Want To Be Successful? Fight for Your Writing Rejections

The Sarcastic Muse

As a writer, the worst thing you can do is work in an environment of fear of rejection.
—Carol Leifer

If you’ve sent your work out before, you’re probably familiar with responses like this one: “Thank you for letting us read [insert name of piece here], but . . .”

Ah, the dreaded “but.” A writer’s worst enemy.

Or is it?

Each time we let our work leave the nest, there’s a niggling worry that our poor words may not remember howWant To Be Successful? Fight for Your Writing Rejections to fly. We’re afraid they’ll flop into a broken, wingless mess. We’re afraid someone will tell us we’re not good enough. Sometimes this fear is so great that we don’t send anything out at all. We condemn our work before it’s even had a shot.

It’s all too easy to get emotional about rejections — to make excuses: “Oh, the subject I’ve written about is too ‘out there.’…

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Join Marcy McKay’s FREE 10-Day Creative Monsters Challenge

Image used with permission from Mudpie Writing

Image used with permission from Mudpie Writing

I posted yesterday on the Sarcastic Muse about Marcy McKay’s challenge over at Mudpie Writing, but it’s such a great, free opportunity, that I figured as many people should know about it as possible.

Today is the first day of the challenge, but I assume it isn’t too late to sign up. Even if you can’t participate right now, you will still have access to all the material and can complete the challenge at some later date that suits you. Pretty cool, huh?

So what is the Creative Monsters Challenge? Well . . . it’s basically for writers who battle all those pesky fears that interfere with our writing lives: procrastination, perfectionism, self-doubt, envy, etc. We’ve all felt one or the other at some point. Here’s a chance to connect with others and work through them.

As stated on Marcy’s site:

“The purpose of this Challenge is to give you valuable information about writing fears, direct access to me to answer specific questions, as well as to get to know other writers.

It will be FUN, INFORMATIVE , INTERACTIVE and NO PRESSURE!”

For more information on the challenge, visit Mudpie Writing: http://mudpiewriting.com/creative-monsters-details/
Or you can sign up directly by clicking this link here: http://forms.aweber.com/form/36/1198015036.htm

And if you want to know more about Marcy, you can read her story: HERE.

This is a great resource for writers at any stage, so go sign up!

Writing Tip: Can’t Get a Character to Talk? Get a Thesis

So I have been . . . absent. Sort of. By absent, I mostly mean that I have not been posting much on this blog. If you follow the Sarcastic Muse, then you probably catch me over there once a week or so. (I attempt to write coherent posts about editing and such. Conclusive evidence that any of it is useful cannot be provided.)

But I’ve got to get back on board with this writing gig, so I’m here to dazzle you all with my tales of interesting . . . okay, no, interesting probably isn’t the right word.

To be fair, I have been writing lately. I have been writing a lot, a lot, a lot.

About Estonian poetry.

(Thesis.)

Shh . . .  Don't tell her I'm here. Image: (c) Michelle Mueller

Shh . . . Don’t tell her I’m here.
(This is not the character in question.)
Image: (c) Michelle Mueller

Somewhere in the midst of my research, I finally started reading a book I’ve been deliberately not reading for two years. Mostly because I had it only in Estonian, and let’s just say this is not the kind of topic you want to read in a foreign language unless you have an affinity for headaches and a desire to kill things. Needless to say, I realized that perhaps the author — in all his talk of signs and signifiers and structure of the text (see Juri Lotman for more details) — was on to something. Something that I could actually use for my novel. (Thesis? What thesis?)

And the novel I’d had percolating in my head for a year and a half came tumbling forward at full speed, as if it had been parked in a garage somewhere in the back of my brain and had suddenly been hit with dynamite. Yes, almost two years ago, I started a (rather bad) novel about . . . stuff. It was sort of a fantasy, sort of a sci-fi novel. Actually, the fact that I can’t tell you exactly what it was about should raise a red flag. That’s why I stuffed it in the mental garage in the first place.

But it had a character I liked loved got along with. One that I wanted to give the right story. She just didn’t seem to know what her story was yet. Which was fine. I’m patient understanding capable of attempting to accommodate characters. I had other projects, anyway.

Well . . . characters are vindictive. We all know that. I shouldn’t really be surprised by what my own are capable of given that they are born from the strange, spinning dark hole I call my mind. But this one? She’d been quiet for a year and a half. The second my thesis had a definitive deadline with an end in sight, I couldn’t get her to stop talking. She’s still talking. (Note: she can’t even talk — she’s mute.)

(That doesn’t stop her.)

(Seriously, I have been having strange dreams lately.)

She’s been so loud for the past week that I had to actually stop writing the thesis to appease her.

(Yes, yes, I’m back to working on the thesis now.)

So there you have it. I have answered the problems of writers everywhere. Having trouble writing your novel? Don’t know where it’s going? Characters not talking?

Step One: Start writing a thesis.
Step Two: Procrastinate.
Step Three: Get serious about completing it. Try to stay on task.
Step Four: Problem solved. (You’ll just have different ones.)


Have any instances you can share when the characters kept interfering with your everyday life?

Do You Write What You Know?

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Image: Morguefile

What do you think about the old adage of writing what you know?

I was thinking about that the other day when I was out wandering around the streets. There are a lot of things I “know” that have come out in my writing. For instance, if my characters are traveling by horseback, I can easily pull from my twenty years of experience with horses. Or if my character speaks or learns a foreign language, well, I know what that’s like. Some of my settings have been places I’ve lived, too.

But I also tend to write a lot of what I don’t know. My short story, for example, is about an all-female gang in Chicago. Have I ever been in a gang? No. Did I understand the main character’s longing for something better, though? Yes.

Did I have to research? Oh most definitely.

Of course, even after researching, I’m still no expert on gang life, and I probably (surely) had to take some literary license. But well . . . that’s fiction. If you can read it and believe it’s real, then I’ve succeeded.

It’s not always easy, however, to figure out how to handle writing what I don’t know. Especially if the thing I’m writing about is the known but unknown kind of subject. I’ve run into that problem with my current novel. One of its settings is Mars. If we’re speaking honestly here, when I started writing it, the only facts I knew about Mars were those I’d learned in middle school science classes: that it’s the fourth planet from the sun, has a thin atmosphere, two (probably) accidental moons, and a red surface. Not much to go on when I’m planning on throwing a bunch of people on it, right?

Granted, not many people know what living on Mars would be like, but still . . . I’m a perfectionist, remember? Thus far I’ve done the basic research, made up the most plausible situations I can, and left bracketed notes in my draft to remind myself to go back and consider the research later. But still, the questions linger: Will my story be plausible? Will I succeed at what I set out to do? How much should I know? And how do I find the logical answers to questions that probably have no answers?


How do you handle writing what you don’t know? How do you go about your research? Do you do it before or after you draft?

Tell Me the Truth: Do You Read Poetry?

The only way you can write the truth is to assume that what you set down will never be read. Not by any other person, and not even by yourself at some later date. Otherwise you begin excusing yourself. You must see the writing as emerging like a long scroll of ink from the index finger of your right hand; you must see your left hand erasing it. — Margaret Atwood, The Blind Assassin

Back in May my thesis advisor devised a brilliant plan to get me to present at the Kevadkool convention he was hosting at his summer home. He said, “If you do this, you don’t have to take my exam.” (I was taking his course on poetics for fun.) And I said, “Done.” Bring on the public speaking embarrassment!

So there I was, the only American in the bunch and one of three non-Estonians, giving a presentation on an Estonian poet, using a ton of linguistic terminology that those literary people probably didn’t care about, trying to remember to circle things on the paper behind me. But as I continued, I felt more at home. Poetry was my game, I knew. Poetry is what I love. Poetry, whether I write it well or not, is the force behind my stay in Estonia. No complaints here.

I survived. I got an A. I even made a friend. All benefits.

However, in addition to giving my presentation, I met two visiting-from-America poets: John and Joan Digby. Mr. Digby (who is not originally American, by the way), upon meeting me and learning that I write poetry as well, said immediately (with the honesty so common in the old), “Poetry! Everyone writes poetry, but no one reads it!”

True that, I thought. But isn’t that why poetry sometimes feels like it’s the truest thing in the world? However I like to play devil’s advocate, so I said instead, “I read it.”

Photo Credit: Annika Markson 2014

John and Joan Digby; Photo Credit: Annika Markson 2014

And indeed, after Mr. and Mrs. Digby read some of their poems, talked about their writing life, gave us free copies of some of their poems, and then signed them, I promptly began to read his work. Because I was curious, because I love poetry — but mostly because I wanted to know what kind of poetry a man writes when he’s sure that no one reads it. (His work is truly imaginary and thought-inducing, by the way.)

We’re all poets of a sort, we wordsmiths. We lie about a lot of things when we create our stories, but writing often forces us to be honest with ourselves. That’s more difficult sometimes. And so perhaps it’s the thought that no one will read my poetry that enables me to write my thoughts so freely, the feelings I wouldn’t expose anywhere else. Perhaps, it’s as Margaret Atwood says: To write the truth, assume it will never be read.

But, on the flip side, how many people actually read poetry? Of all the thousands of amateur poets, how many actually buy it, take it home, read it? Are we wordsmiths really just writing out into a silent literary wasteland? Do people fear reading the truth so much that they buy into the commercial mountain range instead? Do we crave lies so we can disregard the truth entirely?

I’d like to think that’s not true: that there will always be the handful willing to face the truth, to write the truth, to ask the complex questions. I’d like to think that there are more than just a handful of people who still read poetry. Alas, those are my controversial questions of the week for you guys. Let me know:

What’s the truth of poetry for you?


Most evenings I climb my torso
In search of myself always slipping
Down into avenues of sunlight
— John Digby from “Out of My Head Stalks” from Sailing Away from Night

Camp NaNoWriMo Didn’t Kill Me

2014-Participant-Facebook-CoverI haven’t posted recently because, well, because I’m ridiculously lazy. And it’s been ridiculously hot here in Estonia, which only contributes to my laziness. Excuses, excuses. I always have a plethora of them waiting in the wings.

I mentioned on Twitter but never got around to updating here that I managed to “win” Camp NaNoWriMo in July. I had a late start. My parents didn’t leave until the 11th or so of July and since I was traveling so much, there wasn’t a whole lot of manageable writing time available to me. (See, more excuses!)

In June when Chris invited me to join a private cabin with a few other selected writers (who also won by the way, because they are amazing), I had a few reservations such as ‘Can I actually do this?’ and ‘Damn, I’m going to be so busy next month, too.’ Not to mention that I still hadn’t forgotten the failed attempt at Camp NaNoWriMo in April when I had an even smaller goal than the one I was aiming for in July. I think I managed all of 800 words and those were accidentally deleted, so I was technically going backwards, if that’s possible.

But I’m kind of extremely stubborn, and I actually work best when I’m pressured, and despite my innate ability to prolong and avoid writing what I’m supposed to be writing, I don’t actually like to lose. So when I accepted the invitation and set my goal for 30,000 words, I decided no matter what miraculous, terrible crap I managed to write for it, I would meet that goal. Perfectionist Michelle was appalled, but I was getting tired of her anyway.

I started writing toward the 16th or so. I didn’t post an updated word count until I had written about 8,000 words, and that wasn’t until the 20th-ish. Then I started writing about 3,000 words a day. The way I was going, I’d have gone way over my goal, actually. But then the usual happened: I got tired of the pacing, the forced effort I was making, and I took about four or five days off. On July 31, I still needed almost 9,000 words to reach my goal. So I did what any normal expert procrastinator does. I waited until about five hours before the end of Camp NaNoWriMo before I started to write, and after that, being well aware that the clock was ticking, I zoomed through those 9k words until I thought my fingers would fall off and my brain would explode and that the world might actually end from the utter nonsense I was typing into existence.

Needless to say, I made it . . . barely. And though my success was somewhat dubious and the words I wrote probably all need to be thrown into the incinerator, I still finished a task, a challenge, that had to do with writing. Though I think I’ve grown a lot as a writer this past year alone, that’s the first time I’ve done that in almost four years.

And, admittedly, it felt good.


Did you guys participate in Camp NaNoWriMo? How’d it go? Did you meet your goals?

My First Publication: Midnight Runnels in my Hands

A few months ago, I mentioned that my first publication was at hand. That I’d somehow, miraculously, managed to send out my prose poem, and likewise managed to get it accepted. The lucky midnight gods were on my side, for once, it seems. So, anyway . . .

Proof that I'm not making all this up.

Proof that I’m not making all this up: Midnight Runnels by Michelle Mueller

When my parents came to visit me, they brought along one of the free copies I received from the literary magazine, Sheepshead Review, for the publication of said poem. (I think my mom kept the other one to go around at work and say, “LOOK, look what my daughter did.”) Imagine my surprise to see that I was on page number 3, that my little Estonian sock-inspired poem, Midnight Runnels, was the first entry in the entire magazine. (I was still trying to figure out why my name was there at all, to be honest.)

This publication is by no means a huge thing. Only a handful of people will read it (probably mostly my mother’s coworkers). Probably only a minimal amount of them will actually like it.

One small step for publishing, but one great big leap for me. Because I’ve finally gotten my name out there: Michelle Mueller, but-I’m-not-a-poet extraordinaire. I’ve finally grabbed the elusive literary bull by those sharp and deadly horns and taken on my own voice. I’ve finally started redefining my growth as a writer, pushing myself to believe I have something worthwhile to say and, more importantly, something worth sharing.

So yes, in the publishing world, I’ve gone baby steps, maybe. But baby steps are the beginning of what may grow into big kid successes. You’ve gotta swim in the kiddie pool first before you get to dive into the deep end, after all.

Write on, friends.