Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Criticism, Rejection, Jealousy, Loathing, Bitterness -- Not Necessarily in that Order

a guest blog by Julianna Baggott -- she and Bridget really see eye-to-eye on this stuff.

Back before I got my first book deal, I was teaching a class at my dining-room table. One of my students was Sharon Mitchell, who came to me with a book deal already in place. It was, in fact, a "two-book deal with Dutton."

I went to bed thinking, two-book deal with Dutton. I ate breakfast to the tune of two-book deal with Dutton. I took care of the kids with a soundtrack in my head that played only one song -- two-book deal with Dutton.

And so when my agent -- see previous post -- came calling, I was soft in this way too. I wanted a two-book deal with Dutton.

I was jealous, yes, pissed off, sure. I was bitter. Not at Sharon. I loved Sharon. (Her first book Nothing But the Rent went on to be #2 on the African American Bestsellers List!) But at the whole publishing side of things.

But this is what I tell my students: BE NOT VAGUELY BITTER. Vague bitterness makes you say snarky things to the bag boy at the grocery store. Vague bitterness makes you cut people off while driving. It hurts your relationship with your dog, etc ...

HONE YOUR BITTERNESS, I say. Take the bitterness as energy and let it lead you back to the computer, to the work.

I also still had a set of teethmarks in me from the soured deal with the small university press that bowed out on my collection of stories. I got some good old-fashioned loathing going out of that.

This is what I sometimes say about loathing. POLISH YOUR LOATHING LIKE CHROME. Again, let it be your ROCKET FUEL. Take its energy and let it lead you back to the work.


I dig Zen. I'm all for it. If you can do Zen, then, man, do it. Be at peace.

And do I wish that I didn't feel loathing, jealousy and bitterness? Of course. Do I wish I were a better person? I do. Do I strive to be a better person? Yes.

But I do feel these things, and I've decided to accept them as the gift of energy they give me. I don't use 'em to beat myself up -- or not for long, at least. I use them to go on.

I have a natural chip on my shoulder -- youngest of four, always scrappy, always having to prove myself. I take care of the chip. The chip has been good to me. I don't feel entitled. I have to work for it. I work.

And now: REJECTION is an indespensible part of my creative process.

I think that with 15 books people would assume I don't get rejeted as much as I once did. But rejection is still a very real part of my day-to-day, as well as criticism. I put a lot out there. I send out a lot of ideas and full works ... I have a lot of stalled novels that didn't make it, probably never will.

Nowadays, rejection knocks at the door. I welcome it in. Offer to take its hat. Offer a beer -- or, depending, something a little stronger ...

Rejection means I haul a piece back in and rework it, rethink, rewrite ... sometimes use for scraps ...

(If you see the comments on my FB page about my post on AGENTS -- check out MICHELLE HERMAN'S POST on the destruction of her first book. Don't do that! Too precious. If you think a book's not working -- as I often do -- use it to build a fecund junkyard ... I'll talk about the importance of a fecund junkyard when I discuss THE EFFICIENCY OF CREATIVITY. AND , check out Michelle Herman! She's great.)

I don't ususally get all worked up anymore. But, here's the bargain. I don't get worked up about rejection because so much of it is subjective. But if rejection is subjective, acceptance is too. Therefore I can't get worked up about either. I occasionally break this rule ... But that's the rule.

I have to love the process of writing -- or at least love the sometimes excruciating and intimate daily engagement with the process. THAT is mine. That and that alone.


Of course, then we must give the work to someone else. No one can expect to improve if they write in a bubble of self. I'm a criticism junky. A hundred people can say it's good, but I'll only hear the one with a critique. (This is probably a Darwinistic survival trait. I don't fight it.)

Now, I don't like criticism of a finished product. Nothin' I can do for them then, is there? At a certain point, it's like watching people drown ... But ... good critics should be worshipped. I have an assistant who is fantastic, thorough, tough. He reads everything before it goes to anyone else. (FRANK GIAMPIETRO -- he does one-on-one tutorials as well. You can email him about them. He's also a brilliant poet, author of BEGIN ANYWHERE.)

And I do now have the benefit of working with editors on my books -- at various times in the process. I know there's this catch-phrase that EDITORS DON'T EDIT ANYMORE. But I can say that MY EDITORS, by and large, HAVE BEEN GREAT HANDS-ON EDITORS. And so I've been lucky -- with minor exceptions -- very, very lucky.

I'll be blogging about all kinds of things you can do to learn your craft -- MFA programs, tutorials, conferences ...

With my students, I often do a pie chart of WHAT IT TAKES TO BE A WRITER. We start out with things like -- how much of it is talent or connections or ... And our pie chart is usually 90-95% talent to start with ... but by the end of the talk, we've switched it to 90-95% of things like doggedness, resilience ... the traits that help you to survive the writing life.

I can't say enough that, for me, it's the process that I truly love. I'll use negative forces in myself to get my butt in the chair ... but once it's there, and I'm engaged in the process, I'm hooked.

In the end, I protect that relationship -- the one I have with words. Everything else is else.