I finished writing a novel and I had a short story I had submitted get rejected today. Obviously the short story rejection stings a little less for having finished something that I’ve been working on for nearly a year.
That particular short story is now retired. I am declaring it dead. There is a do not resuscitate order in effect.
It’s ok, don’t mourn for that story. It had a full life. It was the first “real” short story I ever wrote – which is to say that it’s the first one that I really applied some intention to, outside of “let’s see if we can get a plot on paper with a character traversing that plot in a place.”
It got a thumbs up from a writing teacher once upon a time, and I’ve submitted it more than any other short story I’ve written – 14 times over the period of two and a half years (wow, that seems like a long time).
But I finally realized what kind of story it was on the last submission and found a market that expressly publishes that type of story, thinking, “hey, if they don’t want it, nobody else will.” I’m going to stick with that.
The editor gave me multiple paragraphs of feedback, which were actually some very solid critiques, and certainly not the norm in the whole submission/rejection process – that was extremely cool of him to do. The issues he raised made me feel a little better, in the sense that it seemed to be rejected for flaws in plotting, not because it was an ugly read. I (totally projecting here) even got the sense that he wanted to like it, but couldn’t get past the problems he saw.
And so it now dies the true death – stake in the heart time. Because as valid as the critiques are that this editor raised – and it seems likely that other editors that have rejected it may have felt similarly – I’m not particularly interested in revising it anymore. I don’t think I even like that story anymore. It seems kind of bad to me too.
When I first began writing short stories in earnest, they seemed very precious. The more I write, the less precious these ideas and stories become, and the less I worry whether more story ideas will come. They will. They do. I’m not worried about that.
Plus, I just finished writing a book! And that book seems like it’s an order of magnitude better than any short story I’ve written. I feel so high on it right now. There may not be a better feeling in the writing world than that “I just finished the first draft of a book” feeling.
I sold a story once, and that was an intense spike of enthusiasm and validation. But it passed pretty quickly because it wasn’t based on the culmination of work. It was binary feedback – submission = reject/accept. But creating is a journey.
So now begins the rearing of this ungainly child I’ve squeezed out of my brain-hole (revision), and then some day, when it’s all grown up (to the best of my ability!), I’ll send it out into the world, hands clasped in front of my mouth and a tear in my eye.
Maybe one day it’ll call me up and say, “hey dad, I did it!” and I’ll feel that intense spike of joy. Or maybe one day I’ll be standing over its grave, remembering how much promise it had, how much care and love went into it. No parent should outlive their children, but it happens. It happens all the time. (good god, I need to stop with this metaphor)
And it won’t belong to me by that point will it? I won’t be in the process of creating it or shaping it anymore, just watching it live its life, totally unable to impact its choices, unable to protect it.
And I’ll probably return to whatever the current thing is that I’m trying to get done, just like I did when I got that rejection today.
Here’s where the whole (pretty tortured at this point) analogy breaks down though, because stories are infinitely better than children. You can make up another one whenever you want, can make it be whatever you want, they don’t really take much time to gestate, and they don’t cost a fucking thing.