Guest Post: Lydia Sharp

Today marks my 100th post on this blog.

For my 50th post I had my husband host  and to celebrate today’s spectacular milestone I’ve asked blogger extraordinaire, Lydia Sharp, to host.

Lydia and I met last December when we both won a coveted guest hosting spot on the blog, Pimp My Novel. Her article, Ideas that Sell Are Not Always Groundbreaking, showcased her immense talent so of course I wanted her for my 100th post!

And now, without further ado, here’s Lydia…

Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway

I was an extremely shy child, all the way through high school. My mother, I remembered, used to tell stories about how wild she’d been in her younger years. This wasn’t difficult for me to imagine because, in her older years, she didn’t seem to be any less wild, or any more wise, just… older. The middle daughter of three (I have an older brother as well, but for the sake of the female reference here, we won’t count him), I am the one that most resembles my mother. But, obviously, I’d been blessed with my father’s socially awkward personality.

This posed a problem for me growing up. I had striking physical features (voted “best eyes” in sixth grade, just saying) without the typical flamboyance to bring me to my full potential, which is, of course, the ability to get whatever I want, as my mother (usually) did.

Her cure for this was to force me into situations where I had to speak up. This, of course, terrified me to tears, or sometimes just made me freeze, like a possum playing dead, hoping she would feel sorry for me and take over the task, whatever it happened to be. And, as I can see when I look back on it now, these were not overly-complicated things she’d ask me to do. They were all simple, such as going up to the fast-food counter to ask for a drink refill.

Still, there were times when I just couldn’t do it. And I’ll never forget the words she said to me one day while I sat across from her at a table, staring into her big brown doe eyes that looked just like mine except for their color. She said, “Feel the fear and do it anyway.”

So I did. And from that day on, that was all I had to tell myself to get the job done.

Don’t get me wrong, I still had major issue with speaking up and/or defending myself when necessary. And, even as an adult who now has no trouble ordering food from a drive-through window or face-to-face with a waiter, I still want to vomit at the thought of giving a public address of some sort. But if I need to, I will. I feel the fear and do it anyway.

By this point, I’m sure you’re wondering what all this has to do with writing. Well, actually, it has nothing to do with writing, and everything to do with rejection. Yep. The R word. The word that can single-handedly make an otherwise talented writer give up on the craft altogether, or question his/her well-practiced skills to the point of destroying their hard work. Or, the most common, is that pesky little R word makes perfectly nice people turn into industry-hating monsters. “Down with the system!” they cry, when what they’re really thinking is, “Why aren’t I good enough?”

That, my friends, is a question that I liken to a coconut (odd, I know, but just hear me out). Coconuts are delicious, are they not? But have you ever tried to crack one open? It takes time, a great deal of effort, and an analyzation of technique that involves trial and error until you finally succeed. So when you ask yourself, “Why aren’t I good enough?” you’re trying to crack this coconut, and it’s damn hard to get it open, but once you do, the pay-off is downright scrumptious.

I’m coming up on my two-year anniversary of when I started writing toward publication, which isn’t that long, really, when you think about it. But I would attribute at least some of my small success to constantly trying to crack that coconut. How can I improve? What can I do to make this better? Or, when I’m sure a story is great, but still getting rejections, I ask, Am I pitching this to the right people?

That last one is probably the toughest, and is what makes this business so frustrating at times. Market research helps but we can’t read people’s minds, and we can’t control what other submissions they are receiving at the same time as ours. And this is why many in the industry say that getting published or “making it big” is a result of luck.

Luck? No. I refuse to believe that.

It’s easy to say that things come about for intangible reasons when you can’t see everything that has led up to it, the “behind the scenes”, so to speak. From an outside standpoint, it certainly does give the impression that someone is an overnight success, but I know that’s not the case, because I’m currently living those “behind the scenes” moments that no one else sees.

As of the time I’m writing this, May 2010, five months into the year, I have zero acceptances on my short story submissions. Zero. And every last one of those rejection letters threatens to drag me into a writer’s worst nightmare, the pit of Non-Writing Hell, or the Let’s Give Up Writing For Life Club, and those are both scary, scary places to be.

Even scarier, though, is getting up the nerve to throw yourself in front of the firing squad again by sending out more submissions, because every rejection you add to your pile is like another twist of the knife in your heart of dreams. I prefer to view them as notches in my belt, or rites of passage, telling myself, I’ve gotten this far, I’ve earned these heartaches, and I’m still standing on the ground, I haven’t fallen, there’s nowhere to go but up.

Sometimes that isn’t good enough, though. Sometimes all I can tell myself is, Feel the fear and do it anyway. So I do. And so far, it’s worked; I’m still going. This is not an insurmountable task we writers are striving to accomplish, and as long as you keep trying, you never truly fail.

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19 thoughts on “Guest Post: Lydia Sharp

  1. Lydia: It helps to hear what you have to say and to remind ourselves daily, this is a long, difficult journey.

    The inner conflict brought on by rejection can throw us into a panic. I hear other writers in groups say, they are sick of it and they self-publish.

    I do not want to denegrate those who self-publish because there are several good reasons for this to work.

    But, I am a hard and fast New Yorker and I see my goal, as far away as it is. You have more courage and have sent out more times. I mull over each submission as if I’ve finally found the one. then twenty-four hours later … bam!

    I think I broke a rejection record, getting a “not right for me” rejection ten minutes after submission. Part of that is not submitting to the right people, so I am getting better at that.

    YOur advice makes us feel that we are not alone on this journey and I thank you for sharing you persoal story.

    Florence

  2. Thanks for sharing that, Florence. 🙂
    I think I have you beat, though, for the quickest rejection: three minutes.

    Not. Kidding. I hadn’t even had a chance to log-off my email before it came through. Haha.

  3. Lydia, your words have been twisting inside of me like a sharpened corkscrew. How did you know? I started feeling it after just three months, so I can’t imagine how I’ll feel in another year or two.

    I am, however, uplifted constantly by our awesome and generous writerly community, and I’m so amazed at everyone’s willingness to share information and encouragement, despite the fact we should all be competitors.

  4. We may technically be competitors, Angela, but the writing industry is so vast, and (most of) the people are so kind and supportive, it really doesn’t feel like a competition 99% percent of the time.
    Thanks for sharing your thoughts, and good luck to you!

  5. Another excellent post, Lydia. I wish someone had given me that advice years ago. Late or not, it’s still good to hear. Maybe I’ll stitch it up into a wall-hanging to remind me when I need it. You are an inspiring person by example, reminding me that it’s time to get back to work on my story so that I can finally have something ready to start my rejection pile.

  6. Excellent post.

    I wonder how many truly brilliant novels or short stories will never be seen because of fear?

    Rather than fearing rejection, I look on it as affirmation that I am doing something about my dream.

  7. Well said, Lydia. And just to know that another is standing in the same place, with the same dread and the same stubborn refusal to give up that spot that you’ve claimed for yourself, it makes it a whole lot easier to stand there ourselves.

    And Brad, yeah, I’ve wondered that, too. We all know lines from Emily Dickinson, and yet she early on decided not to send out any more of her works. If not for her sister-in-law finding those poems and sharing them, all those poems would’ve been lost.

    In fact, I’m sure there’s been a dozen Great American Novels that have been lost for all time due to their authors being unable to move through the doubts, the rejection, the fear.

  8. Thanks to Lydia and everyone who stopped by to view, and in some cases comment on, this great post!
    Christi Corbett

  9. Not the “R” word! Lydia, I had the three-minute rejection too. The worst part was that it was the first time I had ever sent out any sort of query letter. I’ve also had a rejection where I mailed a letter on a Friday and got the rejection in the mail on Monday. Ouch. Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway has been a huge help to me too. After I read the book by that name by Susan Jeffers, I learned to apply it to all sorts of situations that I hadn’t thought to use it before. But, of course, it applies doubly to sending out queries and submissions.

  10. I used to get down when I recieved a rejection e-mail…or worse, when my query disappeared into the black hole of the agent’s inbox or slush pile.

    Now I try to keep a “zen” perspective; it will happen as it happens. My job is to write about things that interest me–and to do it to the best of my ability.

    I try to learn something from each new project, and then I submit my work until it sells–or until I realize why it isn’t selling. A failure with a lesson attached is a dearly won victory.

    And that’s it…nothing else is required of me. I’m doing something I enjoy, something that challenges me like no other activity.

    Jeff C

  11. Congratulations on your 100th, Christi, and thanks to Lydia for her encouraging post. Rejection is a big subject in the writing community because it’s inevitable that we all have to deal with it. It’s a prerequisite to publication. Remember the saying, “If you can’t stand the heat, stay out of the kitchen?” If we truly love the writing life and insist on hanging onto the goal of publication we have to be prepared to accept the accompanying challenges and disappointments. Most published authors will tell you that the key to success is persistence.

  12. Your phrase about fear just reminded me of something – the Bene Gesserit ‘Litany Against Fear’ in the Dune books:

    “I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will allow my fear to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone I will turn my inner eye to see its path. And where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

    Do that enough times, and you just might be holding an acceptance letter in your hand.

  13. Rejection is a horrible feeling in every part of life. When you have put so much into something. It can be potentially devastating. But look at it this way. There is a sort of good rejection that critiques your work and can make it better. And then there are those nasty letters from disgruntled editors who really want to write but can’t face their fears. Those people are not worth listening to. Keep up the good work, and never let fear get the best of you.

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