note: "It's not you, it's me. Hugs and Kisses, the editor."

Well, not really.

But they might say, "We considered this carefully," or "Your query was lovely." And I just swoon, really. It feels like a victory instead of a defeat, which it is.

This recently happened with my Pottery Barn catalog column. At my brother's recommendation, I tried to sell it to an airline magazine. And I got a very nice rejection from them.

So maybe I can sell it to somebody else.

Another thing that changes after you've been writing for a few years: you want people to criticize your story. I used to go to critique groups and hope that people said, "Gosh, I don't have any suggestions because I love it just the way it is." But now, I'm like, "Here: this is all wrong. Tell me why."

You see, those rejections sink in. And it's not a bad thing. They make you want to be a better writer.

Admittedly, I don't know how to bring that dream to fruition. But the first step to becoming a better writer is admitting that your stories have a problem. Probably thousands.

Now fixing them...that's another matter. I think you start by throwing your typewriter out the window.


Anonymous Jeanne said...

Bridget, I know we can all improve at our work, but we love your stories! I think the sign of a great writer is to touch the reader emotionally, and you do. You make us laugh and cry, and we can relate to so much of what you are saying. You must be doing something right, and sooner or later some publisher is going to realize that!

4:43 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What she said!!!!

1:25 PM  

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