Three years ago I read a message board question at a forum that I still frequent.
I have removed all identifying names to avoid possible embarassment but it read something like this.
“I just got another rejection notice. The editor said they liked the story. They said it was “highly engaging and wonderfully weird” but it lacked a punch at the end. This is the second time I’ve been told my endings stink. The first time on another story the editor raved about it and asked if I could change the ending. I didn’t know what to do, and I added some lame ending to it. That one didn’t work either. That one was also different from how I normally write. This writing stuff is so damn frustrating I want to give up. ”
This fellow was a good friend of mine – one of those acquaintanceships you strike up over the internet. I’ve never met the dude in person – might not ever see him face to face – but it peeved me considerably to hear his discouragement. We have all felt this way and I have to and I wanted to reach out and give him a hand up.
So this is how I answered.
“I was talking to a local YA writer the other day – a fellow who has sold books right across Canada, a fellow who has been writing for years with dozens of books and stories and story collections sold – and he still gets manuscripts rejected at a regular rate.
Listen, I’m fifty, and I’ve been writing for about twenty years and I get rejections as often as not. The fact is, it’s only been these last few years that I’ve really felt like I was beginning to get the hang of this writing business – and I still expect many more rejections.
Don’t let it get you down. Keep writing. Get more stories out there. The best way, I’ve found, to deal with rejections is numbers. When I was actively marketing my short stories I made it a point to try and get at least two dozen to thirty stories out there, at any given time.
So, if (when) a story came back with a rejection slip – I wasn’t crushed. I’d just look at it and say – well what the hell I am really counting on those other two dozen stories – and then fire it off to somebody else.
Writing is fishing. You throw a line in, nothing bites, throw it back in. You sit there all day, casting and enjoying the process and maybe you catch something and maybe you don’t, but if you’re doing it properly you learn from your experience and enjoy a good day of fishing.
Send the story off to someone else. Write another story. Send that one out. Get as many goddamn lines into the water as you can manage, and then get a few more.
Writing is training. Like every fighter – you’ve got to work the speed bag, the heavy bag, the crazy bag – you’ve got to keep punching.
As for endings – well, like I always say – I don’t like to start a story until I know where I’m ending it. A story is a process that your protagonist must endure and enjoy. The ending must be inevitable, unexpected and satisfying. A proper beginning asks a question. A proper ending answers the question. Endings are as tricky as carving proper Santa feet. Endings are the feet that your story stand upon.
Endings are tricky. Practice will get you there. Take a look at some of your favorite stories, shit that other writers have written and you’ve enjoyed and returned to – novel, short story, poem – doesn’t matter. Draw yourself a story-map and figure out how that author got there.
Above all else, have fun. The rejection is part of the game. Learn from it, don’t let it get you down.
Read more stories. Write more. Submit more.
Nobody starts out good. Everybody can get better. Best is nothing more than a point you’re trying to make with your gods.
This shit takes time.”
Goddamn, I can be an articulate fellow at times. So can all of us. There will come a time in your life – if you feel strongly enough about anything – that you will put your feelings into words and just reel them out. The only difference between me and thee is that I have trained myself to write them down as I reel them out.
If you want to write something worth reading find something that your passionate about and let your feelings out in words. Try to express how you feel through the mouths of character – let your heart and your passion and your feelings articulate themselves into the framework of a story. One of the key ingredients to any piece of fictional writing – and even a lot of nonfiction – is passion, intense feeling and strongly built character. You write about something you care about and your passion and feeling will show.
But sometimes that isn’t enough to carry the day.
Sometimes an editor will take a dump upon your heart from a very great height.
They won’t mean it personally but it will hit you like they did.
You’ll want to lay down and cry a little, hold your knees and rock in a fetal position, bemoan your lack of talent and cry out to the gods of creativity – “Why me, Lord, why me?”
Take my advice and stop and think about all of those countless dayjobs that we as human beings must endure. Think about all of those folks in call centres and factories and sweat shops and restaurant kitchens who deal regularly with seniors and authority-figures and bosses of all shapes and sizes crapping upon their self-esteem.
Odds are these labourers, these tradesmen, these workers will shrug off the crap and the carping and get back to the job because hell, it’s just another day at work.
So when an editor takes a dump on your self esteem don’t let it get to you. It is just another day at work. Shrug it off, shake it off, laugh at the cat or yell at the dog and then get back to it. It’s just another day at work. Just another day stringing words across paper or a computer screen.
Don’t let rejection or poor sales or a bad track record get you down.
Remember – this shit takes time.
yours in storytelling,