I must have read it a thousand times: “You’re a writer if you write.”
For the most part, it’s true, if a little self-serving. Yes, we writers belong to a little club, whose only membership requirement is that you jot your vacuous thoughts down in word form. But there’s something missing, isn’t there? The other half of the writer’s symbiotic relationship.
A writer needs readers.
Suddenly the statement “You’re a writer if you write” seeks to obfuscate the fact you’ve failed to get published. Now there’s a worthy milestone.
I told myself in January that 2016 would be the year I got something published, so that I could say, with some semblance of conviction, “Yeah, I’m a writer. Only been fucking published an’t I?”
Jeepers, that’ll be a super day.
To that end, I started sending out short stories, in retrospect woefully unpolished. Rejections returned like carrier pigeons bearing shit news. Sure, I was grateful to have the pigeon back, but their messages made me miserable.
“At least,” I mused, “I’ve something to write about in that there blog of mine.”
Field of dreams
Still, the goal remained, gaping for my football of fiction. What I needed was a winger to assist, to cross it in from the corner flag for me to head home. So I passed the story to Scribophile, where teammates booted it around a bit UNTIL IT BURST.
“Fine,” I squealed, in an inglorious tantrum, scooping the flattened, shabby remnants of my once proud tale, cradling it in my mud-smeared arms. “I’m not playing any more!”
So I took my ball home and stitched it up to make it hole again. For those of you lost by this fabulous analogy, I rewrote the bastard thing using the comments I’d received in critiques.
Again, I let loose the pigeons of publishing, and again, they returned clasping merciless rejections in their little, wrinkly claws.
Stupid fucking pigeons.
The problem is, I know very well why these stories aren’t being accepted by pro-paying journals and fiction magazines. It’s actually rather simple: it’s because they’re SHIT.
Yup – uncompromisingly awful, adverb-strewn puddles of dross. The pages seep with the pus of poorly thought-out plots, like burst blisters of banality. Maybe, you’re thinking, I didn’t use enough alliteration?
No, that’s not it. It’s because my stories were written on a whim, without an idea of why I was writing them, or what I was trying to say. They were the writer’s equivalent of your mate down the pub, who saw this great thing on telly – dead funny it were – and he tries to explain it in all its glory, but he didn’t really understand (at the time) why it was funny, specifically, just that he rather liked it, because there was this pigeon in it, or something, and the main character, like, bludgeoned it to death with a coat hanger, or something? I’m sorry, what was I chatting about?
Fly my pretties
I’ve three stories out there, in editors’ inboxes, awaiting their respective reckoning, and I know what’s wrong with every single one of them.
There’s The Family Suite, which attempts to convey the crushing atmosphere of a failing marriage upon the malleable minds of children. It fails because the pacing resembles a sin curve – impossibly slow for the most part, only to abruptly escalate to its woeful, cathartically void ending.
Or, The Tourist, a Conan Doyle-style epistolary horror analogous of the destructive force of western tourism upon less affluent communities. But that one’s BOLLOCKS because the twist, though foreshadowed, is utterly out of step with the rest of the piece.
Lastly, in my Definite-Article Trilogy, there’s The Pumice Stone, a smutty horror about envy, adultery and sadistic retribution. Guess what? It’s WORD PUKE. Why? Because the climax is totally disproportionate and thematically incongruous to the crime. There’s no relation between cause and effect.
The problem is, you can use critiques to micro-edit, but if there are fundamental problems with the story itself, it cannot be resolved without rewriting from start to finish. But that, dear reader, is loads of bloody work.
(To any editors who find themselves looking me up, the stories I mention above are also unique, genre-bending masterpieces that deserve to be set in ink for the rest of time. Thanks for reading.)
Deal with it, sucker
Rejections are bastards. That much is obvious. But they’re good too. They’re a reminder that you’re not ready yet. They bring you down to earth when your wife keeps telling you how bloody great you are and your mates tell you they couldn’t write anything nearly as good, what a talent, you’re so brill!
But I’m not brill. Certainly not yet. I’m learning, still studying the craft, searching for my elusive voice and a tale worth telling. My ambition remains, unperturbed by each “Sorry, but we don’t think your story is a great fit for our publication” or “Thanks, but we have to pass this time” or “You know this is shit, right? Stop wasting our time”.
I’m not giving up, though, just because I’m awful. Beethoven couldn’t play the piano when he was nine (probably?); Shakespeare had to learn how to spell before he could write Romeo & Juliet; and Michelangelo was drawing shitty stickmen before he ever imagined sketching out the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel.
Bloody hell, that sounds pretentious. I don’t consider myself among these creative geniuses, by any stretch of the imagination. I’m just trying to say even the greatest artists got rejected.
I wonder how many architects saw Michelangelo’s plans and said, “Dear sir, apologies, but your ideas don’t really fit with the theme of our building. All the best in finding your drawings a home. PS. For future reference, we prefer correspondence by letter. Your pigeon’s excrement has made a mockery of my mahogany desk.”