Recently I’ve read a lot about writers wondering if the time has finally come to give up on a project. You’ve sent it out a dozen times but the manuscript keeps on bouncing back. When you complain to fellow writers about your bad luck, the commiserations come thick and fast.
They’ll regale you with the names of those authors who finally made it just as they were about to pull the plug on their writing careers and at first it’s comforting to compare yourself to JK Rowling et al.
But there are only so many exhortations to keep your chin up that a writer can take and if one more person tells you that it only takes one agent to like what you’ve written, you’ll scream. Much more of this boomeranging back and forth, you think, and maybe it’s time for your final trick – the one where you drop led weights in the envelope.
Of course, by the time you’ve reached that stage you know you are completely beyond hope. Not only will you have lost the plot, but somewhere along the way you’ll have mislaid that nugget of certainty you’d carried around all the time you were writing your story – the one that swore blind that the idea you’d come up with had legs. Sturdy legs strong enough to bear any amount of disappointment and rejection. Damn it, what you’d written was good, wasn’t it? Wasn’t it?
We all reach our that’s it, I quit point with a novel or story, sooner or later. I send out quite a few stories in a year and maybe up to half a dozen serial ideas, so I do know whereof I speak.
Serials take a lot of time so it’s generally a good idea to find out sooner rather than later if it’s a turkey. (Speaking of turkeys, I actually did write one about a rather nasty character who was knocked out by a frozen one, flung from a bridge. I won’t go into why.) The editor didn’t really warm to my initial idea and maybe I should have stopped right there.
But I was full of enthusiasm for it, and submitted a first episode - to another lukewarm reception. I definitely should have stopped there, shouldn’t I? But I didn’t. I finished the damn thing. Got it rejected.
Did I learn from the experience? No, I rewrote it as a long short story and submitted it again. Got it rejected again,from two different magazines, each time for different reasons.
But once in a while this strategy for refusing to give up pays off. As far back as 2003 I wrote a short story for a competition about a young girl in her first term at university who imagines herself in love with a fellow student, in the year above. So besotted is she that she moulds her personality to his and quite loses sight of her own identity. It’s a theme that I can get quite obsessed about and I was certain that I was onto a winner. It got nowhere.
Undaunted, I tried my luck with it to a couple of magazines, one abroad. In order to do that I had to shave off a few words to meet the target word length and play around with a few of the references which were a bit clever-clever. But still it came back. Twice.
I shrugged it off, but I was hurt. I loved this story. And I wanted someone else to love it too. Which is why, at the end of last year, when another year or so had elapsed since last I’d laid eyes on it, I decided to read it through and see if I’d been deluding myself all along.
I still loved it. Time had moved on, however and I had to change a few references. I sent it off to Woman’s Weekly in November. They returned it in January. It was Just Not Them.
Okay, definitely time to give up, I decided. It was a new year after all. Time to look forward not back. Yet my new year was a bleak one. Writing wise I just couldn’t get going. So one afternoon I read that story again. And I still liked it.
But I could see there was a problem. It came somewhere towards the end. Too neat, too contrived, I decided. Though it would only need a tweak here, a tweak there. And I needed to cut out a few of the fancy words and references. I was tripping over Darlings on the carpet towards the end of my edit.
I don’t know what made me send it off to Norah McGrath at Fiction Feast/Take-a-Break. I suspect it was desperation as much as my very last-ditch attempt to get this story before an audience bigger than myself.
Reader, she bought it. I suspect it will appear in next month’s Fiction Feast, the October edition, out next Thursday, 10 September.
And the moral of this blogpost is? Writers can be critics and critics can be writers. But possibly not of your own work. Sometimes you just have to keep flogging away at it, even when the horse is dead. Or when you’ve written a turkey.