My week this week began with a rejection letter from a literary journal to whom I’d sent my latest short story. They emailed it at 9:18 a.m. on Monday.

A second rejection letter from another journal for the same story arrived at a more congenial time: Tuesday at 1:30 p.m.

A few years ago I would have been crushed. I’d dabbled in writing fiction for fifteen years and been devastated the two or three times I had the nerve to submit something and got rejected. Enough to crawl into a hole and not write again for a very long time.

This time I actually feel invigorated by these rejection letters. I look at it like, “Oh, goodie, now I can send the story to Journal C and Journal D.”

Something’s happened in the past year. I don’t know what, but I feel very committed to making it work this time and know I’m on the right track. I think about my creative writing professor who told us it took him seven years to get published. And he’s really, really good. Brilliant. I know my story is good. Not brilliant. But it works. My readers and writing group back me up on this. It’s a matter of finding the right place for the story, at the right time.

My mantra this week is another thing my creative writing professor told us: persistence, persistence, persistence.

“Some of you in this room are ready to be published now,” he told us. “You’re just going to have to keep the faith and keep writing, no matter what, because it probably won’t happen right away.”

In the meantime, last fall I started playing alto saxophone and singing in an eight-piece soul/ska/reggae-beat/R&B band. Our horn section is all-female. Being in a band like this is something I’ve fantasized about since dancing around to and singing with the B-52’s in my living room in the Eighties. Writing stories and playing music are things I loved doing when I was a kid. I don’t know where it’s all leading now. But I don’t care.

In his book Steal Like an Artist: 10 Things Nobody Told You About Being Creative, Austin Kleon argues that “side projects and hobbies are important.”

One thing I’ve learned in my brief career: It’s the side projects that really take off. By side projects I mean the stuff that you thought was just messing around. Stuff that’s just play. That’s actually the good stuff. That’s when the magic happens.

The important thing is allowing yourself to do it. I have a work ethic that is through the roof. It’s what’s made me successful. But it’s also made me rigid. Myopic. Unhappy.

Take time to mess around. Get lost. Wander. You never know where it’s going to lead you.

I recently had lunch with a fellow freelancer. Lovely time, from start to finish. But I was a little thrown off when he said, “I see by your Web site that you aspire to write fiction. Aren’t you afraid it will distract you from what you do for a living?”

No. No, I do not.

If you have two or three real passions, don’t feel like you have to pick and choose between them. Don’t discard. Keep all your passions in your life.

For decades I felt as my colleague does. I did not allow myself to pursue the things that were nagging at my heart. Because I needed to focus. So that’s what I did. But something was missing.

You can cut off a few passions and focus only on one, but after a while, you’ll start to feel phantom limb pain.

I know all about this phantom limb pain. It’s been woven into my being since my teens and had been getting, as Austin acknowledges, worse and worse from neglect. It’s taken me a long time to give up the control, take chances, and allow all my passions back into my life. I’ve discovered there’s room.

“Don’t throw any of yourself away,” says Austin. “Don’t try to make money or get famous off [your hobby]. Do it because it makes you happy. It’s regenerative. It’s like church.”

The week of mine that began with two rejection letters also included emails from four clients in two countries who accepted the first drafts of stories I wrote, saying, “We like them as is. No revisions. Thank you.”

It also included some painting and drawing, which I hadn’t done in a while.

And it ends with our new band’s very first gig tomorrow. We’re called Torn Soul. I wish you a good weekend.

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Part 1 and Part 2 of this series were published previously. Part 3 concludes the series. 

 

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8 Comments

  1. Wow. Phantom limb pain. I can relate. That’s what I felt for years when I tried to give up music.

    • Good, isn’t it, that concept? I think I started feeling it acutely when I graduated from Bowling Green. Exhausted all the time, angry half the time. Will never forget that feeling.

  2. This is one of those precepts that should not need repeating, but yet it does. Why do we feel our essence can be shelved while we attend to the “business” of daily life, isolating pieces of our humanity in cubicles based upon perceived value? Whose value?

    Balance is necessary. We must have shelter and food, but the price must not be the very thing that makes us human.

    Thank you for this timely reminder! I am going out into the sunlight on this beautiful day to pick cucumbers and make dill pickles, because that is what will make me very happy right now.

  3. I hope you realize that your writing has benefitted me, and I am sure all your readers. So often we forget our “side projects and hobbies”. Thanks for the reminder. They are so much of what I am.

    • I’m with you on that, Marilyn: these things are so much a part of what I am today too. They’ve been like a beach ball I’ve been trying to keep submerged in water all these years. But I can’t keep them down. They keep popping to the surface. Thank goodness. Thanks for your comment and kind words.

  4. A lot of good truth there Robin. I’m always upto something creatively. I’m incredibly driven when it comes to ideas that I have yo make a physical reality. Drawing airbrushing, fabricating, videos, photoshoots,building stuff like motorcycles or new props that will become a bit in a stage performance. I used to think “some one will see this and it’s will bring me some sort of attention or monetary gain. As time has gone on and I’ve found myself bitterly disappointed in the way all that fell so short of my expectations you’d think I’d just quit. However, it has had just the opposite affect. I now do things just because I can and the joy and bang I get from making something cool is all about a sense of accomplishment hence amazing gratification as a result. Not to mention I end up with some really cool stuff that adorns my abode.

    • I love that, John. I get the feeling your mind is working all the time. I too used to think “what market?” “how much money?” “who else is doing it?” Talk about buzz killers. I do believe I’ve swung around to your way of things. I like it. Thanks for your comment.

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