To move forward, you kind of need to know where you’ve been.
I did something today that I think would benefit a lot of my fellow writers who are struggling. See, I save rejection letters. I know, sounds kind of morbid, but it's really very smart and helpful. I will admit that even with time, there's a sting to seeing those rejections, but there's a lot of information in those letters too. (Hint, if you don't do so, start saving your rejection letters in a nice neat folder.)
I got my rejection folder out today and put the rejections from publishers for each story in a pile of its own. Just the novel-length fiction stuff, since that's what I've decided to concentrate on.
I was shocked when I realized a lot of things by digging through those rejections. First, the pile for my last completed manuscript was small. I had only sent it out to publishers twice. Only two times! And, gulp, the last time was in 2002. That was a hard blow. It's 2008. That means in the last six years I haven't completed one novel-length story and haven't even sent my old fiction stuff out to one publisher.
Kind of hard to make a sale when the work is in your computer. (I've told that to hundreds of starting writers over the years. I always say, "Finish that manuscript, set it aside and double check your homework on where you are going to send it, give it a last polish, then get that query in the mail and get to work on that next manuscript. After all, you can't get published unless you finish the manuscript, often a number of them first, and send them out." That's very true.)
Too bad some where along the way I stopped listening to myself.
I learned some good things too though, by looking through my rejections. The ones from the last couple years I was submitting work was personal rejections with comments from the editors on what they felt worked and what they felt didn't. They were also mostly rejections on completes, since it seemed almost every query earned me a request for a complete or at least a partial. In other words, I was doing something right. I was getting some where.
By 2000, I hadn't written fiction for a number of years, doing freelance writing instead because it offered something fiction didn't--a steady paycheck that came every other week. In 2000 I went back to romance, but looking over my records I discovered I gave it a very short two year go, and then I lost my father, and put all writing aside for a while. I've started back a few times since then, but never really got the ball rolling. I got close a couple of times, and then something else big happened, and I just gave right in. I even went back to non-fiction a little over a year ago and completed a book, found an agent for it, and it's been shopped around. Still, I've done little more than start and stop with my fiction since I stopped writing it for fulltime non-fiction work.
The truth is, I'm not in my twenties any more. Okay, or my thirties. It's time to, excuse my French, but as my mom used to say, "It's time to piss or get off the pot." As I've mentioned before, I've tried to get off the pot, but it's like I've got an evil twin in me that loves writing and loves writing fiction best of all and won't let me forget about it.
That's why I sat down and went through those records today. I've been working hard on making fiction writing a daily -- at least five days a week anyway -- habit for me. It's not getting much easier, so I've decided I've got to be doing something wrong, or maybe I'm wrong, and I can walk away and just haven't tried hard enough. Before I toss in the towel on all of the years of work I've put into romance writing and helping other writers write it, I've decided to step back and take a long hard look at what has worked for me, what hasn't, and what I want and what my writing goals really are.
I started with those rejection letters today. If you are kind of in the same spot, that might be a good place for you to start too, even if you don't have them all in one folder, you probably have them jotted down or recall most of them. Maybe you even have better records, like of when you started each manuscript and when you completed it.
If you look over any of the dates above, and you find that they are way far apart, maybe like me, you need to get your ducks in a row, make a plan, set some goals, apply your butt to the chair and get to it -- or get off the pot.
Okay, so now I need a plan and a goal, oh, and some ducks.
To be continued....