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Missing the Boat

May 6, 2013

I wasn’t even sure I wanted to blog about this, because there is this sense of shame I feel at falling short. But I know all writers, even the great ones, go through this. It’s almost like a rite of passage I suppose. So I’ll come clean.Image courtesy of Guido Giardino @ stock.xchng

My miserable piece of dreck short story was rejected for the Adventures in Creating Anthology.

It’s okay, really. As I read the names on the list, and saw mine wasn’t on it, I naturally had all kinds of emotions going through my head: disappointment, frustration, surprise, jealousy, hopelessness. But I had another reaction I didn’t expect.

Relief. Overwhelming relief.

No more revising that one, no worrying about when it’s coming out or if the cover will look cool. (No harassing my followers to buy the book. ;))

I’m struggling to understand why I feel that way, because it is quite a powerful feeling–one that eclipses all the rest. I wanted to be in the anthology. I did my best with it and had lots of other writers give me feedback before I sent it in. I poured a little of myself into that story, all my favorite things, feathers, a cat, music, wings, all there.

So why am I relieved that the story will remain safely on my hard drive?Image courtesy of Vjeran Lisjak @ stock.xchng

Is it because I don’t care about being a writer? I don’t think so. My creative fire still burns hot. I’ve never needed recognition to pursue my creativity. I don’t need the title of Writer in order to put my words up on the screen.

Is it because I’m tired and just want to get some sleep? Maybe. Finally, I have validation that all this ambition leads to nothing, so I might as well sleep.

I finally concluded that I’m glad my work isn’t out there if it’s not ready. I chose to submit to this anthology because I knew there would be feedback from the contest moderators, and I’m hoping for some insight as to why this story isn’t up to snuff.

Because I want to know.

Did I miss the anthology theme? Was the conflict too small? Did my main character come off as one-dimensional? Was my setting vague? Does my dialogue confuse readers? Are my critiquers not honest enough to tell me what is wrong with this? Were seven critiques and six revisions not enough?

What, what, WHAT, tell me what do I need to understand to write decent stories?

Maybe I’m just tired of fighting the inner editor and ready to give in to her constant nagging that I’m not good enough.

Fine, I’m not good enough.

Not yet.Image courtesy of Marja Flick-Buijs @ stock.xchng

There will be other boats.

(Because you’re special, the Holly Lisle Forum members can find the password for my anthology page and read the story using this link. Be sure you’re logged in when you click. Please remember: This is a work in progress!)

And, how do you react when the boat leaves without you? Do you sink? Or do you swim?

Sinking ship image courtesy of Guido Giardino, folded paper ship image courtesy of Vjeran Lisjak, rainbow paper boats image courtesy of Marja Flick-Buijs, all three @ stock.xchng
  1. May 6, 2013 8:39 pm

    Oh how I know how that feels. Sucky, no matter how you slice it. I’m trying to write for fun again and just not worry about getting published. I’d love to read your story, though. My critique group is great for making me understand why my stories have been rejected, even though it sort of hurts while I am listening to what they have to say. Perhaps they just got a ton of great stories and picked ones that fit together in a certain way? Anthologies are tricky that way.

    • May 7, 2013 6:56 am

      Hi shell flower,
      I did finally get the feedback from the moderators, and there were a lot of positive comments to balance out my shortcomings. 🙂 But you’re right, it’s hard to face that I have much to learn.
      If you want, I can email you the password so you can check out my story. 🙂

      Word is they did have a ton of great stories though. I’m looking forward to reading them!

  2. May 6, 2013 11:11 pm

    Sorry to hear your story wasn’t chosen for the anthology. I think I know how you feel. A submitted a piece to Writer’s Digest Short Short Story competition a couple years ago that didn’t get picked. I remember the frustration of wondering what I could’ve done differently to make it a winning story. Looking back, I realize I couldn’t have done anything more than I already had, which is to write the best story I could at the time.

    I’m still learning what it takes to write a publishable piece of fiction, but I assume it’s not too different from other complex skills I’ve learned in the past. I used to play guitar, and I basically learned by writing my own songs. At first they weren’t very good, but the more songs I wrote, the more they improved. It was the same when I started building amateur levels for computer games, even if the learning curve for that was shallower than it is for playing a musical instrument 🙂

    Writing fiction is a complex skill. I believe every time we engage in it, we make ourselves better writers, even if we’re not always cognizant of where those improvements are being made. Every writer experiences their share of rejections–even the legendary ones. The important thing is to keep writing, and when a setback happens to come our way, we can always lean upon the people we trust for support, and figure out what we can learn from it.

    • May 7, 2013 7:00 am

      Thank you, Mike. This is all very true, and good to remember! I did do the very best I could, so there is no point in beating myself up about it. I am certain that I learned from the experience, more than I would have if I had left the story on my hard drive.
      It’s just hard to face down the shortcomings sometimes. It sure helps to share my frustration with other writers!

      • May 12, 2013 7:03 pm

        And, I just realized, since you play guitar I think you’re really going to dig my novel.
        If/when I finish it …

  3. May 7, 2013 2:30 am

    Sometimes we’ll never know why our stories get rejected–in fact, most of the time. I like to think it’s simply because it was the right story at the time.

    • May 7, 2013 7:02 am

      Hi Lynda,
      That’s a great way to look at it. I’m pretty sure the stories that got accepted were fantastic, so mine being only slightly less fantastic might mean I did all right!
      Thanks for your thoughts. 🙂

  4. May 7, 2013 2:37 am

    Very brave and very honest – and you are right, there will be other boats – some bigger, some better, some simply too beautiful for words…

    • May 7, 2013 7:06 am

      Aww, thank you Marina 🙂
      The best thing I took away from this had to be the fact that my compulsion to write stories remains undiminished. I had a feeling that no matter what anyone said, I wouldn’t want to stop.
      And that’s the key, isn’t it? I just keep writing. 🙂

  5. May 7, 2013 3:12 am

    Hey Boat Woman,

    I think all the emotions you’re feeling right now are fine (I was *THIS* close to quitting The Book last week, seriously..) and perhaps all you need is some time away from just this one particular story. Print it out and shove it in the bottom of the winter clothes drawer and see how you feel in a few weeks/months.

    Sure, you may see a need for some changes, or it might still be the best you can do. (Only you can decide that Grasshopper 🙂

    PS, this line, “Finally, I have validation that all this ambition leads to nothing, so I might as well sleep” cracked me up… Oh we Writers filled with emotions 😉


    • May 7, 2013 7:12 am

      Hi Mark,
      What a great idea! I’ve looked at writing that I did as recently as last year and found things that I can easily improve upon now. In fact some mistakes seem so obvious to me. (Lots of redundant wordiness for one thing … 😉 )
      Maybe I’ll make a few edits based on the feedback, keep both versions, and look at them again in a few months.
      Meanwhile, I’ll keep working on The Revision.

      And don’t even think about quitting The Book! It’s an amazing story that will inspire people to do great things.

      Although, a good night’s sleep will do wonders sometimes, don’t you think? 🙂

  6. May 7, 2013 7:24 am

    Oh honey (((((hugs))))) xx

    • May 7, 2013 6:57 pm

      Thanks, Vikki! Though I was hesitant to blog about this, I’m glad I did. It helps to share. 🙂

  7. May 7, 2013 8:28 pm

    Over the last four years I’ve read a ton of stuff on dealing with rejection. Only the following words stuck with me.

    “The dedicated writer completes his/her work, but only the brave submit their work. When you do this you’re standing on the porch barking with the big dogs!”

    Believe me, Kirsten, just by submitting your story you’ve accomplished something most writers never will. You stood up and said, “Look at me!” It takes guts. Congratulations:)

    BTW, I’m now the proud recipient of two rejections from agents. I say we throw a virtual party celebrating our lyrical prose and nerves of steel!


    • May 8, 2013 7:59 pm

      Barking with the big dogs. 🙂 I like that!
      When I think about it, only a year ago hitting send to share a story with another writer made my stomach twist, so sending out a story was a very big step indeed. I was only a little nervous!
      I suppose this is only one more trial in the gauntlet that is writing for publication … Definitely calls for a party!

  8. May 7, 2013 8:57 pm

    Got to love the perks of pursing a creative life don’t you? No wonder artists are portrayed as tortured! haha Just remember everything is subjective and just because the story doesn’t resonate to a small selection of people the way you want it to doesn’t mean it won’t move and inspire the rest of the world! Reading this post reminded me about auditioning for commercials and film. You honestly have NO control over anything other than yourself, in particular your preparation and mindframe. At that moment in time, you submitted your BEST short story, remember that 🙂 Secondly, you WROTE A STORY! How incredible is that?! You crafted a story with words and shaped them to something YOU cared about. That is just simply beautiful in itself. There is no such thing as perfect art and I love that concept. Who wants perfect? Embrace the quirks. x

    • May 8, 2013 8:05 pm

      Thanks, Anushka!
      I’ve often felt that writing is in some ways similar to stage fright, because you do really have to put yourself out there. (If you’re doing it right, that is.)
      And I did write a story, didn’t I? If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be submitting a short story (even if it is just to the moderator run anthology) I would have said No WAY!
      So this is a milestone, just not the one I was hoping for. But I learned a lot. 🙂

      ‘There is no such thing as perfect art.’ I need to embrace that!

  9. May 8, 2013 12:44 pm

    I only found your blog a few weeks ago; I keep coming back to it because your style of writing appeals to me so much. I have nominated you on the Awards page on my very new blog because you have been both an inspiration to and support for me. Be proud of yourself for having the courage to submit your work in the first place.

    • May 8, 2013 8:11 pm

      🙂 Thank you so much, Lynne! I’m glad I inspire you. There is nothing better than knowing someone out there is reading these nutty posts and enjoying them–especially because they are so fun to make.
      I try to be proud, but it’s hard to know that I have a ways to go before I’m proficient. It’s good to share the journey though.
      And thanks for thinking of me for an award! I’ll be over to check it out.

  10. T.F.Walsh permalink
    May 11, 2013 12:38 am

    I totally understand and have had a few of these moments myself. I then tend to give myself how ever long I need to come to the realization maybe my story wasn’t a perfect fit for that publication. But in the end, don’t ever give up, because everyone is subjective when it comes to stories, and if they didn’t select it, then it will be even better for the next publisher you approach:)

    • May 12, 2013 7:07 pm

      Thanks for the encouragement, Tanya!
      At first, it felt like the whole story was unsalvageable, but as I calmed down, I could see there are parts of it that are okay. I just need to learn to improve the parts that don’t work as well.
      And the most important part is to keep at it! 🙂

  11. May 15, 2013 7:44 am

    I was ready to give up writing because someone found a typo on the first page of my published ebook! It’s an emotional business, putting your heart and soul into something. I don’t think you can ever take it personally not winning something though – it’s so subjective. I was miffed my daughter didn’t win a fancy dress competition because she was clearly the best pirate there! What do I know? 🙂
    Hope you’re feeling more positive now…

    • May 16, 2013 7:25 pm

      Hi Writer/Mummy,
      I am feeling much better about it now, and am taking steps to improve the story and all the ones after it. I just wish it was as easy as fixing a typo!
      I think what I needed to realize is that the story is just that: One story. Falling short on one piece does not spell doom for my entire writing future! They say Muses are like children sometimes–so easily discouraged.
      Luckily, like children, they respond well to ice cream … 🙂

  12. May 21, 2013 3:35 pm

    Congratulations to you for putting this out there. You are VERY brave. I’ve been rejected too, and yup, it hurts. But it also drives me forward. Your comment about your work staying on your hard drive if it’s not ready is so true and resonated with me. I’ve become a better writer because of the feedback I’ve received and I’m happy to have it. I want my first novel out there to be as good as possible. The best thing to do with rejection. Learn from it and keep writing. 🙂

    • May 21, 2013 6:26 pm

      Thanks, Kristina 🙂
      Sending something out was quite challenging, and I credit blogging and putting my words out here regularly with giving me the guts to do it! All the support from the blogging community has been amazing.
      I was fortunate to receive feedback with my rejection, so I don’t have to guess about why I’m falling short. I feel the same way you do! I want my writing to really shine when the time comes for people to read it, and I’m prepared to deal with rejections until that time comes. The first rejection is a little bumpy but, oh well, there’s chocolate for that. 😉

  13. May 26, 2013 12:48 pm

    I’m sorry to hear that your story wasn’t chosen. I can definitely relate to the tornado of feelings that come along with submitting something (and staring at the reply e-mail debating whether or not you can bear to read what it contains).

    • May 26, 2013 11:03 pm

      Yeah, that was really a hard landing to discover that my story fell short. I was especially surprised because I’d gotten such positive feedback from critiques!
      But it’s okay now. I’d rather know that I have more to learn before I publish something rather than after. And they say you get used to rejections … we’ll see about that!


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