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.

I suck.

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.

Whateverseriouslyitdoesn’tmatter.

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?

  • http://www.timesplash.co.uk Graham Storrs

    “Liquid courage”. I’ve never heard ink called that before.

    Seriously though, the really good thing about submitting short stories (I find) is that you deal directly with the the people who publish them. No agent-intermediary to add another layer of rejection. You get right to the source and you can actually see – from what they’ve been publishing lately – just what they like to publish. And when they give you comments in their rejections, you know that this is the horse’s mouth speaking, not someone who’s trying to second-guess what the horses are buying these days.

    • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

      That is a good point! Having read slush I know how varied (and often terrible) the submissions can be, and you’d think that would help. But sometimes it just feels a bit pointless.

  • Jaym Gates

    I heard that there was a guy down on Fitch Street, selling liquid courage from a roadside shack. Might want to take it with some fruit juice though, I’ve heard that it has a terrible aftertaste.

    Aside from the time of just WRITING the short story (My turn-around on shorts is about two weeks, while working on other things as well.), the time-consuming nature of the rest of it. Researching markets, researching guidelines, formatting, submitting, waiting…when it comes down to it, short stories are terribly inefficient.

    But fun. That’s where I have to take it from. I write a short story when I feel that I have one to write. Forcing them just doesn’t work.

    *hugs*

    • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

      Yeah, the fun part is getting there. I think I’m finally getting it, or something. I just want to turn everything into a novel. I’d say half of the short story ideas I have I abandon because they are novels, not shorts. Ah, my brain. :)

  • http://obligatedtoexaggerate.blogspot.com Conni

    I can’t write short stories. I’ve tried, but they’re always too big to fit into the word limit. I can write flash – a vignette, a single scene – but to have a full story with plot and everything … 5000 words is damn near impossible.

    So I don’t. There’s no rule as says you have to sell X short stories before you can sell a novel. So to heck with that. Imma write my novel.

    • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

      I’m learning to. I’m trying to think of it like a challenge… boiling down my long windedness into a few strong pages. It does help to write better, to learn how to do that. Doesn’t mean I have to love it, though! ;)

      • http://obligatedtoexaggerate.blogspot.com Conni

        Heh. If I had the time to spend on that, I’d be less stressed ;)

        It’s not even that I’m long-winded (I forget things like descriptions); I just get these big, swirly plots that take a lot of space. I write a lot of political stuff, which just doesn’t fit in little space, you know?

    • http://mariadkins.com Mari Adkins

      I’m right there with you. I have two published shorts and one looking for a home. But jeesh. They’re pains in my hind end to write. I just don’t write or think that small.

  • Shay D.

    The mental wall against resubmission: oh boy do I hear you on that one. Even with the rejecting market’s encouragement to shop it around, it just… sits. Waiting for revisions, maybe, or something. Waiting for me to stop making excuses, more likely.

    Researching other markets does take time, but it’s a worthwhile investment. (I need to remind myself of that.)

    Best of luck with your new plan!

    • http://nataniabarron.wordpress.com Natania

      Thanks! Yes, I’m not good with the research part, either. I just sort of… submit to places I’m familiar with. Which sometimes works, but mostly doesn’t. I know of writers with spreadsheets and all that… Like Jaym said, the time alone invested in something like that is a bit overwhelming. And with so many other projects, for me the time just isn’t there.

      • http://mariadkins.com Mari Adkins

        I have a spreadsheet for all the places I’ve sent Midnight – that way I don’t send to them again and I know who hasn’t responded to me (so I can write them back and say, um, it’s passed your deadline, what gives?). After a year, it’s only 21 lines long. 21 agents and publishers. Am still waiting to hear back from 8 of them, and a small handful of them are quick approaching their “if you’ve not heard from us in X amount of time, consider yourself rejected” date. The sheet includes the name and contact information for the person you write to if you’ve not heard from them and need to submit a follow-up. And of course I have the “no response / no interest” noted in there too.

  • http://lucentdusk.com Gargantua

    It is hard to have something you spent so much time on rejected. I, too, have bouts of self-doubt and paranoia (Maybe I don’t have any skill at all! Maybe everything I do write is complete and utter crap!) Give that inner editor any fuel and it will pick you apart in under 10 seconds.

    I think the important thing is to pick oneself up again, say “frack you” to the inner criticism, and keep plugging along.

  • http://throughaforestofideas.blogspot.com/ Harry Markov

    Can I be of assistance? Maybe it is all about the way you perceive short stories, why don’t you draft them out just as a chapter from a novel. Trick yourself in believing that you are writing a novel and just pick that one scene and go with it. That can help?

    And yeah, rejection sucks and I still have to see a piece of mine published in a paying magazine.

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