Here’s a guest post from contributor Roberta Pantal Rhodes. Her poetry can be found in the March 2012 online issue.
I’m flattered that I have been asked to write a blog about writing, or my writing process. I kind of think, gee, me, what have I got to contribute? Well, we’ll see.
In the beginning when I sent out fiction and poetry, I didn’t have an expectation of acceptance, and when it came, I was truly surprised. More often than not, rejection notices fill my mailbox, but every so often, there is a ray of sunshine, and what do you know, my writing has been accepted.
Over the years, I’ve been in many writing groups, mostly fiction. I found the groups helpful, but at times, I would change something in my writing based on a comment from a group member which I now regret. After all, it’s only someone’s opinion. Sometimes people are trying to rewrite your story. However, many times, the opinions are useful, but I think a writer has to really consider the suggestion before running to make a change.
One particular group was extremely helpful. Each of the members would take home someone else’s writing, read it, and comment. Then a group member, not the writer, would read the few pages, and everyone would take turns responding to the text. The leader, however, didn’t comment until the very end, not wanting to influence the group. The leader was exceptional in that she could zero in on what needed to be expanded or eliminated.
I think the best thing about writing is the unexpected surprise that comes after you’ve finished. You’re writing, writing, and then suddenly, something wonderful happens and you ask yourself, where did that come from?
It took me a while to realize that everything I put down on paper isn’t going to become a finished piece. I may put something aside for a while, then when I go back to it, I’m not drawn to it, it didn’t percolate, while other writing may still have that attraction and is something I will stick to and try and develop. Sometimes I get too attached to what I write and it becomes difficult “to give it up.”
Recently, I ran across a story called “Beginners,” by Raymond Carver on The New Yorker website. It was the original draft of the story with the final version retitled “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” edited by Gordon Lish. I never realized how much influence an editor can have on a story. They seem like two different pieces. One is by Raymond Carver, and the other Gordon Lish. Definitely worth checking out.
When I get stuck, not knowing what to write, I often turn to books of poetry or prose and look for lines that I can write off. But lately, I’ve been going to museums roaming among the sculptures, photographs and paintings, finding inspiration looking at the artwork.
One other thing that happens to me, when I’m writing is if I’m sitting and nothing is coming, I get up and lie down and let my mind wander, and in a short period of time, something clicks and I’m able to return to my writing.
I keep the following rejection notice on my bulletin board next to my desk;
Thank you for your submission to Orchid. Your story was carefully read. We’re sorry to report that your story does not meet our needs at this time. We’re writers, too, and understand the disappointment of rejection. Please keep in mind that we’re all in good company. The average story is rejected 25 or more time before being accepted. Some famous rejection stories: C.s. Lewis sent more than 800 manuscripts out before he made a sale; Ray Bradbury, also around 800; Gone with the Wind, rejected by more than 20 publishers; Jerzy Kozinski’s The Painted bird, rejected three times by the same publisher, one of those times AFTER that same publisher had accepted it; An editor told Nabakov that his Lolita manuscript should be “buried under a large stone;” F. Scott Fitzgerld was told, “You’d have a decent book if you’d get rid of that Gatsby character.”
Please keep in mind the words from Charles Baxter quoted above. Take care and keep writing.