Over the past few years, I’ve been a light switch writer. Sometimes I’m on–meaning I’m actively subbing and writing–and other times I’m off–meaning I’m not doing anything. Yes I’ve written some short stories, and had them accepted but I’ve not been as active as I could be. Loads of reasons on this but those don’t really matter right now.
What matters is, since March, the light is on and I’ve gotten 9 stories written, edited and out the door in 3 months. I’m actively perusing a goal that’s been in my heart for a very long time, and there’s a glimmer of success. I’ve had 1 acceptance and another story in the shortlist pile. I’ve gotten some good feedback and personal rejections. Which means I’m doing okay right now.
I’ve learned some things in these past months that I think a lot of my writing friends need to hear.
Write the damn stories
That’s the most important part of this business. Stories are everywhere and there’s an endless supply of inspiration around you. Take little bits of this and that and put them in a blender and pick at it until something jumps up out of the sludge at you. Then sit down and get it on some sort of paper (digital or physical), let it sit, then pick it apart. Fill in the holes and make it as strong as you can. Rinse and repeat. Keep doing this until you have piles of stories to share.
Volunteer as a slush reader
I keep saying this because it’s true. By volunteering as a slush reader you will be exposed to just about every type of story imaginable. Some you will know right away if it is good or not. Others you won’t be as sure. But read as many as you can and read them all the way through before you ask yourself a few questions.
- Would you remember this story in 6 months?
- Does the story follow a path or does it wander?
- How do your characters stand up to the conflict?
- Is there any change in the character by the end?
Now compare your stories to the slush. How do you compare to what you are reading? What can you do to improve?
Tell that little voice to shut up
Writers are horrible at knowing if their work is any good or not. Most often we tell ourselves we aren’t good enough. It’s a huge handicap that we saddle ourselves with and actually kills our creative nature with an endless feedback loop. Top that off with a few rejections and many newish writers simply give up or only dabble when they feel up to it.
The truth is, if you finish a story, you are good enough. A piece might not be publishable immediately, but it can be improved through rewrites and editing. Even if you do trunk a story, elements might find themselves popping back up later in other work. Over time you will improve, especially if you are working towards making writing an important part of your life.
Submit those stories
Okay so you’ve written a story, edited it and now don’t know what to do with it. My suggestion is you could send it out into the wild. First you identify the genre, find a few markets that publish that sort of story, read the guidelines of the publication and submit. Reading and following the guidelines of the publication is very important as some won’t even look at a submission if it is formatted wrong. Make sure you hit send on the submission. It’s really important not to chicken out.
Waiting is boring
Yes it is. So guess what? Write more. Pick out another one of those sludgy ideas and start shaping it into something. Don’t worry about that story you already sent out. Make another and make this one better. And when it’s finished, find another market and send it off too. Rinse and repeat. Don’t spend your time worrying about a single story.
Don’t take rejections personally
A rejection has NOTHING to do with what kind of person you are. All it means is your story didn’t fit into the editor’s idea of the current publication. Your story might fit in nicely at the next publication, or the third or the tenth. While you may be hopeful that a market will take a story, you don’t know until you send it off and it goes through the reading rounds. But it won’t ever get an acceptance until you send it out.
Yes rejections can sting a bit, especially at first. But, you get used to them. The disappointment never quite goes away but it can be minimized by finding ways to improve.
One of the best ways to shrug off the blues from a rejection is to find something to celebrate. Go out to dinner for your first acceptance. Buy a book you wanted or take a class to help improve your writing. Heck celebrate your 20th rejection of a story by casting it into a bonfire if you like. But find something to smile about even if it’s silly.
And that’s about all of the advice I can give you. Have some fun with your writing. Experiment. Push away the lines. And most importantly keep writing