A Time to Gather Stones Together

I am gathering the notes, files, and pages of projects I have started, forsaken, and misplaced. After teaching for more than twenty-five years, many of my boxes and file cabinets contain syllabi, assignment handouts, and old student essays. Now that my focus has moved from teaching to writing, I am unearthing the beginnings of creative works that are scattered throughout the study: files of poems, portions of stories, scenes for multiple screenplays, pages with a line or two, or a paragraph, descriptions of places and people, boxes of mementos. In the garage, photos await my examination, an emotional journey I both desire and dread, but one that will produce more ideas, more writing.

Stonesonwall2

I have multiple undertakings. I suppose I am experimenting with shifting the stones, making different configurations. Some days I work only on poetry, and other days a screenplay. I suspect that I may, in the next few months, immerse myself in a longer project, find a boulder in the desert and camp next to it for a long time. The options are many, and for that I am thankful, overjoyed, elated. You writers will understand, and many of you are there already, making steady progress on a novel, a play, or a collection of poems.

A thematic lamentation my friends often hear from me is the trouble I have organizing my papers. I collect books, articles, travel brochures, magazines, newsletters, chapbooks, pamphlets, mail. It piles up. The stacks grow. I sort, almost daily, feeling like Sisyphus.

My thoughts roam. I visualize a scene. Someone knocks at the door. It is the personal assistant I have wanted. She has a magical filing system and is able to organize all my papers, books, and writing paraphernalia in just a few minutes. Now I can find things.

1stone

On my own, I am nonetheless finding a way. Some days it is one thing only. A single stone, a steady focus, a piece of flash fiction, one poem. At the same time, I am learning Tai Chi from a friend, and he tells me that each time I practice, it is like writing a page. If I practice every day, I will have a substantial book at the end of the year.

I love river stones, and well, really, all kinds of stones, partly because they convey simplicity. I give myself simple messages:  exercise, write, organize. It doesn’t sound so all-fired difficult.

Files

I may never have the pristine study that I imagine, but I can gather, arrange, and rearrange the materials until I gain focus and clarity. Stone by stone, I can create something.

I would love to hear how some of you organize your work.

My other dream, beyond the magical personal assistant, is one described in a passage from Annie Dillard’s book, The Writing Life:

“I have often ‘written’ with the mechanical aid of a twenty-foot conference table. You lay your pages along the table’s edge and pace out the work. You walk along the rows; you weed bits, move bits, and dig out bits, bent over the rows with full hands like a gardener. After a couple of hours, you have taken an exceedingly dull nine-mile hike. You go home and soak your feet” (46).

Dillard, Annie. The Writing Life. New York: Harper and Row, 1989.

 

Redemptive Rejections

I got a nice one the other day:

TampaRvw

I was in a great mood all week. “Nice writing.” A compliment from an editor, though not as exciting as an acceptance, is still wonderful. When I do submit to the Tampa Review again (probably in a few months), I will write a note to the editor and perhaps even include a copy of this note as a reminder that I was invited to submit material again. These notices with personal comments are what I think of as redemptive rejections.

Some journal editors send rejection notices that soften the news. I received one a couple of weeks ago that said, “we know that reading rejection letters is never an enjoyable experience, having been the recipients of them ourselves.” Most of them are print-outs that contain no personal signature or note, like this next one (an old one) from The Threepenny Review, and this practice seems efficient as a business practice. I am fine with those ones too as they get the point across quickly. Waiting is over, and I can then send the item to another journal.3PennyRvw

Sophy Burnham, in For Writers Only, states that “A writer lives with rejection.” She refreshingly points out that besides the rejection notices,  writers often live with self-rejection and routinely face “doubt and loneliness and fear” (155). I suspect that if the self-rejection can be managed, the outside rejections lose some of their kick. This topic could make an entire post, but briefly: How can self-rejection be managed? Lots of ways. One way is to write plenty of things. Another way is to send out plenty of things. That way, rejections will become routine, and you won’t take them so hard. I have been sending out more material and am therefore getting a large number of rejections. A few acceptances. When I open the envelope and read the notice, I don’t feel a dramatic response or even a sense of personal defeat. I might feel disappointed, especially if I had high hopes for a certain journal to accept a poem I thought they might like, but the feeling is like a morning mist that fades with the emerging sun.

Here is another redemptive rejection I received from one of my favorite journals:

MoReview

The editor “enjoyed it,” which is a high compliment from The Missouri Review. Encouraging. Uplifting. The comment redeemed the rejection for me, and I was thankful each time I thought about it. Many editors take the time to write a brief note, and that also opens the door to creating a stronger professional relationship with them. They can even get to know you a little bit, as Carolyn See says in her delightful book, Making a Literary Life. She writes, “Rejection is a process, not an event” (91). She had a long correspondence with an editor who kept sending her rejections, though eventually he gave her an assignment which then won an award. She suggests sending a thank you note to each editor who sends you a rejection notice. You can thank them for causing you to rethink the piece, or even just for taking the time to read your work. This practice, which she calls writing “charming notes,” can create new relationships.

We have all heard stories about writers who received a number of rejections for now famous works, and over the years, when I hear these stories, I don’t feel encouraged or inspired. I understand the point: the author did not give up and eventually the persistence paid off. Instead, I feel the way that some women might feel who have unsuccessfully tried to conceive a child, and they hear anecdotes about women who experienced the same thing until one day, lo and behold, the long wait is over . . . for the other women. What does make me feel encouraged and inspired are the redemptive rejections.

What are some of your experiences with rejection notices? How do you fight off self-rejection or doubt, loneliness, and fear? What are some of the best rejections you have received?

Of course, we don’t need any encouragement about getting acceptances, and when I got this email, I was of course delighted:

“Thank you for sending us ‘A Clear Horizon.’ We love it and would like to publish it in the next issue of A Clean, Well-Lighted Place.”

I think of Carolyn See again and what she says about getting something published. When you do, not too many people will care aside from your family, friends, and “maybe your editor.” What they will be looking for, though, is “whether or not you’re going to turn into an asshole” (104). I did send her a “charming note” thanking her for the great advice as well as for the fun and laughs I had reading the book, and she sent me back a lovely thank you for the thank you.

Burnham, Sophy. For Writers Only. New York: Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, 1994. Print.

See, Carolyn. Making a Literary Life: Advice for Writers and Other Dreamers. New York: Ballantine Books, a division of Random House, 2002. Print.

 

A Room With a View

I am looking out of the window from our hotel room at the Westin Bonaventure in Los Angeles, California. Thankfully, for this professional conference my husband is attending, we were given a room that faces the Los Angeles Public Library, an historic and beautiful building. The hotel itself is the location for several films: In the Line of Fire, True Lies, and Nick of Time, to name a few.IMG_2800Film crews have been setting up all day to film at 5th Street and Flower just beside the library, and I have enjoyed watching them unload huge lights, gigantic cord spirals, and other items I do not recognize. Amplifiers and generators? Storage containers? Electric tools? They have built a structure that looks like a portion of the street after an explosion, and now they are spreading around a black powder that will likely produce some special effects. We were told by the hotel staff that there will be shooting sounds and a car explosion at 10 p.m. tonight. With such a lively and interesting view, I am writing, contentedly settled at the desk in our room, where I will be for several more hours.IMG_2813I know many writers, poets, painters, and musicians, and as you would expect, they all have individual methods for their work, settings they like, environmental preferences. As Alexandra Enders noted in her article called “The Importance of Place: Where Writers Write and Why”:

Conrad Aiken worked at a refectory table in the dining room; Robert Graves
wrote in a room furnished only with objects made by hand. Ernest Hemingway
wrote standing up; D. H. Lawrence under a tree. . . Ben Franklin wrote in the
bathtub, Jane Austen amid family life, Marcel Proust in the confines of his bed.

She also notes that many writers “choose libraries, intermediate spaces that aren’t totally isolated but are quiet, protected, and controlled.” When I toured the Los Angeles Public Library earlier today, I felt myself being drawn to the quiet spaces scattered here and there, especially spaces that displayed tables.IMG_2815I am ultra-sensitive to the environment wherever I am. My long-suffering husband is the exact opposite. He can thrive and work almost anywhere, especially if he has a cup of coffee. My friends know that the ambiance in any given restaurant is supremely important, and it may take me a few minutes to select the right spot (away from bright light, chairs not too hard, tables not wobbly, tasteful décor, no brash TV noises, no traffic behind my chair). Thankfully, they usually allow me to select the space. My senses are so acute that loud noises can seem traumatic, bright light can feel like an assault, and the wrong person seated in the next booth or at the next table can ruin the day’s experience.  At home, I can create the right environment, and when we are traveling or venturing out, I love it when an opportune setting is available. This desk at the Bonaventure is now a sacred spot, and as the sun and clouds shift and create new moods on the landscape, I am having a productive writing day.

Earlier, I sat in the lobby, and I occasionally venture out to hotel lobbies to think and write. The Bonaventure lobby is splendid for many reasons, not the least of which is the beautiful fountain. People watching, the sound of water splashing, a sound table and a chair that doesn’t wobble — these are gifts.IMG_2771 (1)What is the setting in which you write? Are you particular or easygoing about your setting? Do you require certain accouterments? Whatever the case, we all seem to find our way through whatever impediments present themselves. Vive la différence!

Enders, Alexandra. “The Importance of Place: Where Writers Write and Why.” Poets and Writers: The Literary Life. March/April 2008. Web 30 Jan 2016.