What Querying Has Taught Me

Rejections and the struggle to not take a standard form letter as a personal attack on your words. Then there’s the elation a personalized rejection brings. Constant stress eating. Welcome to the dreaded query process.

Querying agents is a necessary evil, and one which I loathe. “The Thing That Will Not Be Named,” as it’s known in my house. But the process isn’t all bad. Just mostly. Querying these past two months has taught me a lot.

First, it’s taught me that rejection won’t kill me. I’m still alive. I’m still determined most days. Some days are hard, and that’s when I hug my cats (sometimes too tightly).

I’ve also learned that I have no patience to be patient. But I have to deal with it. I’m relying on others now, so it’s their timeline. Not mine. To cope, I began vomiting a first draft of manuscript #2 and that has helped me whittle away the time. When I don’t want to write, I find something else to occupy the daylight (and sometimes the late night) hours. Yoga (finally, after months with a broken foot I can do some basics!), cooking, and even cleaning help pass the time when I can’t find a cat to hug.

I have a great support system. I have critique partners, a circle of writer friends, a book group, not to mention my non-writing friends who support me with food, alcohol, and a shoulder to cry on. So while I’m being rejected, I’m also networking.

Finally, querying has taught me discipline. Since I’m self-employed, I sometimes need the super power to not get distracted. Did someone say squirrel? Since I know approximately how many queries I need to send per month to hit my rejection goal by the end of the year, I can block out chunks of time per week to do the The Thing That Will Not Be Named. I schedule the rest of my work around the days I query. I treat it like a job I’m on the clock for.

While the process is daunting, slow, and mostly filled with rejection, I know my agent is out there. Likewise, I know that if I can survive this process, I can survive a lot.

 

 

 

My Tribe

More than a week later and I’m still experiencing a surge of energy from talking with like-minded people: my writing group. I secretly call them my tribe. They probably don’t know the impact they’ve made on my life unless they read this personal, but not-so-personal blog. (This is published on the inter-web, after all.)

I met these two kick ass writers at a local class. When we kept in touch outside of class, I assumed it would be like every other writing group I’ve been a part of: we’d exchange pages a few times and things would fizzle out.

Months later and we are stronger than ever! Pushing boundaries and making things up as we go. The three of us come from completely different backgrounds, both social and educational. But perhaps that’s why this works so well. We all want the same thing: to be better. And we all bring unique experiences to the table so learning from one another never turns stale.

Even though we don’t know many personal details about one another, we know each other intimately through our writing. We have a place to share ideas and pitch crazy off-the-handle stories that any sane person would say, “this person has LOST their marbles!”

I guess the moral of the blog is this: I write for me. My tribe inspires me to write better.

 

Currently reading: This Is How You Lose Her by Junot Diaz & After by Amy Efaw

When Shadows Threaten

Most of my life has been in the shadow of someone else. Whether this was a real person, or a fictitious nemesis, there was always something to outdo me; to outshine me. Shrinks would probably call this anxiety. I call this my Bane; the big dude telling Batman that he will break him.

Part of what drives me is my comparison to others. Part of what makes me a perfectionist is the way I study what others do to receive the recognition that I, myself, want. Part of it is that I don’t want to fail. I’m afraid.

BIG SIGH now that my biggest secret is out in the open. But is it? Really, that’s just the surface. Anyone who deals with their own Bane knows it goes much deeper. I deleted a paragraph of ranting about life not being fair, about family pitted against one another, because you know what? At the end of the day, those are only excuses brought on by fear.

To move forward and to become a better person–to shed my Bane– I need to shake it off. I might even sing that Taylor Swift song at the top of my lungs! (In reality, probably not. I’m too ashamed of my way off key voice.)  I’m still going to compare myself to the next person; I don’t think I’ll ever be able to give that up! However, I’m going to look closely at the larger shadow next to me to see if they truly possess a quality that I want to work towards.

So much of what we see is only surface deep; the things a person wants you to see. I must dig deeper, observe, evaluate: does this idolized figure have a quality that I admire? Perhaps then my internal Bane will be a whisper instead of a booming shout.

What I’m reading: Beautiful You by Chuck Palahniuk

Past Self vs. Future Self

We look to our past to get a sense of who we are. Where we come from. Our genes, our ancestors. But why don’t we look at our present and ask who we want to be. Who are we in this moment? Are we thrill seekers, the introvert gamer, the 9-5er? Or are we somewhere in between? What experiences and how do we react to things make us more of who we are than any family hierarchy.

My friend is addicted to solving the mysteries of her family tree and recently found out her background isn’t what she’s been told for thirty plus years. When she told me, I was stunned. It was like our giant pink balloon had popped and we were left with broken pieces. Until I realized that this piece of knowledge doesn’t change one thing about her or our friendship. She’s still my best friend, she’s still the most beautiful soul you will ever meet.

While I’m not saying it isn’t great to identify with your heritage–because it totally is. Own it! But you shouldn’t let it define you. Let your current actions and your future dreams define you. Who are you today? Who do you want to be tomorrow? And finally, what will you DO right now to be the person you are meant to be?

What I’m reading now: Without Reservations: The Travels of an Independent Woman by Alice Steinbach

The Social of Social Media

The realization began when a friend reached out on Facebook to thank me for something that hadn’t considered a big deal. But to her it was. She thanked me for coming up to her–a complete stranger at the time–and talking to her. I remember the moment from approximately three years ago, but not in the same way she remembers it.

She sat at a table by herself, new to our MFA residency, an adult beverage in front of her. Me being the lush I am, sat with her so that I wouldn’t be drinking alone. I didn’t think anything of it at the time, other than my circle of friends didn’t drink and I didn’t want to feel awkward (I don’t know why I try to not be awkward–I’ll always be that girl). It’s something I’ve always done. I flit from group to group, never really establishing deep roots.

Then, years after that brief moment, through social media, she publicly thanked me. Without realizing it, she had returned the favor full-fold. My own struggles and self-doubt had taken a toll on me and I felt alone. With her words, not only did she remind me that I am a decent human being, but she affirmed that I do have true friends despite not belonging to one particular “group.”

I think we sometimes forget that social media and our “friends” can not replace the those real moments of what makes us human: those moments of raw connection that illicit a genuine feeling. Because without these complex emotions, what really separates us from artificial intelligence or a pet?

While social media is a wonderful avenue for so many ventures, this year I am going to step out from behind the screen. I am going to make more physical memories, more human connections, so that I have more stories to tell.

Rekindling the Fire

Anyone who tells you that being rejected is no big deal is full of shit. I was one of those people who spouted that garbage to others and to myself. Until the rejections for my manuscript started rolling in.

The first few it was easy to brush off and reason that the story wasn’t a good fit for that agent. “I didn’t want that agency anyway,” I told myself. Then I received more rejections and one in particular that really hurt: I love the premise, it’s right up my alley, but I’m going to have to say no. Ouch!

Add to this the rejection any normal human being faces each day, each week. My non-writing job is based on sales in which I hear “no” (or crickets) all too often. My dog would rather play than to cuddle. My husband, even though he meant well, never managed to say the right thing. It’s summer in the Arizona desert and way too hot to enjoy the outdoors (think a freezing cold winter, but opposite). And on and on and on…let me just say that rejection was getting me down and turning me into a person I didn’t recognize.

Instead of what I should have been doing, like CHANGING, I was content to be in a spiral of misery. At this point my dog didn’t even want to play with me, let alone cuddle. That’s when you know it’s bad!

Rejection should light a fire within you. Borges said, “Art = fire + algebra.” I’m not great at math (and we’re not talking about the structure of art here), but I do know that you need the fire if the art is going to mean something.

So, after I was done with my pity party of one, I pulled up my big girl panties and reread a few of those rejection letters. I reread the opening pages of my manuscript. I did a little soul searching. I figured out what my story was missing. Writing it is another blog subject for another day, but the point is– these rejections ultimately rekindled the fire in my art.

Be that lone flower on a desert cactus that refuses to die despite the heat.

It’s not that you are being rejected, but how are you going to proceed after being rejected? I think that speaks volumes to a person’s character, much more than if they were to never be rejected. And who has never in their life been rejected for something or by someone? Seriously. They must be pretty boring.

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Lone flower on a desert cactus at the base of the Superstition Mountains, Arizona.

A Hiker’s Peace

I climbed to the top of Camelback Mountain. People do it every day, no big deal. Except that it was a HUGE deal for me. I’ve never done something like that (and probably won’t be back to Camelback in the near future), but I reached the summit. I stood at the top and spread my arms wide as gusts of wind bit at my face. Adrenaline coursed through my body and I breathed heavy from the climb (and a little bit of residual panic attack), and I thanked myself for believing in ME.

Above the noise from the city, the smog that hung in the air like low clouds, and away from my phone I found a peace that is hard to come by. The solitude (but camaraderie) at the top was something so unique that only fellow hikers probably know what I’m talking about. Yes, there were other people at the summit, but for a moment we all shared a bond. We smiled at one another, silently congratulating the other for making it to the top.  We were giddy, taking pictures to remember. Remember what, though? For me, it was to prove to myself that I did it. I set my mind to a goal and my body followed through.

When I feel like stopping a project because it is too difficult, or I am metaphorically stuck, I can look at this picture and remember there were moments where I was stuck on the side of a mountain, hyperventilating “I can’t” until I made up my mind that I was going to reach the top. And I did.

 

Currently reading: Tweak: Growing up on Methamphetamines by Nic Sheff