Tag: PT

From The Vault: PT: Handling Rejection

This is as relevant today as it was five years ago. Also, I’ve been running this blog for over five years. Yikes.


I'll be watchin' you!

Maybe you got a letter. It could be something you received electronically. One way or another, a submission or entry upon which you’ve spent time and energy has been rejected. Now, I’m not talking about receiving constructive criticism. That’s always a good thing to get. Iron sharpening iron and all that. What I’m on about is the cold shoulder, either in the form of a bland photocopy of a generic letter or a complete and total lack of recognition for your efforts. It’s like fancying yourself a comedian, telling a joke and waiting for the laughs which never come. It breaks the heart and erodes the soul.

If you’re anything like me… well, you might need a shave. But in terms of this sort of thing, after a few rejection letters or seeing a publication for which you wished to contribute which doesn’t include what you sent, you probably went back over your submission with a fine-toothed comb. What did I do wrong? What could I have done differently? The questions inevitably leave to negative emotions. Maybe you’ll feel put out by the rejection, thinking your work isn’t good enough. There could be some frustration at the difference that ended up existing between what you envision and what you submitted. And maybe getting rejected for whichever time you’ve just been brushed off just pisses you off.

Good.

You will learn by the numbers! I will teach you!

Not to re-tread old ground, but I’ve said over and over that negative emotions do not need to lead to negative outcomes. There a lot of things you can do with your feelings. One thing you should not do, however, is sit on your ass. There’s work to be done.

Pop the hood on your work. Strip out parts that rattle or shake. In other words, take a look at your creation and figure out the parts that work. Maybe you have a character or two that really connect with readers, or you’ve gotten some feedback telling you that a particular passage really hammers home the good things about your writing. Maybe there’s that one shot in your portfolio that really jumps off the page.

What about it works? Why does it connect while the rest of the work falls away? Step back and examine the situation, the environment and the construction of the parts that work. Once you recognize what makes those portions successful, strip out everything else and rebuild the work around that core of goodness. This might mean you only need to make a couple small changes, or it might mean you need to all but start from scratch. Don’t fret, though: declaring a do-over could very well be a step in the right direction.

Cocoa

One thing you don’t want to do is rush. There’s no need. Take a deep breath. Make some cocoa. Instead of tearing down what you’ve done and smashing it around with a wrecking ball, lay it out and take a scalpel to it. In the course of doing so, you’ll find things that you’re proud of in spite of the rejection and you’ll also likely find something that makes you smile and shake your head in that “What the hell was I thinking?” sort of way.

It might also be the case that you can’t bear to look at the project that’s been so callously rejected. That’s understandable. But you still have a bunch of bad feelings that need to get vented. You have the old stand-by responses of games, movies, booze and cocoa but the best thing to do, in my opinion and experience, is to do something in the same creative vein to get you thinking about what your next step will be. It could be back to what caused you to feel this way or it could be in a new direction entirely. You won’t know, however, until you take that step.

Whatever you do, no matter how many things you find wrong with your work, no matter how much cocoa you drink, no matter how many rejections you’ll have to deal with in the future, don’t give up. You’re trying to do something new and different. Creative people are inevitably going to face a great deal of opposition because the environment out in the world is one where creativity is seen as a secondary concern to efficiency or profitability, if creativity is acknowledged at all. You want to be fast in your process, efficient in your use of energy, but it can be difficult to bang out work promptly if you’re wrestling with bad feelings or unsure of where to go next. Don’t worry about that. Worry about getting from bad to good first. Then worry about getting things out quickly.

Don’t quit. Especially if your ideas and the need to express them get you out of bed in the morning and motivate you to expend your time and energy of turning them into reality. Screw the rejection and the idea that your creativity doesn’t matter because it doesn’t help you file TPS reports more efficiently.

“Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and then go and do that. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.” – Harold Whitman

Drinking your cocoa from a mug of Shakespearean insults doesn’t hurt, either.

From the Vault: Turning Negatives into Positives

How’s NaNoWriMo going? Are you frustrated? Angry? Maybe feeling some despair? Read on. This might help.


I'll be watchin' you!

Nobody feels fantastic all the time, at least not without heavy drinking or severe medication. Creative people are, by and large, emotional and thus emotional blindsides getting hit can knock you right off of the rails you’d been riding towards the completion of a project. How do you deal with this sort of thing, other than reaching for the nearest bottle of hard liquor or happy pills?

You use it.

Instead of wallowing in the negative feeling, take it and run with it headlong into your project. If you’re unable to focus on the project, write something on the side that uses the feeling. Here are some examples.

Anger

I know I’ve covered using your anger previously, but invoking a Star Wars reference never gets old. Still, if something is making you furious, with fists and teeth clenched regardless of how other people are telling you how to react (doesn’t the words “Oh, you’re over-reacting” make you want to punch someone in the face?) you need to expend that energy, and preferably without damage to property or invoking personal injury lawsuits. If you’re a writer, what do you do?

Write a fight scene.

Get into the headspace of a person involved in a barroom brawl. Hell, write about someone starting said brawl. Did someone say something to a significant other you didn’t like? Is someone chatting up a friend of yours without permission? Not enough booze in your drink? Write about how it makes you feel, how the fury wells up inside you and how the sensation of wheeling around and letting someone have it right in the face touches off the kind of chair-breaking bottle-throwing grand melee unseen since the days of John Wayne.

You’ll probably feel a bit better, and nobody will be suing you.

Fear

Let’s face it. We’re all afraid of something. It could be bugs, rejection, alienation of friends, cars, bacteria, being laughed at, loneliness… I could go on. The bottom line is, sooner or later your fear is going to grab hold of you. Grab hold of it right back and go dancing.

Try a ghost story.

Something goes bump in the night. You catch an unfamiliar or unexpected motion in the corner of your eyes. The lights go out, and the shadows seem to grow to fill the empty space. Do you start sweating? Does your hand start to shake? How fast is your heart pounding? What voices do you hear? What do you imagine is lurking there in the darkness? It could just be the cat. It might be your spouse in the next room unaware that you’ve hit the light switch. Or it could be a phantasmal fiend from beyond the grave. Write it out and see where your fear takes you.

More than likely, it’s not a place as frightening as you thought it might be.

Despair

Despair, anxiety, paranoia… they’re all cut from the same cloth. “Should I have said that?” quickly becomes “I shouldn’t have said that,” which leads to “I’m an idiot for having said that.” Sure, sometimes you make a legitimate mistake and need to clean the egg from your face. Other times, something with good intentions turns out getting tossed under a steamroller paving the road to Hell. Whatever the cause, you’re left with this cloying feeling of inner doubt and depression, and you need to do something about it, otherwise it’s going to consume you.

Time to write a walk through the rain.

Rain is an evocative weather condition. The sky’s the color of gunmetal, the sun or stars hidden from view, the rain cold and relentless on the weary traveler and the wind makes sure that every surface of the body is wet. Yet people walk through it, alone with their thoughts. “What if I’m wrong? What could I have done to keep this from happening? How much have I lost, and can any of it be rescued? And what the hell am I going to do now?” Write through the thought process. Describe the rain drops, the thunder, the looks of people cozy in their warm homes or places of business, the way others are ignorant of your inner conflict. Work with the emotions. Coax them out of the shadows and into your hands where you can change them from a disability to an advantage.

Get To Work

No matter what you decide to do with your negative emotions, be it one of the above or simply focusing on a project at hand, the sooner you do it the better off you’ll be. This is experience talking here, folks – if you’re unable to shake off the darkness, if you let this sort of thing fester and grow unexpressed in your heart, it’ll creep into every aspect of your life. You’ll lose the motivation to create, you’ll lash out at friends and family and the depths to which your emotions can sink are more frightening than anything ever put on paper by Poe, King or Lovecraft. If nothing else, talk about it. Get things off of your chest.

Negative emotions are a lot like a badly-prepared meal you’ve just eaten: better out than in. Sure, things might stink for a bit, and you may feel inclined to flush afterwards so nobody else has to deal with your vomit, be it physical or creative. But once it’s out, chances are it won’t come back. I’ll leave you with a bit of Emerson’s advice, since he’s far more experienced and eloquent than I.

Finish each day and be done with it. You have done what you could. Some blunders and absurdities no doubt crept in; forget them as soon as you can. Tomorrow is a new day; begin it well and serenely and with too high a spirit to be encumbered with your old nonsense.

PT: Unplug, Dammit

Gunnery Sgt. Hartmann

I know SEPTA’s got issues. A little inclement weather throws entire train lines out of whack. Engineers desperate to keep on schedule will leave the platform a minute early. Buses plow into eateries. No system is perfect. But I relish my train rides. I don’t pollute, I don’t get bent out of shape over traffic and the jerkasses that come with it, and most importantly of all, I’m unplugged.

I take no laptop, no netbook, no glitzy overpriced unmodifiable gizmo with a lowercase “i” in front of its name. …Okay, I have an iShuffle, an old one in fact, but pipe down I’m making a point. The point is, I have a binder with fiction work in it, be it my manuscript or blank pages to fill with a shorter work, and I take my pen to it. I scribble out thoughts. I frame dialog and action in ball-point gel ink. I write.

Writers have a lot of tools at their disposal to make their lives easier. Dictionaries, thesauruses (thesauri?) and other reference materials fit on thumb drives. Word processing software saves trees in both the writing and editorial process. E-mail lets submissions get fired off to agents and periodicals in a snap. And if you need to research something obscure or find out what’s hot in your genre right now? The Internet is for that. And porn.

But these can also make a writer lazy. A crashing computer can be frustrating as hell and lose you hours of work. The Internet can distract you in various ways. An e-mail from someone to whom you submitted your work that says what you sent just isn’t good enough can be discouraging.

So turn ’em off.

There are times when typing out the words I want to express feels a bit like a disconnect between myself and the work. Like the electronics are getting in the way. Being a child of the electronic age and having grown up around this stuff – I’m still my parents’ go-to guy for tech support – it’s more of a niggling little annoyance than a real issue. However, the feeling still exists. There’s also the fact that my notes, snippets, edits and letters are not going to be obliterated by something as mundane as a power surge or a missed click.

When the zombie apocalypse happens, provided rampant fires don’t destroy everything, I’ll still have my notes. And hopefully some ammunition. I might hold on to my thumb drive full of manuscripts, short stories and ideas, but where am I going to plug it in? How is a computer going to get power? And why didn’t you barricade the door more effectively? I’m in the middle of a love scene here, I can’t stop to grab my shotgun and keep that zombie from helping itself to a mouthful of your brain! YOU BROUGHT THIS ON YOURSELF!

…Where was I? Right. Writing.

If you find yourself running out of time during the day for a variety of reasons – you saw a great tweet, you’ve been playing a game, you’re spending an hour every day in your sweltering car screaming obscenities at some douchebag in an Audi who’s yammering into their Bluetooth headset about the killing they’re making in the stock market – find ways to unplug. Disconnect yourself from the grid. Take up a pen or pencil, grab some wood pulp in sheet form, and get to scribbling.

If you have more suggestions on how & where to do this, or if you have experiences in this vein you’d like to share, go right ahead and share ’em. That’s why you’re here, after all.

Unless you were brought here by searching for ‘inception ariadne’ or ‘troll female.’

Which brings up a whole lot of interesting thoughts when you combine those two search strings.

PT: Bouncing Back

Gunnery Sgt. Hartmann

It’s been a while since I’ve put together a PT post, and this seems about the right time. Why? Because after the last week I’ve had, wallowing in self-loathing and lamenting my state of affairs, I realized there was something I desperately needed.

A swift kick in the ass.

Going through transitions in life can be taxing. Changing job descriptions, if not entire careers; moving from one domicile to another; cutting back on utilities or luxuries; getting by on basic foodstuffs as much as possible just to stretch out one’s currency. Any of these things can take a toll on a person, and having to deal with more than one at once can be harsh. A lot of negative feelings can arise from such a predicament, but those feelings are not all that different from others that you can use.

As a matter of fact, here’s a rehash of what I discussed previously in terms of using negative emotions.

Anger

I know I’ve covered using your anger previously, but invoking a Star Wars reference never gets old. Still, if something is making you furious, with fists and teeth clenched regardless of how other people are telling you how to react (doesn’t the words “Oh, you’re over-reacting” make you want to punch someone in the face?) you need to expend that energy, and preferably without damage to property or invoking personal injury lawsuits. If you’re a writer, what do you do?

Write a fight scene.

Get into the headspace of a person involved in a barroom brawl. Hell, write about someone starting said brawl. Did someone say something to a significant other you didn’t like? Is someone chatting up a friend of yours without permission? Not enough booze in your drink? Write about how it makes you feel, how the fury wells up inside you and how the sensation of wheeling around and letting someone have it right in the face touches off the kind of chair-breaking bottle-throwing grand melee unseen since the days of John Wayne.

You’ll probably feel a bit better, and nobody will be suing you.

Fear

Let’s face it. We’re all afraid of something. It could be bugs, rejection, alienation of friends, cars, bacteria, being laughed at, loneliness… I could go on. The bottom line is, sooner or later your fear is going to grab hold of you. Grab hold of it right back and go dancing.

Try a ghost story.

Something goes bump in the night. You catch an unfamiliar or unexpected motion in the corner of your eyes. The lights go out, and the shadows seem to grow to fill the empty space. Do you start sweating? Does your hand start to shake? How fast is your heart pounding? What voices do you hear? What do you imagine is lurking there in the darkness? It could just be the cat. It might be your spouse in the next room unaware that you’ve hit the light switch. Or it could be a phantasmal fiend from beyond the grave. Write it out and see where your fear takes you.

More than likely, it’s not a place as frightening as you thought it might be.

Despair

Despair, anxiety, paranoia… they’re all cut from the same cloth. “Should I have said that?” quickly becomes “I shouldn’t have said that,” which leads to “I’m an idiot for having said that.” Sure, sometimes you make a legitimate mistake and need to clean the egg from your face. Other times, something with good intentions turns out getting tossed under a steamroller paving the road to Hell. Whatever the cause, you’re left with this cloying feeling of inner doubt and depression, and you need to do something about it, otherwise it’s going to consume you.

Time to write a walk through the rain.

Rain is an evocative weather condition. The sky’s the color of gunmetal, the sun or stars hidden from view, the rain cold and relentless on the weary traveler and the wind makes sure that every surface of the body is wet. Yet people walk through it, alone with their thoughts. “What if I’m wrong? What could I have done to keep this from happening? How much have I lost, and can any of it be rescued? And what the hell am I going to do now?” Write through the thought process. Describe the rain drops, the thunder, the looks of people cozy in their warm homes or places of business, the way others are ignorant of your inner conflict. Work with the emotions. Coax them out of the shadows and into your hands where you can change them from a disability to an advantage.

Those, to me, seem to be the big three negative emotions that can come out of daily life’s trials and tribulations. My point is no less sapient now than it was then, at least in my humble opinion: When you’re wrestling with a negative emotion, the temptation can be to put off writing while you deal with ‘important’ stuff even if there’s no way you can further your cause. You’ve made phone calls, written checks and begged for ways to avoid filing for bankruptcy or shopping the local dumpsters for usable cardboard boxes that’d make fine apartments for you and your family. What are you going to do in the meantime, wallow in your self-loathing? Play more games you’ve already beaten? Pick your nose? It’s better to try and do something useful. Even if nobody else is going to see it, even if it’s just to get something off of your chest, if you are a writer then you need to write. Stay in practice. Put words on paper. Write.

It can be tough and this is advice that more often than not I need to follow myself. But it bears repeating which is why I’ve essentially repeated myself here.

But, really, what the hell else am I going to do?

PT: Sentence Building

I'll be watchin' you!

So this section used to be called “Breaking Writer’s Block” back in the early days of the blog. However, it has been proven by scientists that writer’s block is complete and utter bullshit. In light of this revelation, it’s necessary to rebrand this service I’m attempting to provide. So rather than breaking writer’s block, we need to look at what writing is. Writing is a skill. There’s natural talent involved, but in order to develop it, the skill needs to be trained. Since you’re training a skill that at times requires a pencil or pen, I’d refer to it as pen training, or PT if you prefer.

“I will PT you all until you fucking DIE!” – Gunny Hartman, Senior DI, Full Metal Jacket

I’m not going to be that harsh, but what follows is certainly an exercise. Basically, if you find yourself stuck with words running around in your head but stubbornly refusing to jump out, grab some sheets of scrap paper or index cards. You’ll need at least five.

Names

On the first sheet/card, write down five proper names. They can be as serious or as silly as you like. If you can’t think of any, crack open a book. Especially a gaming book, the first couple pages are full of names.

Actions

Next we’ll need some verbs to go with these proper nouns. So on the second sheet/card, jot down five actions. Do more than just name a verb, though, and add descriptors. They should be things like “jumped over,” “shoots at”, “talks to,” and so on. You can also add descriptors on the front end: “viciously punches,” “passionately kisses,” “breathlessly describes,” &c.

Targets

I mentioned shooting as a verb, but the target isn’t always being targeted by violence. You’ll need the other half of what grammar aficionados will recognize as the predicate. On your third sheet/card, write down some objects or people to be affected. “the car,” “Steve,” “that annoying client” and “the wall” are just a few examples. We’re going for creativity, not necessarily realism, so go nuts.

Extras

Subject & predicate alone make sentences, but they can be a little boring, so on the fourth sheet/card you’ve got, jot down some extra descriptors. Again, this is a creative exercise, so don’t limit yourself. Things like “with a rebel yell,” “in space,” “because the rum was gone” and “for no apparent reason” all qualify.

Mix & Match

So you’ve got one black workspace left. Fill it up by taking one element from each of the four previous pages and making a sentence. Once you use something, cross it out so you don’t repeat yourself. You should end up with five sentences that look something like this:

“Chuck viciously punched the wall with a rebel yell.”
“Bill jumped over the car in space.”
“Sam passionately kisses Robert for no apparent reason.”

Hopefully you’re laughing a little at these. That’s part of the point. Laughing releases endorphins, which along with the creativity used to put these sentences together, is sure to help break up that writer’s block authorial obstruction.

NOW DROP AND GIVE ME 5. …sentences that is.

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