Some Advice on Writing and Life

photo by Victoria Ristenbatt
photo by Victoria Ristenbatt

So right about now, this book I’m writing is feeling a little bit like that mean kid who holds something like your notebook or your hat just out of reach while you jump at it over and over, thinking this time you’re going to grab hold and not let go. I’m feeling kind of blue about the fact that I’m not done. (Side note: If you are feeling kind of blue, listening to Kind of Blue may actually help, especially “Blue in Green.”) My self-imposed deadline of the end of March has come and gone, but I’m still not done. Every essay I plan to include has at least been started, but I’m still not done. Since beginning this journey, I’ve written fifty posts for this blog, I’ve published excerpts from my manuscript in Creative Nonfiction and The Chattahoochee Review and have one forthcoming in Hayden’s Ferry Review, I’ve read selections from it at several story nights in Chicago and I have one more slightly thrilling book-related announcement I’m not at liberty to make yet. I’ve learned a lot, I’m a better writer than I was when I started—

But. I’m. Still. Not. Done.

A few weeks ago, I stumbled across a writing conference in Poets and Writers that sounded kind of dreamy. It takes place at the Algonquin Hotel (among other spots) in Manhattan, surrounded by the ghosts of writers past; they only accept a handful of writers—and they hook you up with literary agents cherry picked to be a good fit for your particular manuscript. And though it costs beaucoup dollars, which I don’t currently have on hand, I applied anyway in case they had financial aid or scholarships or something like that. Continue reading Some Advice on Writing and Life

Strange but True Stories of Survival

photo by Sean Munson

Summertime update: My essay “The Saltwater Twin” (which the observant among you will notice shares a name with this blog) is coming out in a great magazine called Creative Nonfiction. This month! As in, you can order it nowcreative nonfictionCreative Nonfiction, according to their website, “was the first and is still the largest literary magazine to publish, exclusively and on a regular basis, high quality nonfiction prose.” This issue is subtitled, “Strange but True Stories of Survival and Unlikely Events.” Editor Lee Gutkind called “The Saltwater Twin” a depiction of “the author’s struggle to avoid drowning, both literally and metaphorically.”

The essay that appears in Creative Nonfiction is essentially the first chapter of my work-in-progress, The Saltwater Twin and Other Mythical Creatures. While I continue to work towards the goal of publishing a book, a chunk of my time each week has also been spent looking for online and print publications that might be good places to submit chapters and excerpts of chapters. I was initially somewhat frantic about this task and the hours it took away from The Writing of the Book, but it’s actually been a pretty significant learning opportunity – I’m a better writer for it.  Continue reading Strange but True Stories of Survival

Everything Is Medicine

So, the nice literary agent in New York who continues to be very encouraging about The Saltwater Twin recommends that I stop working on it for a while and focus on submitting work for publication. She thinks two or three more publications under my belt will put us in a better position to sell the manuscript when that time comes. Consequently, while I haven’t stopped writing altogether, I’ve begun to devote half my time to researching literary magazines and websites, polishing excerpts of chapters and sending them out via email and manila envelopes…and the rejections have begun to trickle in.

I’ll be honest. I enjoy praise. I like As. It’s pleasant to have people tell me I’m wonderful, especially at something I’ve worked hard at. It feels good. But, despite the fact that praise is more fun, rejection is part of any artistic practice (not to mention part of life), and it’s helpful to learn how to take it in stride. There are thousands of blogs and websites and articles that offer advice on how to deal with getting rejected by love interests and job interests and even a whole bunch of sites talking specifically about how to deal with rejection as a writer. I like the advice of an irreverent fellow called Chuck Wendig who blogs at terribleminds:

“Every book, movie, or story you love? It’s been rejected. Probably not once. But dozens, maybe even hundreds of times. It’s part of the writer’s career tapestry, part of our blood and genetic memory. Rejection is part of who we are as creative beings. Might as well commiserate.”

So how do you deal with it? How do you keep from getting the wind knocked out of you every time? Mr. Wendig goes on to advise,

“Step to it. Suck it up. Lean into the punch. We all get knocked down. This is your chance to get back up again with your rolled-up manuscript in your hand and start swinging like a ninja…You need to see rejection as bad-ass Viking Warrior battle scars, as a roadmap of pain that makes you stronger, faster, smarter, and stranger. Rejections are proof of your efforts. Be proud to have ‘em.”

I think about learning to ride a bike. How many times I fell off, the weeks I spent with chronically bloodied knees. But I kept getting back on.

This past Saturday I went to a very interesting event called a gong bath. Maybe I’ll tell you more about that sometime. One of my favorite things – actually probably my favorite thing – about the evening happened during the introduction when the leader said, “Everything is medicine.” I like that thought. I love that thought. Everything is medicine. I am medicine. Penne with tomato cream is medicine. Rejection is medicine, too. It’s a tonic for toughening up, being persistent, weaning yourself off a need for extrinsic praise, finding satisfaction in doing the work as best you can. Getting back on the bike. Wobbling down the street until the whole balancing and pedaling and steering act is second nature. Until it feels like flying.