Friday, September 17, 2010

On phallic squash and rejections

Last year, I had my first garden.

Peppers flourished with wild abandon. Tomatoes ripened faster than I could make salsa. Summer squash grew to gargantuan proportions, prompting many phallic thoughts not only for me, but for everyone who stopped by and received one as a gift.

If you have phallic thoughts looking at this year’s squash crop, I feel very sad for you. This is my most impressive specimen:

Hardly in the same ballpark as the ones that took both arms to carry just 12 months ago.

The funny thing is, I changed nothing in my gardening process. I used the same fertilizer, bought seedlings from the same store, even planted within a couple days of last year’s start date.

But the weather hasn’t been kind this year. Neither have the aphids or those nasty little spiky weeds that make me want to throw a hoe through the fence. I’ve done everything I can, but my garden just isn’t flourishing this year.

I couldn’t help but think of this when I read Victoria Strauss’s excellent blog post at Writer Beware titled Getting published is not a crap shoot.

I agree with her wholeheartedly, and think every author should read it. Here’s an excerpt:

There’s no question that good books fail to find publication –for a whole range of reasons, including what a publisher is already publishing, sales or marketing concerns, poor publisher/agent targeting on the writer's part, or sometimes simply because the writer gave up too soon. But far more often, rejection is based on quality and marketability, or the lack thereof.

Like I said, I agree with her. I really do.

And yet the last line of that paragraph makes me sad. I’ve stood in the shoes of every author who ever stared at a rejection letter and wondered, “is it the writing or is it something else?”

And the problem is, you often can’t know.

During the (sometimes brutal) two-year stretch leading up to my three-book deal, I had the benefit of an amazing agent who was able to procure detailed explanations from editors rejecting us. It was staggering how often the decision came down to something that had nothing to do with the writing itself – an editor who just bought a book in the same vein, or a marketing team that feared the book might be a tough sell with older readers.

I’m not saying I didn’t learn and grow from those experiences, but I also didn’t take them too personally. I recognized that sometimes it is a crap shoot.

It's important to strike a balance between embracing failures as an opportunity to learn and improve, and recognizing that sometimes there isn’t much to learn. Sometimes you’ve mastered everything within your control – the weeds, the typos, the watering schedule, the plot holes – and your lack of success can’t be traced to anything you have the ability to fix.

But the great thing? There’s always spring. Always. You can look ahead and see sunshine and honeybees and pound your chest and shout, “oh weather gods, you may have beaten me this year, but next year I shall have squash that put porn stars to shame!”

Not that I’ve done that.

Why are the neighbors staring at me?

Psst...don't forget to stop by and visit me at The Debutante Ball today!

21 comments :

Linda G. said...

Excellent post. Been there. Heck, I AM there, waiting for spring. :)

P.S. That little squash is just...uninspiring. ;)

Patty Blount said...

This is excellent information... For someone starting out like me, there is so much about the business of writing that I haven't yet learned. Thankfully, I have a teacher in you.

Poor little squash. Have you tried Viagra...

Danica Avet said...

Very inpsiring, Tawna! You're right. There's always the next story, always the next agent. If you put your work out there enough, chances are you WILL be agented and published. A lady who spoke during the PRO Retreat at Nationals had something like 101 agent rejections before she landed one.

Pamala Knight said...

Oh Tawna, I'm so glad I found you and your wise and sometimes naughty words. Thank you for this inspiring post. Do you think that Pythagoras would mind if I proposed marriage to you? I'll check back once I've asked Mr. Pamala if I can have a wife, okay?

Happy Gardening! ;-)

Sara B. Larson said...

Wow, those are such great thoughts on rejection. Thank you so much for sharing!

LadyGenette said...

I love how you can start out with something that is seemingly mindless and turn it into a profound thought. That takes serious talent.

The one great thing about being a writer is that every time you think that something is perfect, sitting on it for a while usually reveals something that can be worked on.

I don't know if that's true about gardening. I managed to kill a cactus, and trust me, that's a difficult feat.

Nicole Zoltack said...

It is so important to never give up in this industry. Keep writing, keep submitting, never say die.

Claire Dawn said...

This is sweet. Makes me want to sing.

The sun will come OUT tomorrow!!!

Excuse while I dodge these rotten tomatoes.

Michelle Wolfson said...

I suppose I should comment on the brilliance of how you manage to learn and teach about writing from everyday experiences like everyone else did. Or maybe I should thank you for calling me an amazing agent.

But I'm too busy laughing/groaning at the image of you shouting, “oh weather gods, you may have beaten me this year, but next year I shall have squash that put porn stars to shame!”

Was I the only one who realized you probably really did that??

Stormy said...

I may not always comment, but I love your blog! This particular one reminded me of an Emeril Live episode where he pulled out a ginger root that (no lie) sat in his hand like a perfect phallus with accompanying balls. (hehe, she said "balls") Anyhow...he was about to begin peeling the thing when he noticed the snickers from the audience, at which point he said, "Don't go there, folks. We're trying to maintain our G rating!"

Malin said...

Thank you. I read her post earlier and it made me doubt myself (can you add -er to "doubt" to mean I doubted myself more than before?). Your addition cheered me up - though your posts always have that effect on me.

Right now, I'm struggling with a "knowledge" that my writing should be so much better, the fact my friends say it's great and that not one agent's rejection has made it any clearer on the fact if I or my friends are right.

I wish I knew what was wrong so I could try to fix it - but I understand that agents don't have time (and would probably get so many people trying to argue if they did state their opinions).

Alright, rant over. Thanks for grin - always (even if I don't often comment).

Sierra Godfrey said...

I'm so glad you linked to that crap shoot post. I loved it. I have long felt that it isn't really a crap shoot-- you do need to have the right elements in place to make it work, but you're right that it IS about timing, too.

abby mumford said...

michelle hit the nail on the head with her comment. we all love you because your musings and ramblings and learnings are from your everyday experiences. while i may not have 5 animals or a husband or a garden, you share what you've learned with me and keep me in the loop.

the next time i learn a life lesson from being single and unpublished and unagented, i'll be sure to share it with you. i have to repay the favor, right? :)

Jeffe Kennedy said...

Isn't gardening like art in this way? We plant the seeds, we follow the process, do what worked before - and sometimes get a totally different result. Nothing to be done but embrace that.

(And the littlest squash are the sweetest!)

Matthew AT Banning said...

Sheesh! The only thing that's done well at all at my place is the Blackberries!!!

We have three apples between two trees and just as many pears. The Pumpkin plant has finally taken off but it only has two actual pumpkins on it and a giant load of flowers which are nowhere near becoming pumpkins now!!

As stated, the only things doing well (and i'll say we definitely didn't plant them there) are the blackberries! My mom has already made over 140 jars of jam as of the end of August!!!!

Trisha Leigh said...

Great post - I stand in awe of how you manage to bring it back around with such inspiring panache.

Can it be spring NOW?

Harley May said...

This was a great post, Tawna.

You are a teacher! Did you know that? You teach in the most relatable way for writers.

Maybe you should teach high school sex ed. Yes. Let's make that happen.

Mary Brebner said...

I totally agree with Harley!

Then, maybe boys, um, I mean gardeners would realize that just because you got awesome results the first time doesn't mean it'll work again...even if you did everything exactly the same. Girls, uh, I mean squash are temperamental like that.

Tawna Fenske said...

Linda G, it's been three days since I snapped that picture, and the poor little squash isn't looking any more inspiring.

Patty, I just called the doctor asking for a viagra prescription for my squash. He hung up on me.

Danica, I've heard oodles of those stories of people racking up hundreds of rejections before landing their agent or book deal. Just goes to show, it's all very, VERY subjective.

Pamala, no worries, Pythagoras definitely encourages me to have as many wives as I want. Just ask Harley May.

Sara B, I have lots of words of wisdom about rejection (probably because I've had plenty of rejections!)

LadyGenette, I have a pretty good green thumb, which is why I'm so disappointed in my @#$% garden this year.

Nicole, amen! The best way to ensue you won't succeed is to quit trying.

Claire Dawn, I can hear your singing all the way over here. It is not a beautiful thing.

Michelle, do you think that's why the neighbors aren't talking to me now?

Stormy, I do so love pornographic vegetables. I had a tomato last year that looked exactly like a butt.

Malin, you mentioned your friends have been reading your writing, but do you have a writers' group that looks at it? Sometimes it's worth getting the perspective of writing pals who aren't afraid you'll be mad at them at the next ladies' night if they say something negative.

Sierra, it's all about the balance, isn't it?

Abby, I definitely want to hear your life lessons, I'm betting you have plenty!

Jeffe, can I really eat squash that little, or are you just being cute? Because I'm going to have a whole lot of them and I'm wondering what the @#$% to do with them.

Matthew, mmmm...send some of those blackberries my way!

Trisha, the trick is to drink heavily until spring arrives.

Harley May, I think I would be an excellent sex ed teacher. Time to get out those monkey pics again!

Mary, LOL, I'm totally cracking up over your analogy!

Thanks for reading, guys!
Tawna

Stephanie said...

I think we've all been there...waiting, wondering.... I know I've asked myself hundreds of times...is it this piece that's bad, or is all my writing bad? Or is it something else??

Thanks for this post!

Patty Blount said...

I have to agree with you - you would DEFINITELY make a great sex ed teacher.