Saturday, September 17, 2011

It Gets Easier: Writing = Game Playing

In case you've been wondering how I waste my time (instead of writing), one thing I do every morning is play the Daily Crossword and Daily Sudoku on Yahoo Games. No, this is not an advertisement for them (though I have been playing them almost as long as they've been there).

view detailsWhen I first started out with them, the likelihood that I would finish the Sudoku on Saturdays was slim to none. The games are super easy Monday and Tuesday, and gradually add stars of difficulty throughout the week, ending with a five-star puzzle on Saturday. A five-star puzzle that I might spend as much as half an hour on before giving up. The Crossword stuff was usually doable, but it would take me 12 to 15 minutes to complete. If you love crosswords, this is on the easy end of crossword puzzles, believe me, and I'm not good at them.

Despite my own limitations with regard to intelligence, I've continued to work on these little games every single day for years. And I realized something this morning: They have grown a LOT easier.

This is not to brag. I am no smarter now than I was ten years ago. I've had two kids since then, so it is very likely that many thousands of my brain cells have been irrevocably lost. And the games haven't changed format in all that time, either. They are just easier. And here's why:

1. I have previous knowledge from playing the game that helps me find answers and or make deductions more quickly. The same authors create the crossword puzzles, so I know to look for answers with vowels. For instance, I know "oboe" is the likeliest musical instrument. I know that words beginning with vowels are also necessary to make the puzzles work, and previous experience on the puzzles helps me think of these words.

2. I've grown used to the time markers. I used to try to finish the crossword under ten minutes. But that clock ticking messed with me. Instead of becoming a relaxing game just to get my mind revved up in the morning, it became some sort of track race, and I was always losing. Now that I'm not panicking, or even looking at the time signature, I finish in around 7 minutes. No panic. Just concentration.

3. Strategy becomes the name of the game, instead of the games feeding some sort of self-worth. I'm not afraid of not completing the puzzle ("You're so dumb, Shakespeare! You can't even solve this 3-star Sudoku!"). Instead, I know the puzzle can be solved, and I simply look for the best paths to do so. And those paths have become clearer to me as I've played, so that even this morning my Sudoku puzzle (a 5-star) took me about five minutes to finish, without my ever finding a place where I couldn't figure out what to do next. (I used to sometimes stare at the screen for that amount of time, completely at a loss, before giving up for the day.)

So, what does this rather silly ramble about silly games prove? Well, since I just FINISHED my umpteenth draft of novel numero uno, I know my task: To write a query letter and synopsis, research the field, and go out there and get an agent. I admit, as much as the rewrite was fantastically enervating, the idea of putting my work out there for everyone and his dog to reject is twisting my innards.

That is the purpose of this metaphor. I've sent things out before (though it's been years), and I know it will be difficult at first. I may want to give up. The query letter might go through ten different versions before I put together one that doesn't suck. My work will be rejected innumerable times.

But it will get easier. With practice will come experience, and I will use the feedback and the practice to hone my strategy. Each letter will be less stomach-wrenching. Each rejection less of a big deal, and each day that I work on this I will stress about it less and see it through more fully, learning my way through the process so that when it comes I'll be more ready than when I started this journey.

I still intend to print out each rejection and post it up in my office. I'm just about to tear all the shelves out of the place so that I have four full walls to fill with rejection letters. I'm considering printing them on nice stationary, since most will be e-rejections. My goal? In a couple of years, I want enough rejections to cover all the walls.

To do that, though, I'll need to get writing. Query letter first, synopsis second, list of prospective agents third. Just writing about this makes it feel easier. Time is no issue. It will likely take years, and I'm prepared for that. Strategy is what counts. Strategy and a positive attitude.

Okay, so the novel itself does count. But I think it's AWESOME. And you will too, when you read it.


  1. Of course your book is awesome. I heard this trick many years ago and it helped me get over the dread of rejection letter. Fill a page with repetitions of the word NO, and at the bottom of the page put one YES. Tell yourself that you have to achieve all of the NOs in order to get to the YES. In theory, you will look forward to the rejections, because each one takes you that much closer to that acceptance letter.

    Good luck with your manuscript. Send it out!!!


  2. Now, at least for me, comes the boring part. I never minded the rejection letters but I stopped submitting anything to anywhere when the one came back and the editor had written "Very very funny query, the whole office busted a gut with it. But we can't use this short story." I wrote him back and asked him to then print the fucking letter...I got a form rejection letter back for that query.

    Lou's idea doesn't sound like a bad way to go. But for me...naw I will never submit anything to anyone again...waste of my time because there are too many people out there with initials behind their names that almost immediately get prior consideration no matter how well written my work is. Once I made that decision though I will say this, I became content with my ability to write. The assistant to the assistant who first opens and reads the query letter may have just broken up with their partner and decided that life sucks and by contrast so does everything that comes across their desk that day. *shrug*

    I honestly wish you the success you have worked so hard for, for so long now Shakes, I personally just want to write and let the chips fall where they will. I have had my career and I was one of the best mechanics in the city so I accomplished one of the goals I had, now you go out and accomplish yours!

  3. There is something I must absolutely say with out delay. I totally admire your ability to do a sudoku. You are clearly gifted. :)

  4. It really does come down to understanding and getting comfortable with a process. I find (to my great relief!) that each novel I write is cleaner, smoother, better drafted because I learned something from the previous one! Great post!

  5. Lou, I love that idea! I can post that up this week, and just cross out the no's as I get them... very tangible. Since I'm a visual person, that will be right up my alley.

    Walking Man, you have encouraged me for so long. I'm sorry about your experience, and I am determined not to let this process become my lens for viewing myself and my work. I feel brave for getting to this step again, and if nothing comes of it, I'm still going to write, no matter what.

    Thanks, Laila! I remember first trying Sudoku, and not having a clue what I was doing. That's why I did it online, since the game would tell me when I was making an illegal move. Now it's something that just focuses my mind. Once I've completed the game, I'm ready to write and get going for the day.

    Elizabeth, that is what many established writers say... and I hope to keep learning and improving my craft as I go along. This novel was begun when my daughter was two, and I have been re-envisioning and re-crafting it for the last 8 years. Just writing the query letter for it last night, though, has brought up two more issues I will need to address in it before I call it finished (funny how that happens).

  6. I said that is MY attitude I would never recommend it for the under the age of Grandma Moses set who really chose this as a career path. Like I said Buddy,

    I was a great car guy,
    I could fix 'em up
    to make Detroit Iron
    go fast as hell,
    at least a hundred twenty two
    and I ain't lying

    when I say I could do
    the other with one eye open.
    You know the ones
    carrying the two man crew
    that hauled people off to jail
    for going fast as hell.

  7. Good luck. I know you will persevere and "win". Actually you are already a winner.

  8. You know one thing you missed? Attitude. It flavors writing and it sure as hell is needed to overcome.

    I think you have the right one. Good luck!

  9. That's a great attitude to have! I think you'll get there with that kind of determination. You go girl!

  10. Rejection doesn’t bother me. I see each slip/email as a testament of effort and persistence – bravery even.

    My first fiction prof did our class the biggest favor. He brought an entire box of rejection letters and dumped them on the conference room table we gathered around for class. (Over a decade ago when rejections arrived via snail mail on magazine and journal letterheads.) It showed me that yes, this is the natural order of this business. Let the rejections pour forth. They are but paper and I will continue through the blizzard.

    Best of luck!