Learning to Dance with the Dingoes!
"But history isn’t really about the past. It’s about human nature. We use the genre as a lens to see ourselves in a different age. To write on the human condition is to write with a reliance on history." -- Justin O’Donnell, Why Historical Fiction Will Never Go Away
To answer these questions, and find the courage to keep going, I came across two inspirational reads that address the writer’s plight.
Michael Alvear, and his The Bulletproof Writer: How to Overcome Constant Rejection to Become an Unstoppable Author (2017). Alvear has published fifteen books, written columns for The Washington Post and New York Times, and contributes to NPR's All Things Considered. ALL authors, reaffirms Alvear, deal with constant rejection. And we’ve heard all the testimonies from famous writers like J.K. Rowling and Stephan King and Ursula LeGuinn. Harcourt Brace Jovanovich rejected J.D. Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Publisher and editor Barney Rossett hated J.R.R.Tolkien’s Lord of the Rings, calling it a mishmash.
In fact, as Alvear asserts, “publishing is one of the few industries that systematically rejects its most talented people.” Would Sony or Verizon reject Steve Job’s resume with a form letter? Would Citigroup tell Warren Buffet that he doesn’t have what they’re looking for? That he doesn’t fit in?
Rejection becomes like an infection, says Alvear. We internalize it, give it more meaning than it deserves, and amplify it by taking on a chronically self-critical inner voice. It makes us question our skills, and our worth. It gives us writer’s block, and worse. It can also make us give up altogether.
What I like about this book is that he doesn’t offer cutesy quotes or power slogans, or as he calls them, motivational Band-Aids. Instead, he gives insights into how and why we receive, interpret, and react to rejection, then he offers some tools that we can use to move past the rejection. And the first thing he does is to outline three basic facts about the publishing business:
- Rejection is most likely not an indictment of your work.
- No matter how many books you’ve published, you will not be spared the wrath of rejection.
- Less than one percent of writers make a living wage. The odds are overwhelmingly against you.
Grounded in science, Alvear looks at how the brain is hardwired for fight or flight. Rejection feeds on the writer’s worse fears. And, according to Alvear, it can feel like it’s just a matter of time before the dingo eats your baby. “The brain is like Velcro for negative experiences, but Teflon for positive ones,” he quotes his research. The nature of publishing reinforces this built-in negative bias. The trick is, of course, is learning strategies that make the positive stick like Velcro.
In other words, we need to learn to dance with the dingoes!
Fearless Writing, by William Kenower (2017). This is the perfect companion to Alvear. Drawing on personal experience, Kenower elaborates on the writer’s worst fear: what other people think of our writing is more important than what we think of our writing. As Kenower suggests, what makes this fear so insidious is because of its apparent practicality, reinforced by the nature of the publishing business. As working writers, we need others to like our writing: agents, editors, publishers, critics and, most importantly, readers. Sometimes this fear becomes so overwhelming, we become blocked, or change the story we want to write to what we think others would read. Either way, we lose our story. Kenower offers a series of practical exercises that explores how to break the hold of this particular fear, and to find the confidence to write your story fearlessly. Don’t fear the wobble, Kenower states. Just write your story.
I just received my 36th rejection of the year. BUT I have also just finished another story, and have begun that process of submission. Yes, onward!
“Whenever I got those rejection letters, I would permit my ego to say aloud to whoever had signed it: ‘You think you can scare me off? I’ve got another 80 years to wear you down! There are people who haven’t even been born yet who are going to reject me some day – That’s how long I plan to stick around.’” – Elizabeth Gilbert, Eat, Pray, Love.