Rejections are part of the deal. Everyone who discusses pro or semi-pro writing says this (and if they don’t, they’re selling something). If you submit, you’re going to get rejected, and it’s probably going to happen repeatedly. It happens for any number of reasons: the piece isn’t a good fit, it’s just not to the editor’s taste, it’s good but it’s competing with other pieces that are better, or–and this sucks but for a lot of the time and for a lot of people it’s unfortunately true–what you submitted just wasn’t as spectacular as you thought it was when you banged it out.
If you’re going to keep submitting, rejections are something that has to be prepared for and dealt with, as much as either of these things is possible. Everyone’s coping mechanisms are different, but here are the things that I find work best for me when I’m facing the classic “Thank you for your submission. Unfortunately, we have decided not to accept…” response.
1. Let yourself be upset. No one likes getting these things. What it amounts to is “sorry, you weren’t good enough for us” and that is never a nice thing to hear, no matter how gently phrased. And rejection slips tend to not be gently phrased. They’re usually not harsh, but with the sheer number of them that editors have to send out, they don’t have the time or the energy to be responsible for tender author feelings. It stings. That’s okay. Allow some time to let it sting. That said, don’t wallow in it. Allow some time, but be strict in the amount of time allowed. Once it’s up, let it go.
At some point I’ll have something in here besides these things. A lot of projects are on a kind of hold right now, where things are happening, but nothing concrete enough for me to talk about it explicitly. One anthology I have a story in is waiting on a release, my novelette Hieros is being put through the editing process, and I’m waiting to hear back about a number of things. And I’m working on a number of others.
But in the meantime, here’s something true: I’m afraid to stop writing.
It wasn’t always this way. Once upon a time I just wrote whenever I felt like it, which wasn’t always often. There was a longish period where it pretty much didn’t happen at all, and back then it didn’t especially trouble me. But now I’m afraid to stop. I keep up with my minimum daily wordcounts, I set time aside for writing (usually in the morning these days; not quite sure how that happened), and a lot of it is motivated by a work ethic that I try to cultivate, and a lot of it is motivated by deadlines, but I think a significant portion of it is actually about fear.
I use a pseudonym. I thought about it some before I decided to do it, but not that long–to some degree I’ve been using one for years, a nickname that I kind of adopted and prefer when it comes to my life online, and my pen name grew out of a mixture of that and a name that my father supposedly wanted to give me, though I’m still not sure how much of the latter was a joke.
I’m not alone in this by any means, especially when it comes to those of us who write erotica. I’m in graduate school, I hope very much to publish scholarly work and I felt it was important, if I was going to be publishing erotic fiction as well, to at least draw a kind of line in the sand–I am establishing that there’s this me and then there’s this other me, and they do different things, and in some ways they’re almost different personae. I have no real issue regarding whether or not people in my academic life discover the stuff I write and publish, but it’s important to me that that line in the sand be there regardless, because the differentiation is important to me personally. It’s not about some idea of professionalism, and it’s certainly not about shame–I’m honestly not completely sure of the deeper reasons why. It simply feels right to me.
Writing with the door open, or closed? This is honestly something I’m still not sure about, and I’ve read numerous conflicting opinions on the subject. The closest thing I’ve come to an answer, at least for me, is “it depends.” I think it depends on length, on the level of personal involvement, and on how much is at stake.
There’s an element of being afraid of jinxing yourself that I think a lot of people would probably find familiar, and that comes in especially with longer pieces, because the longer a piece is, the more can go go wrong. There’s more time and there’s more variables, and it’s a lot harder to keep them all under control. I’m working on cowriting a novel at the moment–I’ve mentioned this, I think–and now that it’s very well established and a lot of it’s been dug out of the ground, so to speak, I feel a lot more comfortable talking about it. Before, when we were just starting, I was reluctant to even mention that it existed. Because when people know, there’s pressure, real or imagined. When there’s pressure, there’s fear, and when there’s fear… it’s never been my experience that scared writing is good writing.
But that still doesn’t entirely address the open/closed door issue, because talking about a project isn’t the same as sharing pieces of it. So: yea or nay? Again, it depends. Generally, I think it’s safer to err on the side of nay, because at least when I write, I find that it’s best done quickly and steadily without too many pauses to think too hard about it. You can think within a story–you have to, in order to get it done well–but thinking outside a story is when second-guessing comes in, and once you start doing that it’s all but over. Introducing a perspective outside of yours too soon can bring on the second-guessing. It can cause damage. So I talk about the novel, now, at least a little. But I’ve posted only one excerpt of it anywhere, and I most likely won’t be doing that again until it’s finished.
How do you give up on these things? I mean, they get to a point where they’re almost like your kids. You conceive of them, you work on them until they begin to take shape, you (hopefully) finish them, and then you have to take a step back and try to objectively evaluate what you’ve made. Which you hopefully don’t do so much with kids, but I think the analogy still kind of works.
There are two ways to abandon a story, in my experience. There’s simple neglect–something that I’m trying to be better at avoiding, with moderate success–because I think if you let something sit too long it slips away from you and you lose what drew you to it in the first place. The images fade and you have less to work with. It’s possible to pick it up then, but it’s harder.
And then there’s working on it, finishing a draft, and having to admit to yourself, once it’s done, that you don’t really have much there worth spending any more time on. I hate doing that. I hate it because time is precious right now and I try to make every second of work count towards something potentially publishable, so having to admit to myself that the result of a week of work should be put away and probably not ever shown to anyone absolutely kills me. But it’s also that at least initially, something there made me fall in love enough that I wanted to bring it out into the light and turn it into something real. So I look at the thing that ended up bad or just too flawed to work with, and I feel like a little bit of a failure. I failed the story. I didn’t do my job.
I started the writing thing in a serious way–more serious than I had been up to that point, anyway–shortly after I graduated from college. Because I graduated in a weird mid-year kind of way, I had the spring semester and then an entire summer in which I had really nothing on my plate but a job at the library on campus and, eventually, finding a place for me and Rob to live in while I went to graduate school.
To that date I hadn’t done more than dabble in a really vague kind of way in original stuff, and it seemed like as good a time as any, as I expected to be brain-splodingly busy once school started up again and I was tossed into the navigation of a PhD program. One difference between a regular job and school that became freshly apparent once school was no longer something that I was doing every day is that school wears out the brain-meat in a way that most normal 9-to-5 gigs do not, at least in my experience, because you’re rarely ever done. The work comes home with you. The work follows you around. You go out with friends, the work tags along. You go to bed, the work sits on your pillow and stares at you. Fridays? Hah. They are meaningless, my friend. In a general sense I always found school less draining than a lot of the other jobs I’ve had, but it did seem to make me brain-dead in a way that they had not.
So at least, the job I had–locating and scanning articles for Inter-Library Loan–was singularly un-taxing, and I found myself with an unforeseen surplus of mental energy. So the writing began, took off in a biggish way, and here we are.
It’s somewhat embarrassing for me to admit this but I might as well, since it’s something of a matter of public record: for a long time, when I wrote, I did not really write about women.
Image by Christine Griffin
They were present, certainly–they showed up in my various fics and I always tried to treat them well when they did, but they weren’t particularly central. A lot of this, I think, was just due to what I was writing, which was generally slashfic. I’m sort of peripherally aware of the fact that there’s been a lot written in other places about how female characters are treated in M/M fanfiction, though I haven’t read much of it myself, but regardless of detailed complaints, it’s definitely true that M/M stuff is a genre that lends itself to women being subtly pushed to the side. The stories aren’t about them, after all; they’re about the two male characters and whatever relationship they do or don’t end up having. And that’s fine. There’s nothing intrinsically wrong with that. But it did mean that, just in practical terms, I didn’t write about women for many years.
Then I started writing original fiction, and something interesting happened: the women appeared. Not here and there, either; they’re all over the place. The first story I ever sold, Crystalline, was a science fictiony piece of lesbian erotica, a kind of erotica that I had barely even dabbled in up to that point. The first anthology sale I ever made was a F/F/M menage, featuring two female characters strong enough to basically push the man into the background. I didn’t intend this. It just kind of… happened.