Rhino Skin


Today’s column is brought to you by Kit Shannon, turn-of-the-century Los Angeles lawyer. ANGELS FLIGHT, the second novel in The Trials of Kit Shannon series, is now available for Kindleand Nook.

Nothing had prepared her for the hostility of a city gripped by prejudice . . .

But you have to be prepared for the slings and arrows of the writing life. These may come in the form of rejection letters, bad reviews, angry reader e-mails,  personal jabs from a family member, or any  number of other places.
           
To survive, you need to develop Rhino skin. You need an outer armor that takes the hits but doesn’t stop you. Here’s how you get it:
1. Let rejection, or criticism, hurt for a day, no more
It’s all right to take a hit and feel its full force. Don’t try to hide from the emotional impact. Give vent. Destroy a pillow if you must. But let go after half an hour or so. Determine to go immediately to #2.

2. Write
When my son fell off his two wheeler the first time out, I didn’t let him quit. I got him back on the bike and almost burst my lungs running with him. We repeated the process till he got it.
           
He did not like falling. But when he was back on the bike and peddling, he was not thinking about the fall. He was thinking about staying up for the next few feet.
           
Writing is like that. When you are down about your writing, pound out those words. Dennis Palumbo, in his book Writing From the Inside Out,says “Every hour you spend writing is an hour spent not fretting about your writing.”
           
A daily quota is tonic for your ache.
           
What you’ll find is wonderful: when your mind reflects back on the hurt, the wound won’t be as deep as it once was. And the more you do write, the more the hurt begins to fade. You won’t forget it, but it won’t debilitate you.

3. Review your career path
And that’s what you’re on. Do not think of yourself as someone trying to sell a novel. You are a writer, and that means you never quit.
           
Do you need to start another book? What will you do differently? What can you learn from the rejection or the critic that is of actual value to you? Learn that thing then write and forget the rest.

4. Reward yourself
For a writing job finished, for a quota met, for a manuscript completed, heck, for just about anything, treat yourself to something.
           
When I finish a manuscript I like to take a full day off and go on a literary goof. There are used bookstores in L.A. I like, so I’ll start there, browse the shelves, pick up that Cornell Woolrich I’ve been missing, or add to my collection of 50’s paperback originals.
           
I might just go to a park or the beach, put out a chair and read.
           
That night, I’ll take my wife to one of our favorite places for dinner. You simply have to enjoy the journey or what’s the point of it all?

5. Remind yourself
Two reminders to put inside your head.
           
The first is to remember that the greatest writers of all time have been rejected and, once published, slammed in a review.
Thomas Bailey Aldrich, writing in the Atlantic Monthly in 1892, said of Emily Dickinson, “An eccentric, dreamy, half-educated recluse in an out-of-the-way New England village—or anywhere else—cannot with impunity set at defiance the laws of gravitation and grammar. Oblivion lingers in the immediate neighborhood.”
           
Nothing of Mr. Aldrich, to my knowledge, remains in print.
           
An unnamed editor returned Tony Hillerman’s first Navajo detective manuscript to him, with a note: “If you insist on rewriting this, get rid of all that Indian stuff.”
           
When you get a rejection or bad review, remember you’re in very good company.
           
And then remind yourself constantly that you are a writer, because you write. There are many more people who do not write yet feel perfectly at ease sniping at those who do. When such a snipe comes your way, know that you are the one putting yourself on the line, opening a vein, walking the tightrope, singing a solo under hot lights. You are part of a courageous bunch who are all about doing. Teddy Roosevelt’s famous advice applies to writers:
“It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena . . . who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat.”
Get in the arena. Go at your writing with all the devotion and love and enthusiasm you have. When the darts of rejection or criticism come your way, keep writing. You will stop them with Rhino skin, and keep right on charging ahead.

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Handling Rejection

James Scott Bell

There’s an old Peanuts cartoon, where Snoopy is reading a rejection letter which says Please don’t send us any more. Please, please!
With a wry smile, Snoopy thinks, “I love to hear an editor beg.”
That’s one way to handle rejection.
There are others. We all know rejection is part of this crazy business. Whether it’s agent or editor, the default setting is to say No. Which means you have to find a way to handle the inevitable.
The best way is by continuing to write and submit. Here are a couple of quotes I like on the subject:
Let rejection hurt for a half hour, no more.  Then get back to your word processor. –Jacqueline Briskin
Never assume that a rejection of your stuff is also a rejection of you as a person. Unless it’s accompanied by a punch in the nose. — Ron Goulart
No matter how many rejections you’ve received, it’s probably not as many as Jack London, who apparently had a whole trunk full. Or Stephen King, who put his on a spike on the wall until the papers were falling off. They persevered to publication.
You can also look through the legions of rejections famous writers have received. The little book Rotten Rejections (Andre Bernard, ed.) has some gems.
A rejection of Tony Hillerman’s first Navajo detective novel: “If you insist on rewriting this, get rid of all that Indian stuff.”
Or this, for George Orwell’s Animal Farm: “It is impossible to sell animal stories in the United States.”
Maybe the most famous rejection was penned by Samuel Johnson: “Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good.”
So there you go. It’s universal. It happens. The key is how you handle it.
How do you? Does rejection follow you around like a bad smell, or are you able to get past it and back to the keyboard?

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A Tribute to Michael Crichton


It’s been a tough few weeks for fiction. We’ve recently lost some of our greats, including Tony Hillerman, Elaine Flinn, and yesterday, Michael Crichton.

While I had never had the privilege of meeting Crichton, when I opened my Yahoo page and saw his obituary, I experienced the sort of shock you normally feel when you’ve lost an acquaintance.

May of 1993. I had just finished writing my senior thesis, a series of short stories based on my Grandfather’s WWI diaries. I actually finished the book a few days early, shockingly enough (and, as my editor would assure you, not at all true to form). Connecticut was in the full throes of spring, and on a warm, sunny day I brought a copy of Jurassic Park onto the lawn in front of the library and dove in. I generally didn’t read thrillers, but the back cover copy had lured me with the promise of a complete escape from the tomes I’d been struggling with for eight semesters.
And I was completely swept away. That book was such a breath of fresh air, I was riveted. What a genius concept: a theme park, with real dinosaurs created from ancient DNA preserved in amber. It hooked me, and from then on I was a devout thriller fan.

Despite the fact that I didn’t agree with all of his political stances, you have
to admire a man who never shied away from hot button issues. And Crichton undeniably possessed the Midas touch, prior to JK Rowling storming on to the scene he was the most successful author in the world. It can be argued that he not only revitalized the techno-thriller, paving the way for the success of Douglas Preston, Lincoln Child, and James Rollins, but he also made medical dramas sexy again with ER. In addition to his novels, he collaborated on screenplays for films like “Twister.” He was remarkably prolific, once claiming to churn out 10,000 words a day. As someone who considers herself fortunate to clock 10,000 words in a week, that’s simply staggering.
Not to mention the fact that he was once chosen as one of People’s 50 Most Beautiful People, a title that few writers have possessed (shall we call it the “paper ceiling?”)
A remarkable writer, and a remarkable person. He will be missed.

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