Writing, rejection, growing pains, and finding your True North

A friend of mine — a new writer — told me she was feeling discouraged and was ready to stop writing because she wasn’t getting the feedback she expected. She doesn’t do well with rejection, for one thing. Here are a couple replies I shared with her:

“That’s one of the growing pains as a writer. You will get rejected. There will always be someone who doesn’t like your style, your voice, your writing. ALWAYS! You cannot please every single person, and neither should you try. Writing is a journey, not a destination. There are no PERFECT WRITERS. There are plenty of people who don’t like Stephen King’s work, but that hasn’t stopped him. A writer writes — period. You have to learn how to deal with rejection and develop a thick skin, ’cause you’ll need it. I will NEVER stop writing. Some people will enjoy my work, while others will not. Those are the breaks! I’m going to express myself and nobody will stop me. It is my life, my career, and my purpose. So, don’t give up. However, realize that some people you may have reading your stuff aren’t the right ones to read it in the first place.  Keep writing, keep improving, keep honing your craft. In the end, write for yourself, even if you do write for publication. Always have personal projects you do for creative/personal reasons. Writers write — it’s as simple as that. Do it for yourself! It’s great therapy, too.”


“I believe one of my missions is to encourage people to be creative and to express themselves, however that may be. I wear different hats when I’m a writer vs. when I’m an editor. They are two different processes. If I waited for my loved ones to approve of what I wrote, I would’ve probably never gotten published. Not that I didn’t have supportive and caring loved ones, but opinions are subjective and you won’t always get honest ones or viable ones from loved ones. Be very careful about who you allow to have power over your creative process. Constructive criticism is good; however, even at that, not all criticism or input will be usable to you. In the end, it has to be YOUR voice, your art, your expression. I could never write about a book about the history of steam engines, for instance, because while it may be interesting to some people, I have no interest in it. I have to be driven by an idea, a thought, a character, a topic that interests me. I could go on, but you’ll find all sorts of advice, info, etc. from a ton of people. Use what makes sense to you and trash the rest. In the end, follow your True North.”

“Creativity demands nothing less than all you have. It means revealing murderous rage, the marksman behind the writing desk, the inner demons that confound us all. How can creativity be other than a terrifying force full of unexpected turnings? If you give your life to creativity, you give up forever the promise to be a good girl. Creativity will inevitably lead you to give away dark family secrets. It will lead you into the labyrinth to face the minotaur. You can’t face the minotaur and stay a good girl. You can’t look the minotaur in the eye and continue to silence the artist in yourself.”
—Erica Jong, Fear of Fifty

[Quote] “Creativity demands nothing less than all you have.”

Do you NaNo?

Why I’m never sure if I’ll do NaNoWriMo from year to year: I’m a working writer and editor who works for multiple clients. That means I write and edit to support my family (and have for the past 16 1/2 years). Over an average month, I pump out about 2,000 words or more a day (or 60,000 per month, on average, if you count 30 days in a usual month).

In addition to my paying contract work, I also write my OWN stuff, from blogs and journals to books I’m already fiddling with, plus anything else in between…which means even MORE words ON TOP of what I already write for contract jobs.

When NaNoWriMo rolls around, if I attempt to write 50k words ON TOP of what I already write on an average month…well, that’s a lot of writing. And I love writing (which is why I do it), but you can clearly understand why 50k in a month isn’t a big deal for me. I’m already surpassing that just by the words I am writing to begin with…so NaNoWriMo is, for me, an even bigger challenge because it’s that many words over and above everything else I’ve got going on.

What I’m saying is this: you CAN write 50k a month with NO PROBLEM if you just take it as a day-to-day adventure. If you’re not concentrating on, “OMG, I have to write 50k a month!” and, instead, think of it in terms of X number of pages per day or X number of words in a day, it becomes much easier.

And yes, I’ve decided to do NaNoWriMo in addition to my usual writing and editing commitments.  Because, you know, I DO love any excuse to write! *smile*

YOU can do it, too. ADD me on NaNoWriMo. I’m listed as elementalmuse under the participant profiles: http://nanowrimo.org/participants/elementalmuse

Books are books—READ and LEARN!

Books are books, regardless of how they’re shared with the world—via print, electronic means, or audio. Personal preferences aside, all are legitimate means of delivering written material for your personal and/or professional edification. You may prefer a print book, but its eBook counterpart is no less viable since both contain the same creative vision, author’s spirit, and communication therein. They are merely presented in a different way.

We are not going back in history, folks. We are moving forward, like it or not. Do not worry, though, because I predict that print books will never fully go away. There doesn’t have to be an either/or choice when it comes to books. There’s room for all means of distribution.

The key is for people to READ, regardless of how it happens. READING is what’s of primary importance. Not enough people read. If you want to put your energy behind something important, put it behind getting the word out about improving literacy and encouraging people of all ages — especially kids! — to read.

You’ve heard, “Reading is fundamental”? It damn sure is. The survival and evolution of humankind depends on it. As a communication major at the University of Colorado, I learned that you cannot NOT communicate. That is the first axiom of communication, as set forth by Paul Watzlawick’s book, Pragmatics of Human Communication: A Study of Interactional Patterns, Pathologies and Paradoxes.

Regardless of what you do — even if you’re not talking or writing — you are communicating, even if it’s nonverbally. It’s impossible to NOT communicate in some way. And since you must communicate in some form, it’s essential to educate yourself as best you can so you can communicate more effectively. Nobody communicates perfectly all the time. It’s an ongoing process.

Reading helps us think AND communicate better. If you cannot afford to attend a university, you can take FREE online college-level courses through MIT, Harvard, and 62 other educational institutions through Coursera.org. You can TEACH yourself to read better, comprehend what you’ve read, and analyze written content. Read, learn, improve. You owe it to yourself AND to the world!

Seven Ways to Jump-start Your Writing


By Bev Walton-Porter

It’s unwelcome, but inevitable: someday you’ll face the dreaded affliction known as writer’s block. This damnable malady may wreak havoc on your creativity for a day, week or month (let’s not even consider a full year!), but you don’t have to be a willing victim! You can combat and conquer writer’s block with these seven, sure-fire remedies designed to crank up your creative urges and jump-start your writing for the new year.


Some of the best scenes and storylines are those which spring unbidden from the deepest recesses of your unconscious mind. If you’re not inclined to snapping on the nightlight to frantically scribble down the remnants of a fast-fading dream, buy an inexpensive compact tape recorder and record your impressions upon awakening.

If you’re unable to recall every last tidbit of your dream, don’t fret! Just as snippets of newspaper articles can be used as a catalyst for your next story, dream snippets can provide unique bits and pieces which can be woven together later on to spice up plots, characters or spark ideas for nonfiction articles.


Keeping a private journal is one of the most effective ways of combating writer’s block. Make your journal or blog as nonrestrictive and nonthreatening as possible. No one will be sitting behind your shoulder counting off points for grammar, punctuation or paragraph structure! Silence your inner critic and write honestly about what you’re sensing or experiencing. Are you angry? Sad? Euphoric? Why? Be as specific and descriptive as possible. Don’t set limits on the frequency or length of your entries; instead, concentrate on consistently writing in your journal/blog, whether it’s daily, weekly or monthly.

A word of advice: although some writers use online journals or blogs, the aesthetic experience of journaling with good old-fashioned pen and paper appeals more to the writer within me. It’s your choice, but regardless of your preference, the basic idea is to give your creative self free rein. You may be hard-pressed to sit down “cold” and produce the first chapter of your book, so allow yourself a “warm-up” by journaling.


The purchase of a pocket book of baby names can not only be a tool in naming your next character, it can also be used as a way to recharge your imagination. Each week, choose a name or two from the book and develop a character sketch out of the impressions you receive from saying and thinking about the name you’ve chosen. What would this person look like? What personality traits would they possess? Who are their relatives, and what are their names? Where would a person named Beauregard be born, and under what circumstances? How would they dress, and what foods would they prefer?

Whether you’ve chosen Maribelle or Myrtle, develop a person from that name using your impressions and personal poetic license. The stable of characters you create can then be used to people your upcoming short stories or novels, and the plot twists will evolve naturally from your characters’ flaws and weaknesses.


If you’re not already an avid people watcher, become one. Begin ferreting out expressions and mannerisms of members of the general public engaged in daily activity. Note any habits that could be used as an effective “tag” for your fictional characters. Carry a small notepad and record not only people’s characteristics or witticisms, but the surroundings, as well. People tend to behave differently depending on whether they’re attending church or attending a football game.

Jot down the flora and fauna of your hometown surroundings, as well as any areas you visit or vacation. Observe the similarities of people living in small towns, mid-sized cities or large, sprawling urban areas. Use these simple notes and observations as a springboard for setting in your next story.

Although your fictional setting may not be a real town, you can easily fool your reader into believing there is a town by adding authentic sights, sounds and smells borrowed from your people/place-watching notes.


Brainstorming and free-association ranks at the top of effective ways to energize your brain cells into a more inventive mode. Simply allow yourself five minutes to jot down any words that come to mind. Put your pen to paper (or your fingers to keyboard) and write as many as you can within the time allotted. Don’t allow your internal critic to censor anything–write every single thing that pops into your mind.

That done, take an additional ten minutes and read each word you wrote down, writing the first words that come to mind when you go back over your initial list. Don’t just shoot for associated words, dig deeper into your subconscious and give voice to any impressions you receive. Once your time is up, study the words you’ve culled from your subconscious. Are there any obvious storylines or characters there?

Play the “what if” game with each of the words. Pair the words together, using different combinations to spark your imagination. Then re-pair them, using the resulting combinations as a beginning for a whole new range of plot/character possibilities.


Cut pictures, photographs and headlines from magazines and newspapers. Anything that strikes your fancy or piques your curiosity should be perfect targets for clipping. Use both people and objects, as well as beautiful scenery that inspires you. Add your collection of clippings to a large basket or box and randomly withdraw five clippings.

Use the clippings to develop a story, asking yourself who, what, why, where, when and how. Who is the little girl in the picture, and where are her parents? What is her hometown like, and how long has she lived there? When is she due home for dinner, and why is she happy/sad in the picture?


Sometimes one learns to do by not doing. Meditation, creative visualization and guided relaxation may sound like New Age buzzwords to the practical, no-nonsense writer, but any or all of the above can actually help your writing performance. Go to the local library or bookstore and check out the latest books on relaxation. Just as an athlete’s body needs cooling down after it’s been stretched to its physical limits, we as writers need a mental cool down as well.

Choose one day per week to relax by taking a walk, meditating or utilizing creative visualization. Allow your mental processes time for recuperation and repair. If you’re using creative visualization, actually see yourself as successful and productive; explore the feeling finding a check in the mailbox instead of a rejection letter. Let your mind conjure up as many positive, reinforcing images of writing as you can. See yourself in your own mind, and notice how confident and optimistic you are, excited to send off that next book proposal or query letter. Envision how relaxed your shoulders and neck feel; in you, there is no tension, no anxiety. You are a writer; you are doing what you truly love.

Though there are as many ways to inspire your creative self as there are to write a book, these are just some of the little things you can do day by day to stretch your imagination and enhance your productivity. Some may work for you, others may not. But if one single idea benefits you on your quest to become the best writer you can be, then that minuscule amount of effort will reap words upon words of reward.