Rejectigami Crawfish & A Writerly Crisis of Faith

If you follow me on Twitter, you’ve probably already seen this week’s origami. But I thought I’d post it here as well, both for those who don’t do the Twitter thing and for those who do but missed it (things can move pretty quickly in the Twitter stream, after all).

A rejection letter folded into an origami crawfish

Makes me miss living in Louisiana!

This week’s origami is also a rejectigami. Since the story that got rejected was set in a coastal town in Massachusetts, I thought an origami crawfish was fitting. Challenging, too, since it starts with a fish base — and that involves enough folds that it could almost qualify as an origami itself.

Technically, this is a kirigami since scissors were involved. But that’s okay because, honestly, who hasn’t wanted to take a pair of scissors to a rejection letter? (Or a flamethrower, or a weedeater, or a healthy dose of napalm…?)

As I mentioned in the comments for my last rejectigami, my favorite bit of writing advice about rejection letters is something Neil Gaiman posted to his blog some time back:

The best reaction to a rejection slip is a sort of wild-eyed madness, an evil grin, and sitting yourself in front of the keyboard muttering “Okay, you bastards. Try rejecting this!” and then writing something so unbelievably brilliant that all other writers will disembowel themselves with their pens upon reading it, because there‚Äôs nothing left to write.

Truth be told, it’s getting harder and harder for me to do that. Mostly because I’ve never really been that way. I’ve been applying the “fake it ’til you make it” philosophy, declaring, “Oh, yeah? Well, reject this, you bastards!” whenever a rejection letter hit me unusually hard, or even when my own internal editor got a little too loud for me to get any work done. But, really, I have a very low writer’s self esteem.

Admittedly, I don’t have as many rejection letters as some writers, and most of the ones I’ve gotten have been the promising sort. But I’m starting to notice a trend.

“The story is well written, but it’s not quite what we’re looking for.”

“The story is well written, but we weren’t sure what was going on.”

“The story is well written, but it just didn’t grab me.”

I swear, that phrase is going to haunt me to my grave. I even got it in an acceptance letter once. “The story is well written, but…”

I think it’d be easier to take if the problem was with the writing itself. I mean, if it was a matter of too many adverbs or a lot of passive language or awkward phrasing or even exposition by dialog, I could work on that. I could read books and practice and get better.

But when the stories themselves are the problem?

If you’re a writer, you’ve probably heard that nagging little voice that asks, “What if I’ve peaked? What if I only had that one good story in me? What if I never write anything good ever again?”

Yeah, that little voice had a field day with me after I got this rejection. At one point, I was determined to post my entire fountain pen collection for sale on FPN, because if I wasn’t going to write anymore, what was the point of having them? I think the only thing that stopped me was flipping through the want-ads in the Sunday paper and realizing that unless I wanted to drive a big rig, I wasn’t going to find another job.

And, honestly, nobody wants me behind the wheel of something that big.

I haven’t decided what to do about this story yet. Send it back out again? Revise it? Chuck it in a drawer and forget I ever wrote the damn thing? Put it through a shredder? Use it to light the grill?

I dunno. I have been reading The Art of War for Writers by James Scott Bell, though, a section or two a day, and it seems like every time I suffer a writer’s crisis of faith, that day’s section is particularly apropos. Today’s was no exception. Titled “Test your premise to prove it worthy”, it talked about how to figure out which of your story ideas is the best one, the one worth writing. I already have a story idea file which I add to frequently. So I’ll start running those ideas through Bell’s crucible to see which ones stand out.

But, then again, I thought this story was a good idea when I started.

A big part of the problem is that I’m writing in a void with no litmus test for if a story is any good other than submitting it to magazines and seeing what they say. Not the best way to handle things, but I don’t have much choice. Living in an area that not only boasts a creative writing MFA program, but is also the place O. Henry called home — and writers like Orson Scott Card and Fred Chappell still do — you’d think I’d have my pick of writer’s groups. That I’d walk into my local Panera or Barnes & Noble and find a bulletin board plastered with notices for writer’s group meetings.

Sadly, that’s not the case.

Chad’s still my only beta reader, and since he’s my sounding board when I brainstorm a story, it’s tough for him to pick up on when a story isn’t working. He’s often as close to the story as I am. He knows too much about the characters and what’s going to happen. I’ve tried writing stories without telling him about them, but without someone to bounce ideas off while I work out the plot, I struggle to get anything written at all.

And, sadly, my friends and family either (a) don’t read horror or “dark” stories, (b) beg off as being too busy to read anything, or (c) tell me they don’t want to read anything I’ve written because they’re afraid they’d hate it. (Yes, I actually had one person tell me that she doesn’t ever want to read anything I write because she doesn’t want to find out that she doesn’t like it — and despite telling her that would be fine, that I need people to tell me what doesn’t work in what I’m writing, I still haven’t gotten her to read any of my stories. Either that or she has read one, hated it, and just hasn’t fessed up. But, since she’s my friend and I love her, I’m not going to force her to read my stories if she doesn’t want to.)

It’s a tough position to be in. I’d give anything to have a good group of beta readers, just three or four people I can trust to read my stories and tell me if they suck. Just so I’d know that what I’m sending out there isn’t a complete waste of everyone’s time.

Doesn’t look like it’s going to happen, though.

And, yes, I know. I’m whining. Which isn’t going to help anything.

So I suppose I should get back to writing. Because I haven’t put pen to page since I got that rejection letter, and I really need to.

I’ve gotta tell you, though, this time it’s really hard.

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4 Responses to Rejectigami Crawfish & A Writerly Crisis of Faith

  1. Inky says:

    Hey, I am more than willing to be a beta reader for you. If you’re up for a drive, the Writers Group of the Triad (http://triadwriters.org/) is a good source for people who critique stuff. You could also try meetup.com and type in ‘writing’ as the subject. This will give you a list of folks who are interested in meeting up and discussing (or doing) writing. Whatever you decide, I hope you keep on writing. Brian Brushwood once wrote a letter to Teller of Penn and Teller fame. Teller actually wrote him back. It was such an inspiring and insightful response, I printed it out and keep it close at hand. I’m passing it on to you in the hopes it’ll give you some strength to keep going, even when you think you don’t have any strength left. http://tinyurl.com/tellerletter

  2. Andi Newton says:

    Inky, I’d love to have you be a beta reader for me! I’ll drop you a note back channel about it.

    Thank you for the link to the letter Teller sent to Brian Brushwood, too. It was very inspiring. Good advice I plan to pass on to others.

    I’ve tried looking for writing groups at meetup.com in the past, but have never found any active ones there. I’ll have to check again. Chad also took a look at the WGOT site, and we’re going to see if the speculative fiction critique group has any openings. The woman who runs it writes Cthulhu Mythos fiction — she’s actually got a story in an anthology published by our RPG publisher — so, fingers crossed, that could be a good match.

    Thanks again!

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