The Long and Short of It: A Cowardly Writer
I never started out writing short stories. Or even poems. In my mind, when I sat down to write at the ripe old age of twelve (spiral bound notebook and pen in hand) I was writing a frakking novel. It’s always been novels. Not to say that they’ve always been good novels, of course; simply, this is how my brain thinks. And that’s not surprising, really. I read more novels than anything else. I am a very choosy reader, but when a book takes hold of me I am in for the long haul. I know characters that have changed me for life; I have seen landscapes in print that I will recall to my dying day. Books are intimate journeys… they are friends, too. I write what I love and know. It’s not that surprising, right?
But it seems in this publishing profession, there’s an unwritten rule about getting short stories published. They can’t hurt, right? You write these pieces, you send them out, you mostly get rejections, but every now and again someone might actually pay you for the thirty some-odd hours you put into that work. Then, you can update your bio with said publication, and maybe even get into the SFWA!
This is my big problem: even though I’ve been writing for a very long time, I am still a short story newbie. Some of my short stories have taken longer to write from beginning to end than novels. (Yes, you read that correctly. The story “The Monastery of the Seven Hands” took over a year to write; Queen of None was drafted in six weeks, approximately, and edited in about a month. 4,000 words… vs. 85,000 words.)
I fret short stories. I fret and fret. I edit for hours upon hours. I rewrite. Then, I finally get them out the door and submitted and… yeah, then things get interesting.
When I first started seriously submitting short stories, I was on a roll. Most were accepted; those that were rejected were given lots of feedback. I felt very sure of myself. Then, I started getting rejections. Okay, I got three. Not a huge amount; far less than many people. But it was enough that, in the case of both of the stories involved, I just sort of stopped submitting. My assumption, however right or wrong that it may be, was that each particular story was just unpublishable. There was something so wrong, so innately off-kilter about the story that no one wanted it–and no one ever would want it.
So I put the stories to bed.
Then, inevitably, I opened up my “Submissions” folder, and these little stories looked back at me, questioningly… wondering, no doubt, what they ever did so wrong to deserve such treatment. So then I decided they needed to go back (from rejection to revisiting the Submission folder might take a month… maybe even more. I reason I’m simply too cowardly a writer to send it back immediately to another publication.) Back! Into the wide sea of submissions, that is!
But going back, man. That’s when the proverbial scat always hits the fan.
At this point, I’ve lost my faith in the piece. Everything looks wrong. The opening, the closing, the description; I poke holes in the plot, I roll my eyes at the dialogue. I don’t even know where to start editing. I wonder if I even wrote this story; or, perhaps, how much I had to drink when I did. One story I recently hacked in half. I literally cut it down by half the wordcount (assuming, somehow, that during that purge I’d omit the offending passages or something). But you know what? I still haven’t resubmitted that story. I’m still sitting on it.
DO NOT BE LIKE ME.
No really. This is crazy. I realize this is totally crazy of me. I’m a writer, and I write short stories as well as novels. (Well, maybe not as well as, but in addition to?) I’m also a relative novice in the short story market–so the best thing I can do is try to place stories, and if they don’t place, write other ones.
(Note: I also need to stop taking so frigging long to write them, too.)
The difficulty of having been accepted so early on is that it puffed up my ego a bit. I don’t think I tried as hard with the stories that came after. Or maybe what I’m writing just isn’t hot right now. Or maybe they do suck as much as I fear.
The point is that writers have hurtles. And rejection is part of the game. I didn’t think rejection bothered me, honestly. (I know, you’re probably laughing hysterically after reading this post, too!) Sure, I didn’t cry. I didn’t write back angry letters to the editors who rejected me. But I did something worse: I stopped. I turned tail and ran.
I’m not going to do this any more. Just so you know.
Now where’s that liquid courage?