Thursday, October 02, 2008

It's hard not to take things personally.

A few people have asked me what was going on with my novel. Nothing. Every book agent my literary manager and the film agent he teamed-up with sent it to, passed. Some said they like the writing but they couldn’t sell it. The commercial fiction market is brutal. Except of course for Lauren Conrad from THE HILLS who just scored a multi-book deal.

I know I should let these things roll off my back. However, when someone says, “She’s a good writer but I don’t care about this story”, it stings. Then yesterday the first thing I saw in the morning was an email from my manager regarding a producer passing on one of my scripts.

I tried not to spiral into the “I’m going to end up a bag lady. Why did I leave my job? Will I be broke forever?” malaise. I had been writing all morning. I finally walked over to Trastevere to run an errand. It felt good to get out.

That is until I started watching some show on the Discovery Channel about British people who buy houses overseas and renovate them. I starting thinking about if I don’t sell a script in Hollywood I won’t be able to pay my rent, much less buy a house. This led to the whole “I can’t believe I’m this old and I don’t own a home.” That led to “Why am I still single? Will I have a boyfriend this century?” Then I was glad I didn’t do drugs and wasn’t an alcoholic because I would have gotten messed up.

My manager and I had our weekly conference call last night. He told me to keep on writing and moving forward. He said I don’t want to become one of those bitter, jealous, struggling Hollywood screenwriters. Those folks don’t last.

He’s right. So this morning I got up and went to work, instead of wallowing in self pity. I owe the Italian film company another draft of my treatment. I took a break, went to the park (now it’s too dark to work out before I start writing) and will get back to work after breakfast. I had a cold all week. This was the first morning I was able to work out. My mood is much better.

Writing is a strange profession. You have to be sensitive enough to put pen to paper yet have tough enough skin to not let rejection break you. This dichotomy is the one of the reasons why many creative people are freaking nuts.

How do you deal with professional setbacks?


joanne at frutto della passione said...

I don't have an answer to your question, but I did want to send a cyber hug. Keep reminding yourself of how much you have acomplished so far and hang in there!

Lilacspecs said...

I totally understand how you feel. I've been struggling just to find a job here if Flanders. No one wants to hire someone with only moderate Dutch language skills here in Gent so I have to commute to Antwerp and work at a call center for now. I hate it and I often wonder why I can't be "normal" and have a nice little career, house with a white picket fence, and a happy family by now (I'm 27).
Then I realize that I'd probably have an ulcer from any career that made any decent money, my house, if it was in America would be forclosed by now and that I'd rather be a wise, good parent at 30 than I cigarette smoking, anxious, basketcase parent at 21.
Point is, the grass is always greener and the things that make us the happiest are also the most difficult to come by.
You'll find you're way over there, just like one day I'll find mine over here.

Jen of A2eatwrite said...

You're so right about the need for both sensitivity and thick skin.

Ha Jin, who writes in English and lives in the U.S. as a "protest" or way of coping with the atrocities of his native China (he grew up during the Cultural Revolution, and the suppression of the student revolution in 1989 made him decide to stay in the U.S. and only write in English), and who's now won Pen/Hemingway and Flannery O'Connor awards for his short stories, described this about his long, long time of rejection:

"So basically, I sent out routinely poems and stories and, as a result, I received for some time, two years, I almost recieved rejection letters every day. Every day. To the point that my wife made a rule: before dinner nobody was allowed to check the mail... Every time I received the returned manuscript, I would rework it and really try my best to revise it, to edit it, to the point I felt I couldn't do anything but send it out.
So the whole process, in a way, is a way to develop myself, my ability as a writer. I think the frustration basically is kind of, in a way, nourishment to develop myself."

Transcript of Lecture at University of San Francisco on February 26, 2000, as printed in The Art of the Short Story, Dana Gioia and R. S. Gwynn, editors.

I try to keep his words in mind. There's freelancing, too, you know. That can be freeing in different ways.

Huge hugs.

milanesemasala said...

It is hard not to take things personally but just remember that it's just a minor setback and that eventually, things will work out. Take a look at the rejection letters that these authors got:
So I wouldn't lose faith just yet. Forza!!!!

Anonymous said...

Just remember this: There are people reading this who would kill to even have an agent, and have another draft of anything due for any film company in any country.

That being said, negative stuff can be rough. Keep a folder of compliments and glowing reviews nearby as an antidote.

And, don't sweat the life list of crap like home ownership. We were freaking out recently about being such financial losers, until the financial crisis hit and we're the only ones whom it BENEFITS (dollar's way up, yo!).

J,Doe said...

It sounds to me like they are giving you compliments when they say that you are a great writer. That means you are. Not everybody can write and get compliments like that, so try to focus on the good stuff. I'm sure that if your writing stunk they would tell you that.
Eventually someone will buy your story because you are a good writer. as one commenter said, many people would kill to have a literary manager and film agent interested in their works.
P.S. I wish I had a profession so I could even complain about professional setbacks.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

joanne - thanks for the hug.

lilacspecs - you are so right about the grass being greener. Good luck with improving your Dutch and hopefully you will be able to find a fantastic job in Gent soon.

jen - thank you for sending that quote. It helps to look at rejection as a chance to improve.

milanese - grazie....I will look at that link.

missexpatria - So glad to see that the dollar is getting stronger for a change. Remember when it was at 1.64 grrrr. I'm trying not dwell on the things that I haven't accomplished yet. It does help that I'm no longer live among writers/directors/actors who complain about making "only 2 million" a year/a movie. That was not easy to hear after busting my butt for 10 years in Hollywood with not much to show for it (relative to my peers).

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

j. - doe - being a mom is one of the toughest jobs in the world. It's just that you don't get paid for it. :)

I wonder it the people meant it. Since I do remember the days of passing on truly heinous scripts and telling the agent "it's not for us" instead of "this person can't write." Then again there are a bunch of truly awful screenwriters who are quite successful.

I do need to remember the whole thing is subjective. It's so random what gets bought, what gets made and what movies actually become successful. Of course this is frustrating at times.

c.a. Marks said...

WOW! Great post. Thanks for sharing. I needed it. Keep writing. We are reading.

Piccola said...

I feel you. I don't own a home, I don't have kids (like all my friends do), and I'm still in college, after a 10 year hiatus. Kudos for not giving up. Some of the best authors and athletes were rejected before success finally knocked down their door. Something I like to do is envision success. Picture it like it's already done. It helps me stay positive. In bocca al lupo!!

glamah16 said...

I know it hurts and can be a cause for worry. I deal with this all the time. It seems all the people making more than me and advancing are not neccesarily the brightest crayons in the box. And it irkes me, but I get the mortgage paid. I deal with this lack of movement and advancement by my blogging. cooking, other creative outlets.Im even setting up my own online shop soon! It validates that I am talented and creative , and have something to offer. Hang in there and keep slugging along. You are so young still and have the whole world ahead of you. As Im about to turn to turn 40 Im looking back on education and career decisions. I wouldnt change a thing because I put my my family first. I could have been in a higher place but at what costs?And I lucky that I have a succesful partner that helps out and nutures my creativity.
I read theother day that Chinua Achebe(famous Nigerian Author) almost didnt get published after sending his only manuscript he paid to typed and sent out to the UK.It collected dust , unread for months until a friend visiting the country stopped by the offices to inquire what was going on. That little simple twist of fate and the perserverance of him and his friend paid off and was the beginning of something big. Dont depair! Hang in there. You got your creative mind and health and thats worth more than money in the bank sometimes.

Anonymous said...

I understand what you are going through. I have had both professional and personal setbacks in recent months. Through all of it - I have begun to realize that I'm accountable only to me. I try not to let other people's ignorant comments affect me. I may be unique in regards to not having the trappings of society: a home, a man in my life, a family etc. However, that may not be the path for me and I'm fabulous anyway!
Hang in there! You are fabulous too! There is always something to discouver awaiting for you around the bend.

gibber said...


Sis. I know moments will always get you down, but as others said, focus on what you do have and what so many others don't. An obvious talent, a brain (poor sarah palin), a family that loves the hell out of you, the BALLS to pick up and move to the country you love across the ocean, more friends than I can count, and the list could go on and on.

Keep your head up...and keep writing :)

Oh, and I listen to Led Zep "Ramble On" when I get stuck.

Monika said...

I know this is so silly but i remember Whoopi Goldberg in the movie 'Sister Act' saying to one of the characters who desperately wanted to be a singer: 'if you wake up singing, you are a singer'. And same goes for you, you are a writer and keep believing in yourself and it will happen for you. I know we all LOVE your blogs :)

Faith said...

Boy can I relate. Trying to pursue a creative career and actually make money at it - without doing something exploitative or demeaning is not easy. I swear it's like some people just get to stick their finger in the wind and get insta success while most of us toil away. It's hard to not have one's self worth tied into having some tangible semblance of success (accolades, property, marriage, money, etc). I'm really struggling financially because I lost my job but when I had the job I was miserable because I hated it. For all your struggles you still get to live in a foreign country - and that might end up being the safest place if the pending US fall from superpower status progresses. If I could legally work in Europe or the UK I'd be there right now - seriously!

toni said...

I left a really good job and a laid back Jamaican lifestyle to start all over here in Toronto. I came from a place where everybody knew me and I got job offers up the wazoo, to a city where no one could care less about all the experience I had, or who my dad was (you know island-style!)

It was hard to re-establish myself and I hard to start all over again from the bottom, but even though I had many days like the one you had today, I just KNEW in my heart of hearts that one day my life would come together and I'd have the job I really wanted. It took a while, but eventually it DID all fall into place and I appreciated it all the more for all the work I put into getting there.

Now i'm giving it all up to do it all again in Italy! But having done it once before, I know I can do it again, and I look forward to it with excitement rather than trepidation.

Everything will work out for you, you're on a good path, and it will all come together. Hope tomorrow is a better day! :)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

c.a marks - grazie. I like your illustration.

piccola - thank you and good luck finishing school.

glamah16 - I really need to read "Things Fall Apart" soon. Thanks for telling that story. I am trying very hard not to stress out about the future or dwell on the past but live in the here in now. It's something I've struggled with all my life.

ms. violetta - thank you. I like your fab attitude.

gibber - grazie. You and Led. :) auht, I will try to keep my head up.

monika - I do remember that line. ha. thank you.

faith - that whole U.S. shrinking as a superpower is no joke. Yes being creative can be emotionally rewarding but the uncertain nature of the business is scary. When I lived in L.A. it was harder not to feel like everyone was more successful than me.

toni - thank you. I so know what you mean about "island style" contacts. Being used to that will help you in Italy, where who you know is also important (as it is in Hollywood). Good for you, taking those risks. It's not an easy move.

wordtryst said...

What Joanne said. It's hard not to take it personally when you've taken risks and the years are passing. Sometimes (often) I can't find the logic behind what we do.

What I do is ask myself: What yardstick do I use to measure my own value? And then I begin to count the stuff I have to be thankful for, and the times that I've gotten validation for what I do. (Getting an agent: huge validation. Being told by industry pros that they love your writing: ditto.) I remind myself how miserable I was before I decided to do what I really wanted to do. And then I get back to work.

If you haven't read The War of Art by Steven Pressfield, I recommend it highly. I re-read it every now and then to restore my perspective on this living-your-art business.

Anonymous said...

I just want to offer my encouragement to you.

You are so brave to embark on this Italian adventure. You are a strong woman and you will succeed! Although I haven't had a professional setback in a few years since I've been home with my four kids, I can say that trying to maintain a positive and grateful attitude really helps me when I get a bit off course......sometimes easier said than done.

We all have our moments of self doubt...although I am happily raising my kids , I often wonder if I will be able to return to a meaningful career. You aren't alone.

yvonne said...

Ooh, it's like you're reading my mind! A few thoughts: Just the fact that you took yourself out of the toxic environment that is L.A. and moved to a place where living a good life is one of the highest arts tells me you're unlikely to ever be filed under the bitter screenwriter category. That move was a preemptive strike!

And just think, there's someone out there who's been routinely told their writing is terrible and no agent or production company is returning their calls. In fact, I've met droves of those folks in my previous life as a filmmaker flunky of all trades, so you're doing wonderfully well, bag lady fantasies aside. Big, transatlantic hugs of encouragement!

(On the writing front, Anne Lamott's 'Bird by Bird' makes me laugh at myself and pulls me through a lot of dark times at the notepad and keyboard.)

I'm on a similar path--working on screenplays, fleeing corporate America, looking for a small vacant lot so I can build a house, counting my savings obsessively, wondering why my dating pool is more like a wading pool--but without your Italian flair, so I hear you.

After years of hard work, it's amazing to me that I'll have to work even harder for some indefinite period of time to even come close to fulfilling my dreams. But...I'm not sure what the other options are, and I'm planning to have a lot of fun while doing it.

Sounds like you're very much on the right track, and from what I gather, you've also got a strong circle of friends and family who will never let you fall--not on their watch! I'm sooo pulling for you, just like all of your sistergirltales amici. Love your blog, and I genuinely thank you for sharing!

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

wordtryst - No I haven't read that book. Thank you for the encouragement and the recommendation. I will check it out.

la casalinga - grazie mille. I agree sometimes it is easier said than done to be positive. I do try to pull myself out of the funk as soon as possible. A negative attitude will only bring more negativity into my life.

yvonne - thank you. I am lucky to have such a supportive family and group of friends.

Yes my move was a preemptive strike (as far as a bitter screenwriter goes. I used to be a bitter film exec. ha) I have read Bird by Bird and enjoy her writing. One of my friends, a very talented writer, said to just keep writer no matter what. If this is what you love/need to do, keep on keeping on. Those who are in it because they think they will become rich, rarely make it. Good luck with all your goals.

Di Mackey said...

I guess it's simpler for me to have no doubt that you will make it ...

In the interim, you can just be the wee hero who took a risk and moved to Rome to pursue a life that she was pretty sure she would love. It's intensely admirable and a beautiful story in itself.

Los Angelista said...

I totally needed to read this. One, because I was feeling sorry for myself. My sons went to a party at the house of a friend from kung fu and of course they lived in one of those massive mansions right up by the Hollywood Sign. I was feeling like my little Silver Lake apartment is crap and I'm never gonna get out of it. And two, because I need to get my ass in gear on the fiction writing front. I have been being beyond belief lazy and I need to stop. If I don't even write how can I at least get rejected?

That said, we can only keep doing our best work and bit by bit our goals will be reached.

Shelley - At Home in Rome said...

Well, I'm no alcoholic but a good cocktail always soothes my nerves! :-) And then I write in my journal which is always a good tool for me when I have to sort out my 'WTF am I doing?' scenarios. You know, sometimes the best stuff comes right after the crappiest periods. It's so weird but sometimes life works out that way. So hey, it might actually be a good sign... good things to come! :-)

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

di mackey - thank you. Sometimes I still don't believe I live here.

los angelista - I so understand that feeling. I actually stopped going to certain parties in "The Hills" or Malibu/Brentwood/Bel Air because I hated how I felt after. And yes it's true, how can we get rejected without writing....ha. I agree with your last sentence.

shelley - I so hope you are right. It's only 7:00 a.m. here so I have to hold off on having a cocktail for a few hours. ha.

jstele said...

Well, I think things happen at the right time. Not that you don't deserve to be where you want. But sometimes, we place too much importance on "getting the big break" because it will feel like our lives are finally on track. [/i]Now I can finally live my life.[i]

But to reduce your life to a career would be a mistake. You have to ask yourself what getting a book deal really means to you. There's always a deeper reason for the things that affect us deeply. But maybe there are other things that you need to deal with, other areas that you need to focus on in your life. This is an opportunity to create the most fabulous life in ALL areas of your life and to do what is in YOUR power to be the best writer you can be. And I'm not talking about developing your writing skills or the conventional things that one would associate with being a good writer. It could be something like confidence. There are certain inner qualities that go with being a successful anything. As long as you have done everything you know to achieve your goal, the rest will follow.

Making a living is very important, so don't put your eggs in one basket. I'm sure you have many other interests besides writing that you would enjoy tapping into for a living, at least temporarily. I would also read "The 4-Hour Workweek" by Tim Ferriss. He has a lot of great advice for creating a lifestyle of wealth and mobility. It's great for the expat lifestyle.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

jstele - I have heard great things about that book.

I hear what you are saying. It's one reason I moved to Rome. I wanted more balance in my life. My focus in L.A. was only work, work, work.

That said, I'm a writer and that is what I need to do. The salaries are so low here it doesn't make sense for me to doing some thing else part time. That type of job would take away time from writing and it's not like I could pay my rent with that kind of salary. It would be a lose lose situation.

jstele said...

It's called "The 4-Hour Workweek" because it tells you how to create a lifestyle of TIME and mobility. Anyways, you don't have to work in Italy to make money. You could sell articles and/or do something online.

I so do not make money for promoting the book, but you should check out the author's blog to find out if it's right for you. He blogs about the life he leads living the principles of the book.

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

jstele - thanks for the link. I will check it out. An Italian friend of mine has the book but it's in Italian. There are a bunch of English language books I want to get next time I'm in the States.

NewWrldYankee said...

I know I am coming late to the conversation, but I think I also had your down-in-the-dumps-itis. I think I am lucky in a way that I have two hugely different focuses. Not only do I go to med school and study in that, but also I run my blog about expat living which is a whole different animal. So when I hit a wall in one, I turn around and pay attention to the other. This way I don't have a burn out period, because I am always freshly stimulated, if that makes sense. I

It is great that you are taking time to work out because not only will it boost your energy level, your endorphin and serotonin level (make you happier), but it gives you a focus outside and totally different from writing.

I deal best with personal setbacks by distracting myself with my friends. They are the best pick me ups in the world, or I vent on my blog.

In any case, you can always vent here and we're hear to listen and sympathize. Even if we are a little late to the convo. How is it going now?

nyc/caribbean ragazza said...

NWY - I agree working out and spending time with friends does help.

I'm knee deep in rewriting two projects. We'll see what happens. Finger crossed.