Magical Words, Windows, and Doors

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I am taking a break from writing with the five senses to rant about success in the arts and in life. Yes, I know the others have done so, and admirably, but it’s my turn.

I have a friend who teaches art in a public school and is aware that her job is in danger. I mean, like, really, is art important for a student’s future? NO! Of Course Not! No Way! So, cut that job! Just like we cut Phys Ed and all the other unimportant courses like music and band to make sure our kids learn only by rote and True & False and how to pass tests. To make sure that we totally destroy the ability of any child educated in the US to CREATE anything! God forbid that our students learn how to spell (California, are you listening?) or write in proper paragraphs (who needs that crap, anyway?) or draw or sing or play an instrument (you can’t make a living the arts, right? so teach everyone business) or work out to get rid of the extra tires our students are carrying, (have you seen the statistics???) or eat well (Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution). I’d say that our lawmakers should be taken out and shot for what they have done to the education system, except it would be a better punishment to make them go back to school for a semester, especially in a school system that is predominately welfare/Medicaid/Medicare/public-housing/food-stamp students. You know—the kids who need art and lifestyle opportunities the most, yet, who act out in class or fall asleep or steal because they have nothing and are taught no better at home. Yeah — teaching is easy.

No. The rant is not over. Because that touches only on the students. Let’s talk about the teachers. The people who *only* work nine months a year and teach *only* five classes a day, and yet spend *hours* talking to parents, and doing lunchroom duty, and after-class bus duty, and detention, and talking more to parents and dealing with disturbed children who are being abused in the home or who live in households with addicted parents or single parents working three jobs to pay the rent. Those same teachers who take college classes (out of their own pockets) the months they are *off* to remain certified. Who work 50 hour weeks at mind-numbing jobs trying to educate and discipline our youth into responsible adults.

My wonderful, artsy friend bent my ear for a while last night about the résumés she has sent out and how her stomach is in knots about her future. It sounded so much like the knotted tummies of writer friends who are losing publishers because they don’t sell 100,000 copies of a thriller and hit the bestseller lists on the second book. That will-I-have-a-future-in-this-business feeling.

And I came back with this. “You know that story about God never letting a door close without opening a window? That’s bull poopy. (Yes, I said poopy. She’s a teacher, for heaven’s sake.) What you have, is not one, single, solitary window. You send out lots of résumés, and each one is an opportunity, like a glow through a thousand windows. Some are open, some are closed, and you will find your perfect window as time leads you closer to the brilliance. (Which sounds a lot like walking toward the light, but she didn’t notice and I didn’t point that out.) You have friends who care for you and will put in a good word here and there. And in your new job, maybe you can do *your* art as well as teaching others. It is the glow of opportunity. Try to remember that, okay?”

Similar advice goes to our readers here. Some of you are getting your first rejections. (I’ve heard from several of you over the last month.) You thought your were ready for them. You thought your heart was prepared. But you thought you’d get a 2 or 3 week lag between sending off a query and getting a rejection. Or you thought it would come back with a, “Thank you. It sounds promising but it isn’t for us.” Or a, “We are not taking any new submissions right now. Please retry in 12 months.” Or something well written and kind with the words, “Good luck,” at the end. Instead, you get a 24 hour turnaround with a form rejection note (not a letter, a note) that reads something like, “Thank you. No.” Or, worse, “Thnks you no,” with misspelling and lack of punctuation. From an agent or editor!

It hurts. It digs deep under your skin like a cactus spine or irritates like poison ivy. It *hurts*. Well, you can’t see it now, but we have all been there. We understand. We are here for you, being that bright glow on the horizon that is the sun shining through a thousand windows. One is open for you. It really is. But don’t hang your hopes on one particular window. Throw out lots of queries, lots of proposals. And keep writing! Start something new! Each rejection is an opportunity to learn, to hone your letters, to hone your skill at the business end of the writing business. Okay, they are going to come and they are going to hurt, so be ready to accept rejection. But also be ready to grab the window sash and throw yourself into the light of opportunity. And remember to savor the small successes. Each one has its own glow.

Faith

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25 comments to Magical Words, Windows, and Doors

  • I have been savoring the small successes this past year, Faith. I landed my first 4-the-luv sale to an ezine. It wasn’t for pay but it was nice to have someone say “I enjoyed this, let me include this in my ezine.” I took it for what it was and savored it.

    Now just recently, I sold my first story for actual money. It wasn’t a lot of money and amounts to a nice dinner at Denny’s, but it was a sale for money. The thought that someone paid me for one of my stories and other readers in turn will pay money to read my story blows my mind. It is a small success, but I savor it nonetheless.

    I hope I always will.

  • Whoot! Go Mark! I remember my first sale — I won a contest for a college’s literary magazine. Actual money and my story in print. I glowed for a year!

  • Regann

    As a former teacher, I think I actually agree with you on your point about the importance of creative/non-core subjects that our schools have been losing for over a decade, but it’s hard for me to tell through the massive amounts of privileged fail in your post. First, there is the unnecessary fat shaming of obese children (extra tires? really?) which I can’t help but boggle at, especially when you follow it with a reference to Jaime Oliver, making me wonder if all of your information on childhood nutrition comes from a sensationalist reality show.

    But that is nothing compared to the extreme amounts of classicism reeking from your description of children in lower-income/state-assisted homes (nice lumping together of every public assistance program ever, by the way) as misbehaving thieves who “are taught no better at home.” That is a terrible, damaging and UNTRUE stereotype of the highest order and I’m flabbergasted to see it repeated uncritically here. I’m going to hazard a guess that you actually don’t have much first-hand experience with children who come from lower-class/state-assisted households or the schools we attend. And if you do, your own privilege has blinded you to the real problems in those schools — underfunding, teachers who are usually the least trained and/or least accomplished, apathetic administrators and so-called “zero tolerance” policies which make it frighteningly easy to shuffle kids they don’t want to deal with out of the system quickly.

    Obviously, I don’t follow this blog (which I have been doing for 2 years now) for anything more than its discussion on writing, but it’s hard to deal with being slapped in the face with harmful, unexamined stereotypes which serve no rhetorical purpose and overshadows what might’ve been solid advice.

  • Faith, also let’s not forget the hours teachers spend off the clock grading papers, planning lessons, etc, at home. My brother and my stepmother both taught High School English so I saw a lot of what they had to do for how little they were paid.

    The biggest thing that bothered me about the form rejections I’ve received is that I didn’t know what I might be doing wrong, if anything, and didn’t know what to fix. The one that was really surprising was the one I got back in the space of not even 24 hours. It was a nice form rejection, but surprising. Had another that was a really nice one, apologizing for sending a form rejection, but encouraging me to keep sending. Each rejection had me going in and revising my query letter kind of blind, but figuring it wasn’t quite enough to grab attention. I understand why the form rejection is necessary, on many levels, time being the biggest, but I’m one of those who always liked to know the why so I can do better next time. On the upside, I did get a request for more recently, so my fingers are crossed again. :)

  • One of the mottos I try to live by is “When one door closes, another one opens” (from Robert Moss). There are gatekeepers to many things. Some are better left closed for us. I feel that when we can handle the power, and channel the lightning, the right gates will be opened for us. It is a matter of growing the ability to be able to ground the creative electricity.

  • Regann, I am dying laughing here. You clearly did not read the post I wrote. And while I usually ignore insulting replies, for once I will defend myself. Your errors are:
    1. I have only 2 years of higher ed. Classicism? (giggling here)
    2. I WORK in one of the lowest “class” counties in South Carolina and it is FULL of the people I am describing. Obesity and diabetes in children is rampant because the food that is allowed on food stamps is high fat crap. I work in a hospital lab. I work on the kids and the adults who come in *constantly* with health issues related directly to diet. I see it. Clearly you don’t, or perhaps you are unaware of the increasing body/mass index and changing insulin levels in our society.
    3. I have extra tires. It isn’t an insult, it is the reality of an overweight, under-exercised, over-stressed society. Few of us exercise enough to stay healthy. This is a fact.
    4. I am not sure what “privileged fail” means. Maybe I’m too stupid.
    5. Jamie Oliver is part of our culture. Get over it.
    He is at least trying to do something instead of sitting on his butt bitching about it.
    6. Lady, I am NOT privileged. I work two jobs — up to 90 hours a week — to make ends meet. I live in a house that needs repair and have family members with health and financial issues. PRIVILEGED????
    Everyone is entitled to a rant now and again. Yours was rude but amusing.

  • Yippee Daniel!
    Hmmm. When I have the energy, we’ll do a query day here, and let people post queries to be critiqued.

    Justin, This made me cry! >> Some are better left closed for us. I feel that when we can handle the power, and channel the lightning, the right gates will be opened for us.>>
    Yes yes yes!

  • Regann

    You’re right. If you think having a house that needs repairs or working to support yourself or family members with health problems makes you non-privileged, then, yes, you don’t understand what I mean by privileged, just like you also don’t seem to understand what I mean by classist. And it’s not because you’re “too dumb,” it’s because you live in a world where you don’t have to understand how damaging these stereotypes are. That is what I mean by privilege — the kind of privilege talked about in social justice circles.

    BTW, privilege fail means exactly that: failing to check your own privilege when writing sweeping statements about individuals without those same privilege.

    Nothing I said was meant to be insulting. I was just pointing out a fact — that you repeated hurtful and trite generalizations that only detract from the message you’re trying to convey. I generally find this blog inoffensive and amusing, but what you said here is hurtful and demeaning to people (like myself) who come from lower income/state-assisted households who do not take well to being characterized as kids who act out because they aren’t taught better at home.

    If you don’t care that you’ve insulted at least one reader and probably many more who will never have the guts to write out a comment lest they be accused of being rude, that’s fine. But criticism is not automatically rude and insulting just because you don’t like it. I would assume a published author would know that by now.

  • Regann and Faith, I think both of you need to step back and take a long, deep breath. Both of you are responding passionately to the same problems, and are, I’m afraid talking past one another. Regann, I don’t believe that Faith was saying that every kid on federal/state assistance is a thief any more than you were saying that every teacher in low-income schools is poorly trained and every administrator in these schools is apathetic. You are both pointing out, correctly, that public schools in this country desperately need to have enrichment programs (art, music, phys.ed., etc.) to enrich what has become a rote, dry, test-driven curriculum. You are both making the point that teaching is hard work, that the current assault on teachers that we see in Ohio, Wisconsin, my own state of Tennessee, and lots of other places, is misguided, unjust, and politically expedient.

    Sometimes it’s hard in a blog post of 800 words, or a reply comment of 400 words, to bring in all the nuance and clarity we’d like. Let’s try to keep in mind that if the two of you were to sit down and actually speak in person, you’d find that you have far, far more in common than this exchange suggests. Teachers work harder for less pay and under more difficult conditions than just about any public sector employees I can imagine. Clearly, you both believe that. And I think that was the point Faith was making in her opening graphs.

  • I was trying to think of a way to say what David just said.

  • Hepseba ALHH

    Also, Faith was giving examples of problems faced, to varying degrees, by some kids, not trying to suggest that all underprivileged kids are like that. Even those of us who grew up in relatively privileged areas can probably think of ONE kid in our class who fit much of those descriptions. To most of us, art/etc. programs were wonderful and enriching, but to that one kid they might have actually been life-saving. That is why it is important to point those problems out when discussing enrichment programs. Society has an obligation to every single one of its members.

  • I was trying to think of a way of saying what A J just said.

    No, wait…

  • You’re right about Faith. Believing in yourself and keeping going. Always keeping going.

  • Faith> Thanks for this and for the support you’ve given over the past few days, especially, and the past few weeks in general. I am one of the ones going through the rejections and it is hard. I’m going to post about how I feel in the hopes that maybe there are other folks there who feel this way, too. Somehow rejection always make me (and maybe others) feel alone.

    I thought I was okay with the coming rejection. I was wrong. I realized that I’m ready for someone (I think) to reject my *work.* That is, to say “I don’t like the novel…” But I’m not quite settled with the “nope, don’t even want to read it” that query rejections are. So, the past week or so has been rough.

    BUT out of it came a much better query letter. So there ya go. And more queries were sent out last night, looking for a lit and open window to shimmy into.

    And, on the other topic, fwiw, as a college prof (and there are others around here), and as one at an institution with its fair share of remediation, I see first hand the struggles that my students have. I see the results of their education woes. I even had a student write a paper on the failure of “No Child Left Behind” in her own life. The irony? It was a very poor paper. The student knows she is ill prepared and is trying to combat it (which is good) but it is a long uphill battle for her.

    I know that the teachers struggle, work hard, all of that. I also know that something is broken, and one of the results is that my students desperately struggle to write, and, even worse, to think and read critically.

    I didn’t read Faith’s post as bashing or stereotyping as much as acknowledging the worst struggles that people face. Maybe its my own privledge, but I also know that even the students I have who are “privledged” fail to have basic thinking skills.

  • Not much left to do but second David and everyone else who seconded him. This is an important subject, something I hope it doesn’t get lost as people fight passionately for the same thing.

  • Definitions of privilege and such are ratholes that I’d rather avoid, so back to teachers and writing.

    One of the best ways to get ahead in life is to apply creativity. The creation of music, art (even if it’s commercial art), theater, text…those can make one successful in some cases. But people are driving their kids towards the big money makers. Business, biotechnology, computers…you can’t truly be successful in those without applying creativity. Having a good understand of people can be critical in those fields as well. Good communication skills? Absolutely. And where do you learn those skills? Art, theater, music, writing. Astounding that people can be so narrow minded. Oh, and you don’t have the energy to succeed if you’re unhealthy.

    I think our cultural drive towards specialization is part of this. Everyone has to be ‘the best’ at one thing. It’s better to have a PhD in the cultural anthropology of the Kingdom of Axum between 90 and 120 AD than to have a BA in creative writing, a BA in mathematics and an interest in pottery and mechanical engineering.

    Personally, I find I ideas from creative writing and metalworking can be transferred to software engineering, so I rather like being a generalist (renaissance woman).

    I do have hope that people know this instinctively, and perhaps we’ll find other outlets to expand our interests. Maybe teachers in the arts and artists can find other ways to make a living. Tutelage of people who want to learn those skills perhaps.

    I wish I had more opportunities to find that kind of help. Learning to write is hard.

  • I lost my school librarian job last year, when my school district had to cut jobs in order to make up a 12 million dollar shortfall. Sure I sold a book, but as anyone who’s been in or around this business knows, that doesn’t make me rich, or even comfortable. I was facing a terrifying time ahead. But my friends helped me to see that my new life deserved a celebration instead of mourning. A photograph of a brilliant light shining through an open door hangs next to my writing desk, to remind me that there is always another chance.

    It’s easy to pounce on a word or a phrase and yank peoples’ attention away from the important point. Which is that when rejection comes to you, take a deep breath and try again. Fortune favors the brave, so be brave.

  • Perseverance is bravery, keep the arts in education, and cool heads prevail. Check. Check. Check.

    I’m heading for a drink at the MW virtual bar and the first round is on me. Any takers?

    -NGD

  • Faith – on rejection and looking for the other windows. Thank you so much! My lunch “break” routine is to eat while reading student papers, then check email, then read MW. It’s my little moment of break in the day. But reading email today meant that I literally read a rejection from an agency just before I opened MW. And it was a 24 hour turn around, thanks but no thanks form letter. At least this one tried to be kind. The words of encouragement and advice you offer are so essential.

    And thank you too for defending teachers and the arts. I’m a teacher of LA school district graduates and they are heartbreakingly ignorant. As their freshman writing teacher I often crush their self images their first semester by showing them just how far from prepared for college they are. Mind you, these are the “bright” ones, the ones who were told they should go to college, the ones who had the grades from HS to get into our private school. I can’t imagine how poorly prepared their non-college headed peers must be. My freshman writing class right now is full of students who are eager, interested, engaged and full of potential. But they have been taught virtually nothing, not content or skills.

    @ Regann – I know you’re using the jargon of the internet here, but may I, as a rhetoric teacher, point out that you’ll get a better hearing if you don’t use expressions like “full of fail” when engaging someone else on this board? It comes off as very rude. Also, those of us who have met Faith personally know that she is neither out of touch nor lacking in compassion for the needy. She is one of the most generous people I know and her outrage was directed at the school districts, not the students who suffer from the schools’ poor education. Stats will show you that obesity is more common among the American poor and more common among the ill-educated. Ditto juvenile delinquency and drop out rates. It’s not an attack on fat children to point out that cutting school nutrition programs and gym classes only worsens the problem. I see these facts daily – LA and its environs are full of areas called urban food deserts where the only food readily available to people who don’t own cars is fast food and premade snack food, all of it bad for you. This promotes both nutrition deficiency and obesity, even among those who would eat better if they could manage it. As some one who grew up dependent on WIC and other gov’t food programs I can tell you that even well educated people like my own mom struggle mightily to find nutritional food for their kids when bound by a lack of disposable income and access to farmer’s markets and high end grocery stores.

  • Being one of those poor who learned in inner-city schools in Columbus, Ohio (if you try, you can, actually) and lived within shooting distance (literally) of the bad areas, I can tell you right away why there’s more obesity in the poor. Healthier foods-cost-more. It’s the exact problem we’re facing now with my wife needing to cut carbs, sugar, etc, etc. You can buy pasta and other carbs per metric ton for cheap, but fresh foods, foods without preservatives, and foods without added sugar or other crap that frankly, isn’t needed, cost a lot more. More than they really should, IMO.

  • Razziecat

    Faith, thanks for the encouraging words about rejection. Perhaps we should think of it as “declined” instead of “rejected,” since the latter word somehow seems more of a personal attack.

    Not touching the rest except to say I have friends who are teachers. They are the hardest-working people I know. In many places, nothing will improve until the teachers, parents and community leaders come together and oust the administrators whose only concern is money, not the wellbeing of the students. One bright note: Sometimes local artists can do a lot to help. Here is one example: http://www.musicisart.org/ (click on Instrument Drive to see what one musician has created to help).

  • I ended up using losing my real paying chemistry job (as I have a degree in that) to push my writing timeline up. I just submitted my first bit of writing today (though it was a 4.5k short about unicorns that went to a free web publishing group that is looking for examples of “story arc” but still, it’s a step forward :))

  • Faith, I couldn’t agree more about windows and doors. I’ve found it true for many aspects of my life. Back in college, when I finally got the courage to ask out the guy I’d had a crush on for over a year, he said, “I’m off the market.” I took a minute to let that sink in, then shook my head in frustration and signed up for an Internet dating service. Right off the bat, I met someone. We’ve been together for nine years and married almost four. And then, a few years ago, when I didn’t get the library job I had been desperately pursuing, a new one came up that I was told was “just the job you take until something else opens up”. But it turned out that I found even more job satisfaction there.

    Rejection hurts, but we have the power to make our own luck. I try to remember that I’ve done it before and when it comes to writing, I can do it again.

  • RazzieCat: Declined instead of Rejected? That’s brilliant!

    Daniel: It’s a shame the canned responses can’t at least include a canned reason. Maybe a set of checkboxes:

    [_] Query not compelling
    [_] Too small a market
    [_] Not our market
    [_] We have too many titles like this already
    [_] Unacceptable subject matter
    [_] Story needs work
    [_] _________________________________

    At least you’d have an idea of what their gripe is!

  • Young_Writer

    That was very powerful. It makes me appreciate my school’s art and music programs. I don’t think I’m ready quite yet for rejection, but I’ve dealt with tough criticism before.

    (I am reading the Jane Yellowrock series. They surpassed my expectations by an incredible amount. Considering I read all of your amazing posts, they were very high. I can’t wait to get Mercy Blade! Please keep writing!)