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          In Greek mythology, harpies were spirits stealing food from Phineas.  In my case, harpies were invisible flying fairies stealing my self-confidence in writing.  They hovered next to my ear whispering: “You’ll never get published.”  “You’re a terrible writer.”  “You’re wasting your time and energy.”  Have you ever heard those words before?  As a pre-published author, I have encountered these statements more than once.  Usually, I had brushed them off and returned to writing. 

         However, in February, I submitted to two e-publishers and received rejection letters.  On the first one, the editors wrote “author writes straight narrative-tell with very little show and the action falls sadly flat.”  My harpies yelled, “See you are a terrible writer.  Quit, Give up.  You’re no good.”  By the time the second rejection letter came, my defenses shattered.  I fell into a dark hallow pit of blackness, and listened to the chants until I gave into their demands. 

         I called my parents and my dad, a staunch hard-working conservative Italian, answered.  When I told him, he replied, “Didn’t you say that woman (J.K. Rowling) got rejected sixty times?” 

        “No, thirty.”

        “How many have you had?”

        “Fifteen.”

        “See you got fifteen more to go.”

        A harpy died, but another one replaced it.  Being a stubborn German-Italian woman, I didn’t want to reach for the life line he threw me. 

        My sister called.  When I told her, she said, “Why?  You’ve only being doing this for what a year?  You can’t give up.”     

       “What did they know” a soft voice murmured in my ear. “They weren’t authors and don’t know the business.  You’ll never master show vs tell.  You don’t even know what it is.” 

       I wrote emails to friends, a critique partner and a mentor.  The cheering harpies danced triumphantly.      

       With a heavy heart, I drove to work the next day, doomed to be in a frustrating job at day treatment center until I retired.  At work, two of my female high school students nearly got into a fist fight, and when I met with my principal, I waited for him to berate me.  Even at work, the harpies followed. 

       “I can see what I’m doing is real effective,” I muttered. 

       My supervisor blinked.  “No, this isn’t your fault.  You’re doing a great job.  Who would have thought that Sheryl would be able to transition back to the high school?”

       His words of encouragement shot one of the harpies.

       When I got home from work, a little bit of light glittered inside me.  I checked my email. My friends, critique partner and mentor all had their guns ready and cocked, and with each line, they wrote more and more harpies perished, their evil voices dying.  My critique partner and mentor both wrote about the rejections they received before they got published, but kept writing because they loved to write.  My friends reminded me of J.K. Rowling, Sherrilyn Kenyon and Stephen King and how many rejections they received.  What these three authors, my critique partner and mentor had was perseverance and the ability to withstand the negative self-talk by replacing it with positive self-talk.

      I often taught my students about using this technique in changing their behavior.  My student, Sheryl, had problems getting into power struggles with her teachers.  Now, she was able to state:  “I can handle this.”  “I am in control.”  “If I go off, I’m going to get into trouble.”  She was able to think before she acts and as a social worker, having a student reach this, was success.  This hadn’t been easy for her, but if she could do it, I could do it.  I climbed out of the pit.   

      Remember the editor who wrote the rejection letter?  Well, she also wrote “the storyline is fairly well developed” and liked the epilogue, leading to the sequel.    I gleamed from the storyline that she liked my synopsis, and the epilogue worked.  Writing the synopsis was harder than writing the story, so I basked in her compliment.  She also appreciated how hard I worked to tie the loose ends into making a believable, promising story in the sequel.  She specifically liked the secondary character, who would be in the sequel.  When I reframed the negative, I shot the last of the harpies. 

    This experience taught me that you couldn’t be in this business alone.   I have found that my critique partners, mentors and friends were invaluable to me.  Some authors do not have a critique group or partner, but I would bet they have an agent, friends or someone applauding them in their endeavor.   Using positive self-talk to replace the doubting statements whether it’s from your harpies, self-doubt, a rejection letter, or a negative review allowed me to persevere. 

    I was fortunate to receive feedback and after analyzing the information, believed it had merit.  Based on the editor’s response, my heroine needed to be strengthened. I had received feedback from contests that consistently wrote that my heroine paled compared to my hero.  I had thought I had strengthened her, but obviously, she still needed work.  Instead of giving up, I spoke with my professor in my Master’s Program, and he devised a direct study class to address show vs tell by analyzing this specific WIP. 

  I encouraged you to utilize the support systems you have to address any constructive criticism.  Your support system would allow you to look at these negative statements objectively and developed a plan to strengthen your writing.    

  If you don’t believe the rejection letters or critique information has merit, then re-submit and like J.K. Rowling, Sherrilyn Kenyon and Stephen King, persevere.  Without my support system, the harpies would have won, and I would still be in the black pit, allowing my dream to die.           

 

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Comment by Jessica Aspen on February 25, 2011 at 9:54am
This is great Mary! We all have those days. Loved the creativity in calling those meta-messages harpies!  Just remember your ability to achieve success is correlated with your ability to take rejection! I'm with your dad, fifteen more to go! Keep learning and keep submitting, that's my motto.

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