The Rejection Connection

I woke up this morning, accidentally hit the email button instead of my snooze button on my phone and was politely informed that one of my submissions had been rejected.

It is one of the most professional rejections I have received. It showed respect.

What a way to wake up!

But instead of complaining, bitching, grumbling, being upset, ready to soak my bed sheets with tears, I simply rolled over, told the husband, ‘I got another rejection.’

He sighed.

But I was smiling. This means I have another opportunity. I have many opportunities. The rejection doesn’t come for poor writing. It’s all about finding the one person who likes my sense of humour, who will take a risk. They are out there.

An epiphany gives me a ding moment. I’m not so fragile anymore. Every writer needs to have a backbone that’s covered in titanium and then sealed with cement.

Just remind yourself that with every rejection there is another opportunity, you just have to find it. And the most important aspect writers should keep is their determination.

Bring on the acceptances. I’m ready.



Engaging The Rules Of Workshopping

workshopping photo final

# 1

This post isn’t about sticking your finger up your nose and picking a winner. Although gross, it is however, much easier to do and probably less traumatic than workshopping your manuscript.

You see, like most writers attending classes or workshops, we nervously accept the fact that we have to eventually show our work to others. Through the shuffling of paper, our voice squeaks, and suddenly we’re apologizing before we’ve even read a single word, making excuses as to why the story might suck. We do this to rationalise the attack that we think will ultimately destroy our resolve and confidence. What we are really doing is being defensive. It’s not hard to be when you have other writers or fellow students attacking you. And that’s exactly how it feels.

We apologise to defuse the attack, but by doing so, we are making ourselves as wide open and as uncomfortable as a woolly mammoth stuck on a tropical island with one coconut tree. We inevitably give the people working our stories ammunition. Most go on the attack because they haven’t learnt good workshopping skills yet, but there are those out there who go on the attack to make themselves feel better.

Until you find yourself in a professional workshop environment, you won’t ever feel comfortable. You will always leave yourself vulnerable to the bombardment of criticism. Harsh criticism and personal remarks do the most harm and I am sad to say that the good and constructive criticism gets lost in all the negativity.

Rule number 1: Don’t make any apologies unless you’ve accidentally clogged the toilet with biohazard waste material that chokes the air with leftover tuna casserole.

This rule came about because of a telephone call with a fellow workshopper. ‘Do you remember how we used to always make excuses before workshopping?’ The horror! The horror! But something was said that gave me a ding moment that was so exceptionally loud, I though the microwave just had a conniption fit. What are you worried about? You don’t do that anymore. You tell us what you want. You own what you think is wrong with the story and the writing and get us to look at it.”

Upon reflection, she was right. (I hope she doesn’t read this post.)

I own it. It is my story. Instead of worrying about what others might think about the genre I write in, or whether it was a reflection on my person, I trained myself to focus on more important things. So how did I get from being defensive and apologetic to taking control and being confident? (Yet I still get butterflies when I workshop a story. I own those too. It’s who I am.)

Clause 1a: Repeat after me. I am not what I write. There is one exception—autobiography—but we’re discussing fiction. Repeat it again: I AM NOT what I write.

NOTE: I am not a demon who loses herself in a moment of torturous pleasure when fishing for a kidney.

Clause 1b: I will not apologise for writing horror, fantasy, comedy, romance, science fiction, thriller, detective, urban fantasy … If any unprofessional workshopper tells you they don’t do … tell them you’re workshopping your story, not the genre.

There are some other words you could say to them, but it would be rude and disrespectful and we are professionals, are we not?

Clause 1c: I will not say: I’m sorry but I think the pace might need looking at, I’m so sorry but I think I have a problem with my character, sorry about this but there may be too many ideas in one sentence and I definitely will not say I need you to find all the mistakes. The Horror! The Humiliation! The Inevitable Attack!
Instead, I will say: Please look at the pace; my character feels like he needs more development; I know there are too many ideas in some sentences, could you help me find them; and I will always ask, what’s good about the piece.
Don’t always assume that workshoppers will tell you what’s working because sometimes we tend to focus on the questions and tasks in front of us; we naturally assume you already know what you’re good at. (I will discuss this in a future rule.)

Clause 1d: Through your writing journey, do not apologise for anything you write because deep down you’re apologising for existing and that isn’t what a writer or “normal” person should be doing. (Is there a concept of normal when so many of us are different?)

A writer, a confident writer will embrace what they write, create new life and help take their readers on a journey. For me, that is a very good reason for living. (I better include that my family is also a very-very-VERY good reason for living.)

By not apologizing for all the mistakes and inconsistencies, by owning them, you will find the most important feature a writer needs to have—Confidence—in yourself and in your story.

Until the next rule,


The Rejection Connection

Publication1 rejection photo 1

A writer’s life is full of rejections unless of course you are a rare individual who has every manuscript published the first time, every time. I’ve had a number of rejections, some not as good as others. I prefer the formal rejection. There’s nothing personal, they just didn’t want the story. But I recently received a rejection that, dare I say, made me happy.

I know that you’re probably thinking that I have finally lost my mind. Not yet I haven’t. I think I might be close though.

You see, the rejection letter not only told me why they didn’t want it, but they liked the story. It was a personal reply from the editor. The words she used where encouraging. So I couldn’t help but share the news with my fellow writers and workshoppers.

Here’s the great bit. I couldn’t stop smiling after I heard the news.
A fellow workshopper has sent stories to the same magazine and has never received a personal reply from the editor, just the standard form rejection email. The editor took time out of their busy work schedule to personally let me know that my story idea was “plucky”, but a little too “macho” for their magazine.

The whole attitude of the email was pleasant.

It was my first positive rejection and I hope that it won’t be my last.
Although my story was not accepted by this publisher, I know that it will be accepted by another. No disillusionment here. No more believing I’m not good enough. It’s funny how rejection can actually lift one’s confidence.

Until the next rejection,


What’s That Thing I’m Striving For?

I am not a fortune teller or a psychic. I can’t read minds, (although there are many out there who think I can) so where am I going with this? I can’t foretell my future. I wish I could because then I would be prepared. However, life has a habit of smacking the back of my head with the entire collection of Britannica Encyclopedias. One thick volume after the other, tha-kud-tha-kud-tha-kud, and my poor frazzled mind is so tender and sore that I can’t even begin to imagine that there is ever going to be a future in the writing industry for me. Am I going to throw myself in front of a cement truck? I think not. But I should stop the driver and ask him for a couple of teaspoons of his finest mixture and when he asks what’s it for, I will tell him, I need to harden up, stiffen my quivering upper lip. And if he says, lady you’re weird, I will simply tell him, I can make it weirder if you like.

So what could possibly be gnawing at me like a starving piranha? What has life done to me that has me feeling sorry for the anorexic carnivorous fish that I allow it to keep on chomping on my life-immersed fingers?

I now work fulltime as a receptionist from home.

That’s easy you say. That would be a dream job. But let me tell you. Try writing when you’re expecting to be interrupted at any moment or as soon as you get emotionally connected with your character and ring-ring. The call might only last a couple of minutes but when I sit back down … blank, blank, blank …

What was I doing again?


I sit back down and realise that the character I was just working on is upset with me. According to her I haven’t given her the time of day. The people on the other end of the phone are somehow viewed as more important than her. Not to mention that I’ve left her stranded on the side of the road with a busted radio when all she wanted was to party for the first time in her twenty-four year old life? Don’t I care that her needs, although they are a little selfish, are just as important as my need to earn a living, regardless where the income is coming from?

Give me a break.

I do try to listen, to understand, but the emotional investment I need for Miranda Petunia Sump has been depleted like my chocolate biscuit stash. I just stare and stare at the crumbs on the plate (I’m shocked that there are actually crumbs left) and then at the screen. Ah heck! There were crumbs on the screen page as well. I had accidentally rested my finger on the full stop key. It looked something like this……………………………………………………… only it was two and a half pages long.

What was that thing I was striving for?

My thirst for writing my second horror/urban fantasy novel (I haven’t made up my mind yet) had evaporated. So as a writer who has many ideas tucked away, I decided to write a first draft of a fantasy story that I had been mind mapping. Two pages in, bring, bring. (Sorry but I got sick of writing ring, ring.)

I need to take a nanny nap. I need to find a way of keeping my sanity on the straight and narrow because in time I will find a routine suitable to my new unexpected lifestyle. I guess this pig-poop-covered curve ball of change made me step back more than a few steps because I knew that I was ready for my writing career to advance. I had been working hard to get it up and running.

I have to remember, as long as I write, I am still a writer. Yes I am a mother, wife, writer and now receptionist, book-keeper and according to some a mind reader. (You know that thing on the thingy that is like the other thing …) You get the picture. I know there are successful writers out there who have had it tougher than me. I would like to take the time to thank them for keeping me focused and working towards a future in the writing business. It’s funny, when we are faced with such a stinky curve ball we actually don’t see the positive that can come out of such a strike. We focus on the stink and that’s all.

Writing this post has somewhat settled the nerves.

As for that anorexic piranha chomping on my middle finger; he’s just choked on a knuckle.

If only the encyclopedias could have imprinted my brain with all that knowledge instead of flattening the back of my head and giving me a permanent bad hair day.

The not so amused muse infused. (What a mouthful.)

E. J. McLaughlin

Mused Infused

I must confess that there is a good reason that I have not posted on my blog recently. Please forgive me. As a writer there are times when an idea hits you so hard, decides to infect your mind with nothing but visions of what must be written and then it drives you insane because it won’t let you work on anything else. I had one such burst of inspiration two weeks ago. I know that my fellow workshoppers hate me because I have written over 40,000 first draft words in the last two weeks. As soon as the story is out of my mind and on the page, I promise to keep writing posts for you to read.

The muse infused,

E. J. McLaughlin

A Necessary Evil Continued …


Part 2: The Mythical Creature

In a previous post, I may have suggested that good workshoppers were mythical creatures, but in reality they’re not. My workshoppers are sometimes beastly, (don’t worry, they’ve workshopped this piece too and they know I love them unconditionally … mostly) but hey, they do exist. I’ve snared me a few good ones. Through trial and error, after error, I learnt how to be selective. The process may have taken me a while but my storytelling has improved, so has my writing but best of all I’m more confident. You need confidence just as much as you need your sanity in the writing industry.

So let’s get back to the serious business of what to look for in a good workshopper. Warning! This post may be just a little more on the serious side and that’s because finding good workshoppers isn’t something to joke about.

The first sign of a good workshopper is:

Jason Voorhees runs away from them. When they slice and dice their red ink across the page, they have purpose, questions lurking at the back of their minds and they’re not afraid to bring them to the forefront. They will discuss why they’ve made the page bleed; why they went for the jugular and severed the artery. They don’t do it to change the story. They have serious questions as to whether or not there’s something needing to be fixed, expanded or looked at from a different perspective, and no psycho punk-slasher will ever get in their way of making a good story great. Run Jason. Run.

How I love to hate them.

They find a problem. They offer solutions but at the end of the day they let you fix ’em. Most of us would like others to fix things for us, but it’s your story isn’t it? Because getting someone else to do the fixing can sometimes change more than just the story. And when they do offer solutions or strategies, they do it through discussions. Seeing if it actually works or gels with the writer can be fun. It may even give the other writers in the workshopping group an idea or help them solve a problem they’re having with their own manuscript.

You wouldn’t believe how many times I leave a workshop group and I think, gee my head hurts, but that’s when I know I’ve had a good workshop.

Workshoppers who know when to be delicate or when to be tough are definitely keepers. No point rushing in head first when someone is in the middle of some serious family invading life trauma causing the victim to have a complete and utter meltdown. A nervous beginner who has just joined the group should be introduced to good workshopping slowly, which leads to the next point.

Great workshoppers will explain their questions or concerns about the manuscript to help the writer understand where they’re coming from. If someone doesn’t understand, (and it doesn’t have to be the writer) then they will explain it again. I love watching other writers having a ding or ping moment. Their eyes light up and you just know they’ve learned something that will enhance their craft. (The difference between a ding and ping moment is: a ding moment happens instantaneously and the ping moment takes a little while to get through.)

I seriously need to do something about my brain. I’m having far too many ping moments and not enough dings lately.

They are not genre-ists.

Let’s see, in my two workshopping crews, I have a couple of Science Fiction writers, an Academic writer who is also tackling some serious autobiographical inkblotting, a Young Adult fiction writer, an Action-Adventure writer, an Urban Fantasy writer, a Children’s writer, a poet, a script writer and me. I’m the one who slings horror and dark comedy at them. But it’s not just the story they talk about. Any question arising in the world of writing from how do we…, to what about this…, is thoroughly discussed or passionately debated but it’s never argumentative. Who cares what genre is waiting to be read. A good story is a good story regardless of a label.

Editing is for the later drafts, unless you ask for it. No point doing all those insidious punctuation and grammar changes in the first or second drafts when the story might change, or voice might change or tense might change. Yeah I know I sound like a stalker’s heavy breathing, but that’s just how I see things. Editing is for the almost completed, the almost finished. Good workshoppers will of course pick up really obvious problems like the sentence with too many ideas in it! (Here’s the lowdown. I hadn’t actually put that bold sentence in. It was a suggestion by a smarty pants workshopper. But hey! It works to prove a point. I had mentioned that I love them mostly, right.) The smaller problems will always emerge and be dealt with later. There’s no point putting bait out to trap a lion if he’s already eaten. Or overwhelming the poor workshopper with too many ideas in one sentence … I wish I had an evil chuckle.

They will let you have a small hissy fit; freak out, cry, throw a tantrum, have a moment of self-doubt and then they will politely tell you to pull your head in and act like a professional writer. Just to let you know, I haven’t had a hissy fit or thrown a tantrum but I have had a freak out or two and plenty of self-doubting moments; so have the others, so I don’t feel so bad. Come to think of it, I haven’t cried yet, but I’ve come close, but that was for reasons other than writing.

As soon as a page is set out in front of them, they stick their friendships in the closet with their other skeletons. They are professionals offering advice. Friendship has nothing to do with it nor does it have a place at the workshop table. Sounds harsh, but it’s never personal.

They know that you are not what you write.

Bless them.

They entice you or may challenge you to experiment. And I’m not talking about drugs, but the effects are just as euphoric—after the fear and frustration has gone.

No topic is taboo. If you’re writing to express a political stance, if you write about someone getting hurt or raped, a character on a rampage while their veins are filled with drugs, about a man beating on his wife or a mother killing her child, it doesn’t matter. What matters is the quality of the writing, storytelling technique and structure. In other words, it’s all about the craft of writing, not the content.

If you find these wonderful workshoppers, you’ll know that you’re in good company. There is one more aspect that I haven’t mentioned yet. How could I have forgotten the most important character trait of a good workshopper? (It’s called Mother’s Disposition or Lack There Of. While trying to write this post, I’ve made lunch, saved the floor from my elderly cat who can’t seem to find the open door and the children are still hungry, having already eaten a sandwich, an apple, a kiwi fruit, a glass of chocolate milk, the list goes on.)

So what is the most important aspect a workshopper can have?

They never tell you what you can’t write. They want you to be unique, yourself.

During your writing career, you will meet a lot of people who will make you feel insecure. Get rid of these people and don’t give up on the dream. Most of all, you must find people who complement your writing. I don’t mean they like everything you write. I’m talking about finding other writers whose strengths are your weaknesses. If you aren’t any good at punctuation, find someone who is. If that person has trouble with structure and that happens to be your core strength then it could be a match made in writing heaven. It’s just something to think about. Everyone has individual needs. Find those who can help you strive to become the writer you desperately want to be. It’s all about give and take, not take and break.

It’s humbling to know that the people I surround myself with are a lot like me but very different at the same time. Without their support, who knows what would’ve happened to me as a writer. I know for one thing this blog would never have happened.

Until we meet again.

Write with confidence

Write with gusto

Write because you love it

E.J. McLaughlin