Thursday, February 23, 2012

Take A Bow, Or Take You Lumps, And Get Back To Work

It’s awards season here in the New Pulp ranks, when the crème de la crème of the last year’s published pieces draw their share of peer and fan recognition. It’s easy to get swept up in the excitement and the hopeful feelings that this time, I might get nominated for something… I might actually win one!

When it does happen, boy what a feeling!

When it doesn’t happen—especially year after year—it’s easy to feel crushed and unappreciated. Boy… what an ugly, lonely, unloved, forlorn feeling. How can I work so hard and not be recognized for it? Why do I even bother writing in the first place? I want to just curl up in a corner and grumble and moan. Maybe hang up my writing fedora and superhero keyboard and go fishing instead.

Sound familiar? Yeah, me too.

Well, don’t do that to yourself. Awards are wonderful; like icing on a cake, they make it so much sweeter. It’s a great feeling to know a bunch of folks chose to recognize you for your talent, and those trophies sure look great on the shelf, but they’re not why we write. The idea is to entertain people while expressing ourselves, remember? You’re supposed to be building a fan base, and every time you turn out another story, you add another brick to that. So have fun, but don’t get too wound up in the glory chase. You need to be realistic, and look at the competition first. Lots of big names with plenty of established work, right? That means those folks have been around a while, and they have the industry chops. As for the newbie awards… well it’s a big field. And that’s a good thing, because we want New Pulp to continue to grow. So take a deep breath, step back, and realize that the odds are against you, unless you’ve had some sort of breakout piece of work in the last year that sold like hotcakes and was praised from here to kingdom come. Which means of course, you now have a big name too, at least for the moment. Otherwise, just cheer on the other contenders; clap long, loud, and heartily for the winners, and get back to writing. Because that’s what they had to do to get where they are, bunkie.

One thing I’ve learned in this business over the last 20 some odd years, is persistence is everything. It’s not what happens at those once a year contests that matters the most, though it certainly isn’t going to hurt your career any to have earned some public kudos! What brings you through the ranks of neophyte writer to published author to fan magnet is what you do every day. Sit down and pound something out.

The other end of the public accolade or anonymity spectrum is that capricious creature called a review. Yeah, just writing it puts the hair up on the back of my neck, because you never know how they are going to go. I’ve had a few good ones, a passel of no responses at all, and some that blistered my soul for years. I even quit writing for a while based on one that said, “Don’t give up the day job just yet!” Technically, that was a editorial comment red penciled onto a rejected manuscript. I was crushed anyway. This was an ‘expert’ opinion, and my ‘day job’ at the time was homemaker and mother to two young boys, so I desperately wanted to be known for something more than housework and mommy stuff. That one line convinced me I was wasting my time. But, I got over it… eventually.

I hate to tell you folks, but if you are going to put your work out there, it’s going to get read and reviewed at some point, and it might not be favorable. Unless you self publish, the first stage review is always the submissions editor, whose job it is to make sure the company gets the most publishable stories possible. So your brainchild might get rejected outright, sent back for revision, or if it’s something already published and this is an independent review, panned.

So, how do you deal with that?

You read what the people say, and then you step back, either celebrate for a day or go kick an inanimate object, cry, whine, snarl a lot; but then you get your butt back in the chair, your fingers on the keyboard, and you go back to work. Because just like awards, reviews have to be put in perspective.

First of all, you have to remember, this is ONE PERSON’S OPINION. You need to inscribe that on your subconscious, because it is so vitally important, even if it was a favorable review. So read it, digest it, get over it, learn something from it, and go on. If it was a particularly bad review, and you’ve had more than one opinion that was similar, it’s time to do some hard thinking about what was said, and possibly why. Was the story really that bad? Was it edited poorly, or did it ramble too much and never hit the point? Wrong market maybe? Or does this person just not enjoy your style or genre? Time to pass off what you wrote to a fellow writing pal that you trust (come on, you know someone) along with the review and ask for honest feedback. It’s a learning experience.

Notice I didn’t say you can’t be upset about a bad review. Of course you’re going to be torn up, you’re not made of amazing wonder putty; you’re a human being with feelings and it seems like a personal attack. It’s perfectly normal to down in the dumps over something that you poured your heart and soul into when it gets steamrolled by some lofty authority. What makes the difference between a newbie amateur and a professional writer is how you channel that feeling. If you delete all your files and toss the computer out the window, that’s not going to solve too much. You still got a poor review, you can’t play Angry Birds anymore, and now you don’t have the rest of your material either. So when you get over your hissy fit, you’re going to have to rewrite everything, If you go all attack dog and snark right back at the reviewer publically, now you have a reputation as someone who can’t take criticism. Might as well paint a target on yourself!

I couldn’t speak so eloquently about this if I hadn’t been there. Never tossed my PC, but I have snapped long enough to delete things or write scathing replies. I wound up feeling like a jerk. I look back on those pieces now, and while a few were unfairly chastised, the rest were basically anywhere from not so hot to embarrassingly baaaad. I still have those days when it seems like I can’t do anything right, but I set the thing that’s bugging me aside until I can get over my snit, and go on with my writing life. If someone is particularly vile in their criticism, where it feels like a personal attack, I don’t have to respond in kind. They might get written into a story as a character I’ll enjoy killing off though…

That’s how you have to handle it. Your sanity depends on it. It’s a big world out there, and not everybody is going to fall all over themselves when they read your stuff. Be grateful for the ones who do, because they keep the motivation going, and treat them well. Writing is hard work; it’s a job all in itself. Handle yourself like a pro, and never let them see you sweat.

So, then it’s OK to celebrate the big wins? Hell yeah! But try and get your feet back on the ground somewhere along the line. It’s important because you can’t let one award or glowing bit of praise for what you did make you think you’re invincible and automatically an expert. That’s when you do stupid things, like stop learning from your mistakes. After all, if I won the ‘Best Emerging Subterranean Unknown Talent’ one year and ‘Most Prolific Genius In A Looney Bin Full Of Caffeine Guzzling Keyboard Jockeys’ the next, I don’t need any editing suggestions because I’ll never write another bomb! Ah… no. Even the best known writers out there turn out a dog now and then. They get published because their well known name on a laundry list sells stuff. You’re not that big a deal. So take your award, humbly thank the people who gave it to you, and acknowledge the others out there who had very worthy nominations too, because they deserve it. Then go have a happy day or three, but get back to the real world of typos, bad grammar, and scenes that don’t work, because not everything you do from now on is going to be golden.

Same thing with a positive review. Oh yeah, that’s something to celebrate and share, because you want other people who might not know your work to see that someone out there thinks it’s worth reading. But when the buzz is over, do realize that the writing industry as a whole is huge, and our little pulpy corner of it is tiny. There are many worthy pieces of fiction to read and the public at large has an attention span the size of a flea. The next shiny thing is going to come along, and they’re going to forget about your awesomeness and go chase it. And that’s okay! Because you need to stay grounded and focused. It’s about writing, not awards, not reviews, but getting words on pages that people want to read. The more you do it, the better you’re going to get. So the less celebrating or grieving you’re doing, the more time you have to write. See how that works?

I get up every day with the idea that I am going to sit at this keyboard and write something that someone else might want to read and could enjoy. That is all that motivates me. I know I am privileged now to actually have a means of getting published, and a chance to reach those readers I always longed for back when I couldn’t give my stuff away. No matter how the day goes, I never forget how close I came to giving up writing altogether. What a shame that would have been, because I can’t even begin to describe to you the thrill I felt the first time I saw one of my stories in a magazine, or the cover art of my first novel. To hold that in my hands, to realize that decades of work had come to fruition at last, was one of the most awestruck moments of my life. A lot of people dream of doing these things. I actually did it. And I’ll do it again and again, until they pry my cold dead fingers off the keyboard. As long as there are people who want to read them, I’ll keep writing stories for them, awards and reviews notwithstanding. Because that folks, is what this writing life is all about.

Now go make something pulpy happen today!


  1. Well said on all fronts, Nancy. A really good, realistic view of the writing game and all its ups and downs. Bravo.

  2. I'm going to print this out and put it up on the corkboard on the wall over my desk.

  3. Sadly, I've had plenty of moments like Nancy has described myself. What a pep talk!


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