Musings on my first Unofficial Rejection

I’ve learned a couple of things about myself over the past three weeks, including the fact that I am:

  1. A bit of a chickenshit when it comes to getting out of my comfort zone.
  2. Scared of failure, more than I am of creeping myself out with a good bit of writing.
  3. Wildly determined despite not “being wanted.”

I applied to a workshop seminar a few weeks back at the Quebec Writers Federation, held by someone I don’t know, whom I’ve never read, and with the sort of trepidation that comes from sticking your feet into a freezing cold pool of dark water where you can’t see the bottom. I did it on impulse, after a whole five minutes consideration. Then I got nervous: for a week I went about wringing my hands, anticipating a spiral of depression if I didn’t get in, and that I wouldn’t want to finish the book in the aftermath because they didn’t want it or me.

This process involved popping cherries on a few firsts: My first time writing a summary of a book that is not yet finished, as well as a one-page breakdown of the plot (which actually turned out better than I thought) whose themes are only starting to gel into something cohesive. It’s nowhere near ready for sharing, and possibly not even workshopping (honestly, what the hell is the benchmark for workshopping your work anyway? Are you supposed to feel so confident that in a few strikes and a considerable edit you might actually be ready for submissions? Geez, I don’t know. I like to think that I do enough footwork and try to conduct myself as professionally as possible, but some things have too many conflicting opinions jumbled together in one humble google search to provide something to jump off of.)

Anyway.

I applied, and three weeks later after making a follow up, I learned that I didn’t get in.

There are any number of reasons for this: the writing isn’t good, the story sucks, the hook’s weak, the subject matter isn’t of interest to the person conducting the workshop, it’s too young a book (in that being the only young adult genre writer in a room full of literary peeps means you just don’t fit), or while the work might be good there are other submissions that were better.

Don’t know. They don’t tell you these things, and they don’t offer criteria for their selection, so I’m in the woods.

I sat back and thought this one over as I nursed my disappointment: did I really want to do this, knowing that I’d likely be at odds with other participants? Writers who are probably much more developed with respect to their skill set and storytelling?

I answered that yes, I do want to workshop this beastie, but maybe this isn’t the right venue. Maybe it’s not the right time, either.

I concluded that if I’m going to subject myself to the emotional wringer, being patient, and possibly feeling disappointed, then I want the first victory I get based on the manuscript’s merit to be very, very worth something.

I want to work with people who know horror, who know YA, who dabble in the dark stuff, and who will tell me — based on their understanding of the genre, the audience, their experience reading the masters — where I can improve. I don’t just want to publish. I want this book to be meaningful to other people; I want these characters to live and breathe and bleed, and I want to be in an environment where there are others with this stuff under their belts interested in helping this thing come to life.

I’m grateful for the consideration of the QWF, but maybe it’s not for me.

Maybe I should be working towards gaining mentorship with professionals who are better suited to mucking about in the gore. I sorted through my feelings a bit, and came to the conclusion that it was time to join the Horror Writers Association with a supporting membership, revise the manuscript as best as I can, and make the formal application for mentorship. I will do it twenty times over if I have to. That is something I want badly enough. Likewise, Clarion West would be something I would kill to do if it was at all feasible to take six weeks off work and fly across the country. Virgin sacrifices would be made to make that happen if it was even the remotest possibility. But for now: baby steps.

There’s something to be said about these early professional lessons, but as it stands, I haven’t been doing this long enough to feel wholly confident when I say that some of this is going to suck, but if you or I or whoever forgets why they suffer the process, it acts as a very staunch reminder:

If you write, I hope you write because you love it. I hope you look at your cumulative word counts and reread your stories and find delight in them, because that’s the point even before sharing. Feeling defeated lasts for a microsecond. Putting down the words makes my bones hum with happiness, and that’s something I cart around with me every goddamn day.

I wouldn’t thirst for more if I didn’t think it was worth it in the end to say, “I made a thing. Look, it’s got teeth.”

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