But what if you write and write and write and you don’t seem to be getting any better and all you collect are printed rejection slips? Once again, it may be that you are not a writer and will have to settle for a lesser post such as that of Chief Justice of the Supreme Court.
I love writing. Except for those days when I hate it.
This is one of the latter days.
Before my move, two weeks ago, I had four stories out at market. In the last three days, that number has dropped to one. Opening the mailbox to find an envelope inside, with my own address written in my own hand, is always disappointing. To see my SASE sitting in the mailbox three days in a row is positively disheartening. You can try to brace yourself for it; you can tell yourself every time you put a story in the mail that it’s going to be rejected; you can plan the next market for that story’s submission for when the rejection comes; you can even print out the next submission copy for that day….but it still stinks. Those rejections have cumulative weight. Each one hurts more than the last; each one lets a little more air out of the bubble. With each rejection in the mailbox, the doubt grows: I should have sold something by now….someone should have bought just one of my stories by now…. I know that this is irrational, that every writer endures it, that in some cases the rejections pile up for years before that glorious day when the SASE contains a contracts instead of a form-letter. So now it becomes an exercise in masochism: how strong is my conviction that writing is my truest, best destiny? I want to say it’s as strong as ever. The stories are still inside of me, and I still write them because I have to. But at what point does the wellspring taper off to a trickle, and then stop entirely? Never, I can only hope.
My first rejection letter ever came two-and-a-half years ago, for a vampire story called “Graveyard Waltz”. It was actually encouraging to get that first rejection letter, because at the time I took it to mean that I was officially “in the game”, that my hat was in the ring. Someone once said that “Ninety percent of success is just showing up”; that first rejection was my first official indication that I was showing up. (Of course, it helped that the editor of the magazine in question had scrawled a personal note at the bottom of the form-letter, telling me that it was despite the rejection a good story, and she looked forward to my next submission. Unfortunately, I’ve never submitted to that market again, because it’s a vampire-story only market, and I haven’t written any vampire stories lately. I can’t force myself into genres that easily; I take the stories as they come.)
I like the rejections from Weird Tales most of all, because the editors there (George Scithers, Darrell Schweitzer, and a few other assistants) actually take the time to tell you something of why they rejected the story. In the case of the one that arrived today (“The First Wish”), they noted both the story’s length (it’s at the outer limit of their standard word count) and its lack of a strong plot (not a surprise at all; the story in question isn’t plot-driven at all). It’s also not really in their genre. So why did I submit it to them in the first place, with all those cards stacked against me? For one reason, basically: word-count. With the exception of “The City of Dead Works”, “The First Wish” is my shortest story — at 8,750 words. Brevity consistently eludes me in my “short” fiction, which has the side effect of severly limiting the number of markets to which I can submit. There are simply few markets that are open to works of novelette length, so after a story of mine has been rejected three times — maybe four — it’s pretty much out of commission, unless I become aware of a new market accepting stories of that length. This also rules out just about all of the smaller markets that I know of. I’d love to be able to send my stories off to the smaller markets, the ones that pay a tiny amount plus a few copies, just to see my work in print somewhere. But I don’t know of any of those markets that deal in the lengths at which I work.
I’ve wondered for a long time if I should do anything about this: whether I should keep writing my stories at what feels to me to be their natural length, or whether I should try to “teach myself” to write actual short stories. Most days I lean to the former; some days, though, I wonder if I shouldn’t attempt the latter. The story that I’m writing now is shaping up to be another long one. I have a few story ideas that probably could be short ones, but I won’t know until I get to them. And of course, all of this has nothing at all to do with the big project: the unfinished novel that is getting quite close to completion.
The last chapters of Dr. Asimov’s Second Foundation are called, respectively, “The Answer That Satisfied” and “The Answer That Was True”. My answer, for now, is to keep on writing. I’m not sure if that answer satisfies, or if it is true. I hope it’s both, because it’s the only answer I have right now.
Back to the desk.