Friday, August 26, 2011

A Rude Awakening

Hi all! I just want to apologize for being so neglectful this week. I feel terrible about it, but this was just one of those weeks, ya know? 

Anyway, today I welcome Don Britt to My First Book. For those of you who haven't been lucky enough to bump into him on the blogosphere, he's the insane writer behind 24Novels.com. That's right... He's writing 24 novels. In. One. Year. Please go check out his blog to find out how he's doing. 

In the mean time, here's his post. 

A RUDE AWAKENING

I’ve been writing for more years than I care to remember. Sometimes it feels like I was born with a pen in my hand. Writing has never been a problem for me. Pitching what I’ve written, on the other hand, has been nothing less than a living nightmare. I’ve been rejected with bludgeoning repetition by more agents and publishers than I care to admit. Oh, alright, darn you. You’ve torn one statistic out of me. One summer saw me garner six hundred rejections. 600 big fat ‘R’s. In less than three months.  

That summer coincided with a milestone in my life. I was 40. I stared long and hard into my coffee on my birthday. I fancied it a portal into an abyss. The abyss has a habit of staring back at you, if you can believe what Nietzsche says. It’s a cocky bastard too. It hasn’t lost a staring contest yet. 

Not long after I crashed and burned in that existential stare down I sat down with a piece of paper and a pencil. I drew a line down the middle of the page, forming two columns. At the top of the first column I wrote ‘Overall Quality Of My Work’. Above the second column I wrote ‘Success In Pitching My Work’. I decided to give myself a grade, see, in each of these two essential categories for any aspiring writer.   

I left the page on my desk for a time. For a few days in fact. I took the time to read through a sizeable sample of my work. A couple of novels. A few shorts. Some essays which I thought just splendid when I wrote them. I thought everything was great when I wrote it. Now, with some distance, I realized a hard truth. The stuff wasn’t as good as I thought it was. There was a lot that I liked. But there were also pointless scenes, flat dialogue, and some painfully crafted passages that, on fresh reading, were just that - painful. I put myself in the role of English teacher, and asked myself what grade I would give this work if I didn’t know the writer from Adam. I came up with a B.  

I returned to my piece of paper. Under ‘Overall Quality’ I put down my B. The second column required no reflection at all. At the age of 40 I had yet to earn a single, solitary dollar from anything I had ever written. So under success rate I wrote down the only grade possible. F. I thought about what those two grades combined meant, in terms of my hopes of getting published. Then I wrote an equation on the top of the page: B + F = F 

There’s an old definition of insanity, one you may well know. Insanity is doing the same thing over and over again with the expectation of a different result. I had a wake up call when I turned forty. I realized that even the best of my work wasn’t as good as I thought it was. An even harsher truth hit home. If I were working in an agency or publishing house, and was confronted with the material I had just finished reading, I would have responded with one of those big fat Rs too.  

As an old song says, waking up is hard to do. Still I woke up that day. If Misha would be so kind as to have me back sometime I’d be happy to talk about the results of my painful awakening. For now I’ll end with this truth, and with a confession I haven’t heard often in the writing world. I earned my rejections over all those years. I kept submitting material that didn’t demand to be published, stories that didn’t rise up to a standard that simply could not be ignored.  

How about you?

Thanks so much for stopping by, Don. You're more than welcome to do another guest post some time. :-D

Have a great weekend everyone!

16 comments:

Wendy G. Ewurum said...

Wow, what an awesome post Don. Thank you Misha for bringing him to our attention. I can't wait to check out his blog. I wish more writers would ask themselves that before they self publish as well. I've had two requests that I kust couldn't bring myself to finishing the first two pages. How do you tell the writer their work is below substandard even to a reader. I have the misfortune of having my head almost snapped clean off my shoulders onece and so now I just send a note and say, I'm sorry but I won't be able to review because I have too much on my plate. And so the vicious cycle continues and they wonder why they don't get sales.

Laura Marcella said...

Thanks for sharing your story, Don. I'm still collecting those Rs, and I'm sure they're well-deserved, but I'm pretty sure I'm improving. Those Rs don't seem so bad as long as I keep moving forward and progressing and challenging myself to be the best writer I can be.

And WHOA, 24 novels in one year?!? Awesome! Checking out your website now!

Amy said...

Great post Don! 24 novels in one year is VERY impressive! :)

Have a great weekend!

Angela Felsted said...

Wow, that is a painful confession. You have such humility to come right out and say something like that.

Rachna Chhabria said...

Thanks Don for sharing your story. Rejections hurt like hell. This post will come as an encouragement to writers who feel dejected by rejections.

Thanks Misha for hosting Don.

Don Britt said...

Hi Angela! Hi Rachna!

I came late in life to humility. Really I only gave it a whirl after all else failed, as a last ditch effort to go somewhere with my dreams. Pride dies hard, and I still deal with flash floods of it. Yesterday an established writer, an awesome guy, gave me some very gentle advice. He suggested my 3-Day novel marathon is really about me developing as a writer. He's bang on, but I was resistant to the thought. My dream is that my marathon will get me noticed, that it will help me make the break. I guess I'm sick of developing! But really, it's just pride all over again.

And thanks for your kind words Rachna. It is my passionate wish to give encouragement to fellow travelers on the road.

Don Britt said...

Oh and hi Amy! Sorry I missed your comment at first. Thanks for the encouragement. Between you and me the 24 novel thing isn't quite as insane as I let on. These are novellas really, which come in around 22 - 25 K. But they do have to be written while my three day egg timer runs down. And it doesn't stop for sleep or bathroom breaks. So I guess it's still a little nutty.

Misha said...

Done, working on an average of 23.5k words, it still adds up to over half a million words... (564k to be exact) ;-)

Don Britt said...

Thanks Misha! I hadn't done that math. Leave it to an economist! :>

And Hi Wendy and Laura! I posted some thoughts on your comments, but I must have messed up. I don't see them now. I greatly appreciate words, and the fact no one decided to tell me how loopy I am.

It's funny, when my marathon got under way most of the comments I got were negative. People were showing up just to assure me that they would never read anything that I write. It's much better know. Now I'm finding friends and kindred spirits like you folk.

Ellie Garratt said...

Thank you, Don and Misha. That was a fascinating post. I had to read the 600 rejections sentence twice to make sure I hadn't read it wrong. Your writing output must have been incredible!

Don Britt said...

LOL. Thanks Ellie. But it was more pig headedness than prolific output. I had a couple things that I was sure just had to make the break if I flogged them enough. It turns out they didn't have to. Go figure.

Empty Nest Insider said...

Thanks Misha for hosting Don! This was an interesting glimpse into the insights of an author. I applaud Don's honesty! Julie

The Golden Eagle said...

24 novels in one year--wow.

I've never taken the step of submitting anything I've written--so I haven't gotten rejected. I expect I have a lot yet to learn (or wake up to). :P

Kari Marie said...

I'm still stammering over the 24 novels in a year bit. What a fantastic achievement to be able to claim, not to mention the writing habit you will have developed.

I haven't waded into the world of querying yet. Right now I'm still dreaming, but I can feel the harsh reality of "waking up" coming soon.

Thanks for hosting Misha:)

Trisha said...

24 novels in one year... Now that's impressive!

Don Britt said...

The inspiration for my 'ultimate act of literary insanity' was the annual 3-Day novel contest, and it's happening this weekend! I highly recommend it. It's an incredible creative kick start. The site is:

http://www.3daynovel.com/