I’ve been writing for a long time. I remember writing my first ‘real’ story when I was about ten years old. I wrote it on an old typewriter that had a bung ‘E’ key, so I remember banging on it, sometimes ending up with surplus E’s in my words.
I’ve always been happy creating stories and editing myself. When I was in high school, I posted stories online to friends, mostly other writers, to get feedback on my work. When I was fresh out of high school, I wrote a story and sent it out into the big wide world of writing.
My work got thoroughly and resoundingly rejected from everyone who cared to write back to me.
This cowed me. I realised I needed to get my skills up and I always thought that maybe someday I’d share my work beyond my close friends again. But I never ended up sending my work anywhere again.
I’d look up story competition due dates, and I’d see magazines put out calls for submissions, and I’d think yeah, maybe someday I could send something to them, when my work was good enough.
This pre-ready state went on for years. Because in my mind, my writing was never ready enough. Or interesting enough. Or researched enough. It was always too short, or far too long. I always thought if I held onto just a bit longer, I might find something else to tweak, or that I might find mistakes, some logical errors or some dreaded plot holes! I would rework my stories so much that the fresh story dough I started with turned into hard and dry bread that I wasn’t happy with. Then I’d decide the story was all wrong anyway, so it was a good thing I never submitted it anywhere!
So those competition deadlines would fly by and I’d just shrug my shoulders and tell myself it wasn’t meant to be. Maybe someday I’d get my work together.
Story creation has phases, from the initial idea through first draft and so on. I liken the phase of a story where it’s edited enough to finally show it to someone, where you’re gathering feedback (usually from my trapped partner), to dipping your toes in the waves washing up on the shore to test how cold the ocean is before you go for a swim.
Eventually you want to get in, otherwise, you’re not swimming, you’re just standing on the shore thinking about swimming. So you do want to get in there, you’re just trying to get used to the cold.
It is scary: holding your work up for assessment, entering competitions, or submitting work to the editors of a magazine. I stalled for years just getting feedback, dipping my toes into the writing world and unwilling to take the plunge of actually sending my work to anyone who could publish it or share it in any real way.
Until suddenly, I did. I realised one day last year that maybe someday wasn’t ever going to get here. I realised maybe someday is a crutch, you can lean on maybe someday if you’re worried about rejection, maybe someday could be any reason you needed it to be to get between your work and people who might want to read it.
Therefore, I bundled up my courage and started sending work out to competitions and to literary zines.
I’m not going to lie. Those first few rejections hurt as bad as it they did right out of high school. Then the next didn’t hurt as bad. Now, after a year at it, I barely notice them. Just as you can acclimatise to the ocean, your mind acclimatises to rejection. And you learn. I’ve had a piece rejected six times only to have it place second in a competition. I’ve had editors write to me to tell me that they loved my work, but that they’d just accepted something similar for their latest edition, but yes please send something else for the next.
These experiences really got my head around what I’d been reading for years but couldn’t quite understand: a rejection doesn’t automatically mean ‘no, because this writing is bad’ it could very well mean ‘no, because your piece doesn’t work for us right now’ or ‘no, this work is good but it’s not what we’re looking for’.
At one point, your work is ready. I’m not pushing people to submit half a story just because there’s a deadline, no, but I’m sure there are people like me a year ago thinking maybe someday is just going to come around. It won’t. So if your work is ready, and you want other people to read it, you have to submit it. That doesn’t mean you won’t get rejected, because your work is not going to meet everyone’s requirements, but at least you’re giving competitions or editors a chance to see it.
And if you keep submitting your work, you never know, maybe someday it will just click with someone.