When Rejection Sets In

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Hello, people! I’ve been absent for a few days. I promise, I have a good excuse. Well… a decent excuse, if an excuse is ever considered to be good. I’ve been writing and deleting quite a lot since my last update. I’ve completed and chunked four short stories. There was nothing significantly wrong with them. They were entertaining. They had meaning. They were speckled with colorful scenes and tinged with grandiose language. And then, after all was finished, I wiped them clean from my saved files and started fresh, only to repeat the cycle.

So, why go through the process of beginning a new project when you know that it is going to result in deletion? Initially I didn’t plan on deleting any of these stories. I opened each idea as my next favorite tale to tell. I treated them as if they had potential to be read by others and hopefully enjoyed. Yet by the end of each one, I read the words I had typed over and over, realizing at last that they each were missing the same thing:

Depth.

I’ve only written short stories sporadically throughout my childhood and teen years, mostly for school projects or as gifts to family members. My heart lies with novellas and novels, where I can truly expand and go as deep into my character’s mind and scenario as I wish. With shorts, you must grasp your reader, develop a world, explain the situation, and make the reader actually care for the protagonist all the while drawing the story to a close in a clean fashion – and the kicker, doing all of this in about 2,500 to 5,000 words.

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It’s a lot harder than it sounds. After successfully writing a short story with the intent of publishing to a magazine, you must do several things. There are the obvious details, like editing it to a polished shine and allowing betas to give it a read for flow and other critiques. Then, there is something else, something that should probably be done alone and when you are at your most vulnerable. The next thing that you must do is look at your own story from an outside perspective. What is it about this story that makes you want to read it? Does it have something to say besides what has already been said? Are the characters in the least bit interesting? Does the dialog flow smoothly and does it build to a climax that keeps you entranced until the end?

If not, then it will never survive the harsh world of publishing.

I have a short story that I wrote a few months ago that I have a lot of faith in. It is a wonderful horror/thriller short about a young man who hits a mysterious figure with his car, only to have this figure return to him to offer a deal of a lifetime – literally. However, it touches on topics that are still considered taboo, even in this modern age of storytelling. I refuse to censor it, and as such, I am having quite the difficulty publishing it. So far, this short has suffered six rejections by wonderful online magazines and podcasts, not because of quality (which every editor kindly pointed out) but because it is simply not the right fit at this time. 

Every rejection is a heartbreak in this business. There is no denying it or candy-coating it. I had high hopes for this story, and as every writer will tell you, just the mere act of allowing your work to be read is a tremendous amount of stress. You are being judged the moment an editor skims the document, and to this day the anxiety is still intense. A rejection feels personal, as if you were never good enough and the story is a physical caricature of that overwhelming sense of failure.

Yet there is something else that you should know if you ever received a rejection on a story that you felt to be important. Did you know that Stephen King’s Carrie suffered thirty rejections? What was initially conceived to be a short in Playboy, King realized that the story that shaped his entire career was missing something – and in disgust, he threw it away. It was through the graces of his wife that she found the balled-up draft and helped him create his titular Carrie White into the defined, three-dimensional antihero that resulted in a publishing deal, movies, and a wildly successful career. King knew rejection. All of the great authors of the past and present have. No one has ever been offered a publishing contract on the first try, it just does not work that way.

As writers, we must not be discouraged when our stories are passed on. The reason that we write is because that is what we know to do. When we have a story weighing heavily, when we have something that we desperately need to say, when we feel our highest and lowest – we write. A rejection is not a scarlet letter of failure. It is a symbol that we tried. One day, when the story is finally at its finest, it will be submitted to the right publisher that will see the value and give it the attention that it and you deserve, because you did not scrap your work at the first rejection and continued forth.

I’m still trying to grasp that concept myself, as you are probably aware by now. Who knows if those four stories could have been the next Carrie, had I simply expanded on them and paid better attention to character development. All that I do know is that I refuse to let a rejection steal the joy of my art from me and I will continue to create stories that I hope people like you will enjoy one day.

Thank you for giving The Undisputed Unknown a read! I truly appreciate all of your support.  🙂

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My dog, Angel, from her favorite place to be while I try to write – on my lap.

 

M.I.H. McCool

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