Dealing with Rejection: You Are Not Your Ideas

Written by Brendan O’Meara

creativity, inc, brendan o'meara
A nice passage from Creativity, Inc.

I’ve been fascinated by Pixar over the years and their ability to churn out such good movies. So when Creativity, Inc. by Ed Catmull (with Amy Wallace) was available at the library (cheap, Brendan, cheap) I checked it out. The above passage inspired this short post.

It is so easy to get offended when your creative ideas are rejected. It’s easy to take absorb a slight against your work and think that it is a slight against you. If someone says your work lacks soul, or depth, or excitement, it’s easy to suggest that they think you lack soul, depth, or excitement. Then you get angry. Then you lash out against the establishment. Then you’re no better than the other pigs who do nothing but complain about the state of things instead of powering ahead.

You’re better than that, so you keep on working.

It’s always important to remember that if you as an artist have reached the stage where the work is getting evaluated and rejected, you’re already ahead of 75 percent of creatives. (I can’t know this number for sure, but so many talk the game but then when it comes to submitting their books, they clam up.)

There have been so many times when I submitted a draft of an essay or a book and, like 99 percent of everything I pitch (I pitch a lot), they got rejected. But when they got rejected, often I realize I submitted too soon. It wasn’t ready, but I jumped out of the blocks before the gun went off. I get impatient and I just want it OUT THERE.

The rejection is a nice time to reevaluate the standing of the work. If it’s genuinely solid and it gets rejected, it goes out in the mail the next minute. If it’s not that good, if it’s just acceptable, if it’s still in its second trimester, use the rejection as a sign that it needs more gestation.

When it finally gets accepted, you’ll be so thankful for those early rejections and wiser for not taking it personal.

Take Notes, Take Notes, Take Notes

Written by Brendan O’Meara

I was listening to The Moment with Brian Koppelman. It’s a great podcast for screenwriters, but also creatives in any genre. The principles of creativity are the same across all disciplines. First and foremost: get your ass in the seat and work. Don’t be a little shit like I was in this post. I could delete that post and pretend it never existed, but that would be dishonest and weak. Own it, yo.

What Koppleman and John Hamburg talked about in an earlier episode of The Moment was finding a movie (could be a book, essay, etc.) that inspires you. Take your favorite movie and get a notebook. Take notes throughout the whole movie. Pause the movie. Watch the movie five, six, seven times. What works? How did the director lay out the scenes? How did he sew them together? How does the dialogue work? The list goes on and on.

I’ve watched The Dark Knight probably 15 times. I’ve watched the ending to The Dark Knight probably 50 times. It sums up everything about the movie beautifully. The movie, in many ways, is about duality. “You either die a hero, or you live long enough to see yourself become the villain.” It’s illustrated in Two Face. It’s illustrated in the Batman v. Joker rivalry. It’s in the duality of Batman v. Bruce Wayne. Everything has its dipoles in this movie, positive and negative components of a magnet.

In the ending of The Dark Knight, Jim Gordon says of Harvey Dent (covering up the mess Dent made), “A hero, not the hero we deserved but the hero we needed.” Then as Batman runs into the night Gordon says, “Because he’s the hero Gotham deserves, but not the one it needs right now.” I love how Christopher Nolan and Jonathan Nolan flipped the wording. Again with the duality. The past and present tense. (It’s also classic Christopher Nolan cross-cutting.)

Whatever the creative medium, if you’re serious about your art, you stand on the shoulders of titans before you and you examine the what the why of their work. Football head coaches watch hours and hours and hours of game film, why? They’re trying to understand the inner workings of an opponent. In art there are no opponents, but the same measure of examination is imperative to those serious about the art.

I think The Great Gatsby is THE model of first-person storytelling. I’ve read it six times, but never with a notebook. When I read it again I’m going to peel back its facade to the scaffolding underneath. I recommend this to anyone, for anyone.

It’s the dirty work that goes unseen.

The Souvenir Bet: What Every Horse Racing Fan Needs to do Now!

Written by Brendan O’Meara

Here’s a quick hit. Here’s what every horse racing fan needs to do: place a $2 bet on California Chrome to win the Belmont Stakes.

It’s a simple, but necessary thing to do. Frame it if it happens.

Also, here’s a pic of a pic from Belmont Park:

Will California Chrome Win the Triple Crown? Here’s How.

Written by Brendan O’Meara

Yes.

California Chrome will win the the Triple Crown. I don’t care much for curses, jinxes, or knocking on wood. He’s the best horse in the field and he’s been training hella-good. For those who don’t know, I cover a lot of horse racing. I have a weakness for dying sports.

Why will Chrome win? He’s got the perfect running style. He wants a single target to run at (but may be the lone speed). He has a nice, easy cruising speed and push-button acceleration. On top of that he’s the most talented horse of his generation at this time.

[READ SOME OF MY BELMONT STAKES WORK AT BLEACHER REPORT.]

California Chrome has been brilliantly handled by Art Sherman, Chrome’s trainer, and Victor Espinoza, Chrome’s jockey. I’m not going to belabor any major points. If you want to get the real skinny, go click on that Bleacher Report link.

I’m driving down to Belmont Park Saturday, leaving at 4 AM and will be tweeting and Instagram-ing and having a good ol’ time hoping to see history. It’ll be a long day filled with massive amounts of caffeine. Good times.

Brian Koppelman on rejection and writing habits

Written by Brendan O’Meara

This was a great listen, so much so that I’ve listened to it twice.

Brian Koppelman, screenwriter/director to several movies including Rounders and The Illusionist, spoke with Tim Ferriss, author of the 4-Hour Work Week and 4-Hour Body, on the Tim Ferriss Show.

Koppelman talks about rejection and powering through it all. Before he reached the level he’s at now he spent two hours every morning working on a screenplay with his writing partner. That screenplay was Rounders. He made the time. This speaks to many of creatives that may have a day job for the steady income while working on our passion projects.

And in this crazy modern world we live in, I tweeted out to Koppelman just to say how much I appreciated his insights. He replied and retweeted. Pretty cool for a guy in the big time.

Click here to listen to the interview.

My Top Writing Books

Written by Brendan O’Meara

Writing books may as well be writing procrastination books. There’s a big market in writing procrastination and writers capitalize on it. That’s the dream of every writer: to get to a point where he/she is reputable enough to write a book on writing. He/she knows there’s a new generation of saps looking to put off their writing by learning a new tip from the incumbent writer emeritus. I’m a sap that says, “No, it’s continuing education.” Which it is, but there’s no better way to become more skilled than to put the pencil to the paper.

There really is only one tip: write like it’s a job (because if you’re serious about it, it is). Or, more bluntly, write like a mofo. (How great is Cheryl Strayed?)

Hemingway didn’t even know he wrote a book on writing, which makes his one of the very best. It’s titled: Ernest Hemingway on Writing, Edited by Larry W. Phillips. One my faves. Tons of great nuggets from letters to friends. He had a social network where they shared tools, tricks, and insights. They helped each other.

Stephen King doesn’t get enough credit for being a great writer (Have you read Rita Hayworth and the Shawshank Redemption?). His book On Writing is excellent. Buy it.

The New New Journalism by Robert S. Boynton is a series of interviews with great narrative journalists. They talk about writing and reporting. I reference it all the time.

Roy Peter Clark’s Writing Tools is the best of his many books on writing. If you can get ahold of his laminated Writing Tools Quick Sheet, do it. It’s like being an NFL head coach holding a laminated card like Andy Reid.

Good Prose by Tracy Kidder and Richard Todd is a wonderful collaborative book between a writer/editor tandem. I reviewed it here.

Lastly, Creative Nonfiction by Philip Gerard lays out what it takes to do great reporting and writing to make a work of nonfiction read like great fiction.

Well, that’s it. I hope these books help. Got some others? Throw them in the comments.

Honorable Mention:

Bird by Bird, Anne Lamott

On Writing Well, William Zinsser

Glamour of Grammar, Roy Peter Clark

How to Write Short, Roy Peter Clark

Help! for Writers, Roy Peter Clark

DePaolo’s “Son of a Game”

Written by Brendan O’Meara

Joe DePaolo writes great long form profiles in the same vein as Wright Thompson, maybe the best narrative sports writer in the genre today. DePaolo returns to SB Nation profiling the son of Mariano Rivera, the greatest closer in Major League Baseball history. His son, as if it weren’t hard enough living in his father’s shadow, is also named Mariano. And he’s also a pitcher, but he’s a starting pitcher.

READ THE PIECE AT SB NATION HERE.

The younger Rivera pitches for Iona. He’s a decent pitcher. He’s got potential but he’s not the type guarantee Stephen Strasberg was when he came out of college. What’s most attractive about Rivera is his pedigree.

The piece delves into the burden the son bears while always being in comparison to his father. So long as he continues to pitch, he will always be in his father’s shadow. He’s trying to forge ahead and prove he’s his own man.

It’s a great piece. Go check it out. Also, check out DePaolo’s profile on jockey Gary Stevens from a year ago.

Do Cool Stuff: The Key to Being a Writer

Written by Brendan O’Meara

My big writer’s resolution of 2014 was to do more immersion projects. I stopped covering high school games. I’ve covered hundreds upon hundreds of games. They’re not worth my time any more in a very small media market.

The best thing any writer can do is to do interesting things (or do things the writer finds interesting). The technical skills that come with writing comes with repetition.

The literary agent Jeff Kleinman visited Goucher College one summer residency. This was in 2007. He rattled a lot of cages for harping on the MFA program for producing what he loathes: the MFA Voice. The MFA Voice is subjective, of course, but it’s a voice that is technically sounds but almost always devoid of energy, spunk, and edge. It’s a voice that is bogged down by fundamentals, that’s too aware of itself, that doesn’t want to get in the way of the story. It can be very vanilla. Take movies. You know when you’re watching a Wed Anderson, a Christopher Nolan, a Stephen Spielberg, a Quentin Tarantino. That’s voice.  We want to occupy their brain space for two to three hours at a time.

Certain stories that are very heavy need the author to step back, but for most stories, especially memoir, the voice has to be engaging and full of energy. The key, as Austin Kleon writes in his great book Show Your Work, is to “Be an Amateur.”

Amateurs are not afraid to make mistakes or look ridiculous in public. They’re in love, so they don’t hesitate to do work that others think of as silly or just plain stupid.

That’s what Jonathan Safran Foer did when he wrote Everything is Illuminated. He wrote like an amateur. In Malcolm Gladwell’s What the Dog Saw, Gladwell wrote a great piece on late bloomers (Foer is not a late bloomer, but the other side of the coin). Foer brought an amateur approach to his writing. He was a freshman at Princeton (smaht kid, as we say in the Boston area). On a whim, he took a creative writing class with Joyce Carol Oates. Gladwell wrote:

Oates told him that he had the most important of writerly qualities, which was energy. He had been writing fifteen pages a week for that class, an entire story for each seminar.

“Why does a dam with a crack in it leak so much?” [Foer] said with a laugh. “There was just something in me, there was like a pressure.”

Foer went to Ukraine to see where his grandfather came from (doing cool stuff). He came back. Foer said:

I was just writing. I didn’t know that I was writing until it was happening. I didn’t go with the intention of writing a book. I wrote three hundred pages in ten weeks. I really wrote. I’d never done it like that.

This is the type of thing that gets a bit smothered in the MFA crowd, a crowd that gets bitter when their technically sound prose can’t find a home. It’s like what Kleinman told me once, “It doesn’t matter how great a writer you are if you’re not writing anything people want to read.”

I’m writing about maple syrup these days. It’s cool. It’s about syrup, but it’s also about my fleeting sense of manhood and a search for brotherhood. Anyway, go ahead and watch some sap dump into the holding tank. I think it’s interesting.