So I’m posting here a photo of my Sir Julius Vogel award. It’s cool, and I guess I’m bragging a bit. But see those three folders underneath? Those are my rejection slips. You know, the letter you get from a publisher who for one reason or another isn’t taking your story. Gathered over more years than I care to admit.
I think there are about two thousand. I have a feeling I’ve lost some over the years.
Most of them are form rejections. Some are very nice personal rejections. One is a disappointingly rude personal rejection (I haven’t submitted to that magazine since).
And there, standing on the shoulders of all those rejections, is an award. To me this is the value of persistence. I mean this to be encouraging. Keep at it. Keep going. Pursue what you love doing. It’s not about the award (though that’s nice), it’s about loving doing it.
Not only did I learn I hadn’t placed in Writers of the Future, I got three other rejection slips in the mail. All form rejections. Still that means that those stories can all go out to other editors who might like them. So that’s what I did. Sent them out. Within an hour or so I had my list back up to twenty live submissions.
Then, as I sent off that last one, some good news. An acceptance. Yay. It is in a no-payment, no-copy anthology so it stokes just my ego, but by then it was in need of a little stoking.
And it got a little better too – with some new music accepted for release on Zenapolae. More on that in another post. Right now I’m getting back to writing the next story.
As I progress through my “year of writing pulp”, I’m certainly learning a lot about myself as a writer. As with any writer, I have ups and downs and I have stories that are more successful (in the storytelling sense) than others. Sometimes it’s easy to feel down when a story isn’t working out. I begin to wonder if I’ll ever have another decent story in me. I guess I’m always measuring against my last best story. And that may be two or three (or more?) stories back.
The reality is that (as with most writers again) I feel like I’m getting better in general. See the graph of story quality here, with the zero to one hundred as the quality measure and the left to right as progress over time. In the early days most (ie, all) of my stories were lousy (say, a fifteen on the quality scale – at least they had reasonable grammar), but over time I’m getting better at the process of storytelling. Sometimes I stumble a little and drop down the quality line, but the general trend seems to be towards the upper end. (You understand, of course, that the ‘quality’ graph here is a purely arbitrary thing, for the sake of illustration. It’s not something I can measure in a scientific way).
This thought perhaps comes out of struggling with a chapter of my new novel that felt dead and lifeless and was a struggle to write; and then going into the next chapter which almost burned up my keyboard it was coming out so fast and easily. A novel is different to a story (that dull-ish chapter has a place in terms of pace and the mindset of the character), though I can see how some of my stories might have been dullish in places (or right through).
Pace is still something I’m learning about – recent rejection letter feedback suggested that one of my longer stories, while very good, did “drag quite a bit in quite a few places”. That’s kind of the opposite to some other feedback on another story (an accepted one – “Pan Am 617 Heavy”, which you can read here at Bewildering Stories) that pointed out (rightly) that the story was “somewhat relentless: the action is non-stop and neither the characters, nor the reader, seem to get a moment to breathe” (I’m paraphrasing those comments here). That kind of feedback certainly informa how I’m looking at my action/pulp stories now: time to breathe without dragging. It seems like good writing advice all around.
Anyway, I’m looking forward to improving on my last best story.