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Journal Entry

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Blogging the struggle

When I started this here endeavor of speaking to the online world at large about my writing life, I had sold one story, three months before. It was another three months before I sold a second. I was not yet a father. I had not gone to Clarion West. Unless you count, like, acquaintances of my parents I had met as a child, I don't think I'd ever met another published writer in person.

I was very interested in recording, in these virtual pages, what it would be like to have a writing life. I had begun to meet some writing people online. (I had apparently met someone at the Literaturhaus Basel, it says at that last link, but I can't for the life of me recall whom).

So in those days, I spent a lot of time blogging (though we didn't call it that yet) about writing. What I was revising. Whom I was critiquing. What I had sent out, and where it had been rejected from, with what sort of a rejection. What I was stuck on. What I was trying to figure out.

There are a lot of reasons why I've gotten cagier.

A big one is a reluctance to kiss and tell. Now that I actually know editors, and they actually read my blog, it seems in very poor taste to say "Editor X hated this, I could send it to Editor Y, but I think I'll first see what Editor Z has to say."

On some level this is a loss. A Clarion friend was asking me today "after how many rejections do you give up on a story?" and so I told the story of "A Siege of Cranes". If you were following this journal that long, you would have seen me finish the first draft of that story in January of 2001, revise it in February , send it to F&SF in June, send it to Black Gate in September, observe by May 2003 that "it doesn't have all that many appropriate pro markets left" and in August of that year that "no one will buy" it... and finally sell it in February of 2006 to David Moles who, with characteristic insight, saw what it could be and (gently) harangued me into revising it accordingly for Twenty Epics, and now folks like it.

(So the answer to "after how many rejections do you retire a story?" is this: you retire a story when you are too embarassed of it to want to see it published any more. Here's the test: when you receive the rejection letter in the mail, close your eyes and imagine your favorite editor calling you and saying "oh my god, you know that story? It's fantastic! I HAVE to have it! Please please pretty please?" If you would sell it to her after such a phone call... then it goes into the next manila envelope. If you would demur... then you are allowed to retire it.)

It's an instructive parable. But I wouldn't be telling it about something I write these days, because I don't want any editor reading in my blog about how so-and-so rejected my story... and then finding that story in the next day's mail. It just seems rude.

Then, too, I found that for some things -- notably the novel, variably called Crimp or Library of Souls, that died on me, and which... um, holy mackerel, stop the presses! I've written this same entry before, down to the very phrase "kiss and tell"!

Huh. How do you like that.

Well, anyway... when Library of Souls died in 2004, I felt it had been... overexposed. I felt the weight of the expectations of everybody to whom I had crowed, in jubilant surety, "we're almost done with the book!" It was very depressing. So I didn't want to invite so much attention to things not all the way done, things not sure of survival.

Like, you know how you don't, traditionally, tell people about the first trimester of a pregnancy? So that if you're going to miscarry, you can miscarry in peace?

But not talking about trouble and dismay, dead ends and trashed story beginnings and terror, makes this blog, frankly, duller. Pictures of kids, this story will appear here. Cute things said by kids, this story has been translated. Pictures of kids, this story is nominated for the Whosiwhatsis award. Cute things said by kids, rant about the suspension of habeas corpus. Etc.

Maybe it's time to peek out a little from behind the door.

So there's this novel I'm working on. It's a sequel to "Droplet". It may or may not be the first thing I sell, but it is (I have decided) the thing that, for now, I will write.

Novels scare the crap out of me. But, since, as you know, I am all about the spreadsheets, I have a spreadsheet -- inspired by David Moles's novel-writing spreadsheet -- for this novel. It is here and it says that, as of today, the first draft will be done on November 10th, 2007, at the rate I'm going, or on July 24th, 2007, were I to write 500 words per weekday from now until then. You can keep clicking on that link, to see how I'm doing.

There. Whew. That wasn't so bad.

Posted by benrosen at February 20, 2007 12:02 AM | Up to blog

Actually, I like your 'cute things said by kids' entries. But then, I'm partial to kids.

Most of the really worthwhile things I've done in life have scared the crap out of me. (like having kids, for instance ;o)

You could change the date to November 1st; that way, if you haven't kept to your schedule, you could join the nanowrimo and *force* yourself. (why is there no "wicked smiley face icon" button on this keyboard?)

Anyway, loads of people are behind you and wishing you success (including me, in my distant cyber way.)

I'm off to provoke my first rejection slip, which scares the crap out of me...

Posted by: susan at February 20, 2007 07:18 AM

Dude, I can so relate to this. I've been having lots fo the same thoughts myself. I cringe-cringe-cringe for having posted about a novel that now sits in a drawer, but doing this MFA thing and thinking about writing (and writing) all the time, I'm thinking I have to pull back the curtain a little more again too. Or the blog will sort of die.

Maybe I need a spreadsheet.

Posted by: Gwenda at February 20, 2007 11:11 AM

my rant about habeas :)

due to the suspension of habeas corpus (thanks to the Military Commissions Act) there is no legal recourse for detainees of the United States. the lawyers for hospital administrator Adel Hamad, a detainee at Guantanamo, thus took the unprecedented step of releasing video testimony on YouTube to the court of public opinion.

You can see this compelling video at:


you can also add your name in support of habeas restoration and read a blog posting by Brandon Mayfield, the U.S. citizen wrongfully incarcerated for the Madrid bombings who is now challenging the constitutionality of the Patriot Act in district court

join the project!

Posted by: david at February 20, 2007 11:25 AM

Aside from cute kid anecdotes (which I enjoy), you can also use your blog to hold philosophical debates. Those are fun, too.

Posted by: Ted at February 20, 2007 04:58 PM

Thank you Susan.

Amen sister, Gwenda.

Welcome, David, and thanks for the pointers.

I like them too, Ted. The trick is making some provocative assertion which is just dumb enough to provoke heated and articulate responses, without being dumb enough to cause everyone to turn away in disgust. I will try again soon, I promise. :-)

Posted by: Benjamin Rosenbaum at February 20, 2007 05:01 PM

It's a tough balance to figure out. For me, what feels right is to post public journal entries about the progress of the novels, which means that I feel encouraged and supported on the way (which feels absolutely necessary to me over 9-12 months of first-draft effort)...but of course that also means that not only have I posted about novels that never found an agent, but also about novels that fell apart after just three chapters.

On the other hand, I don't feel remotely comfortable posting about the whole submission process (for stories or novels), so the first time I mentioned my agent search online was when I announced that hooray, I'd found an agent! (Thus cutting neatly across two years' and 3 different novels' worth of effort.)

It's kind of like the standard question of when to tell people about a pregnancy - if there's a miscarriage in the first 3 months, would you rather get support while you grieve or have no one know it ever happened?

Posted by: Steph Burgis at February 21, 2007 04:26 AM

I love this entry, Ben. Looking forward to more posts about your process of writing this novel. And looking forward to reading it, too, cause I loved me som "Droplet". ;-)

Posted by: Christopher Barzak at February 23, 2007 05:19 PM

Well... Hmmm... That seems like a much better reason to blog... I started blogging to have a place where I can whine, complain and vent (in my defense, my goal was to place some negativity where it could be contained).

I think that the public-ness of your blog is admirable. There’s nothing wrong, though, with having a filter or a secret secondary blog. I have two blogs... One is mostly-private with a secret name and the other is more open. If you feel the need to be able to discuss more private things, it's a really good way to do so. Have a secret blog. There are perhaps writing friends or close friends of yours that you could give logins to who would enjoy being part of the process discussion that you would feel comfortable sharing that information with.

Oh, and I really like the kid stories! Keep those up... Just about a week ago, I was reading a newspaper article about ending youth imprisonment when this quote caught me, "Today, Imani is the campaign director for Books Not Bars and is on a mission to liberate all youth offenders." It made me think of Aviva and her tzedakah box.

Posted by: glynda at February 27, 2007 03:31 PM
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