Nearly is nothing – but not exactly

When I started writing, I read a heap of writing advice. I continue to read it, listen to it on podcasts and request it from more experienced folk than myself when I get the chance. At the beginning, I was struck by just how often the number one maxim was: “be resilient, grow a thick skin,” or words to that effect.

Of course, they were right all along.

Regaleira Tower Green

2019 and 2020 have been the kinds of years that you might have seen in dystopian movies, had movie studios been bold enough – (maybe out of their minds enough?) – to believe the perpetual shit that much of the world has thrown at us all over the past 18 months or so could ever possibly have happened.

Way, way down in that list, in terms of global importance at least, has been the first dip of my writing career.

I made my start as a ‘serious’ writer in late 2016 and started submitting stories in 2017. Partly through luck (isn’t everything?), partly through finding ideas and submission calls aligning and partly through half-decent beginner-level writing, I managed to score some really great sales over that first year and into 2018, including a slot in the Lost Films anthology from Perpetual Motion Machine Publishing which was a dream come true, and two stories which featured in Things in the Well’s Below the Stairs: Tales from the Cellar and Beyond the Infinite: Tales From the Outer Reaches that I still love today.

Moving into late 2018 and 2019, I sold my debut novella, The Balance, a novelette that I am still immensely proud of (Cinders of a Blind Man Who Could See) and also placed a story in Corpus Press’ beautifully realised In Darkness Delight: Creatures of the Night. I felt energised, and raring to push on.

I started to push the boundaries of my fiction, trying out different modes, character voices, etc, and feedback from beta readers was that this was my best work yet.

I naturally began to sub this work to new markets and stories were added to shortlists, reaching the last round of eliminations for two magazines that I would have sold at least a fair slice of my soul to be a part of and two anthologies that went on to or likely will go on to be named in best ofs and award ballots for the year of their release.

Ultimately, though, my stories fell at the last hurdle.

For all writers, and creatives more generally, I think self-doubt is only ever one knock away from smacking you hard in the face. And I’ve spent long, hard months over the past half a year considering whether maybe I just don’t have the stuff for this field, or whether my stories are not what people want or need right now.

In some ways, I think reaching being shortlisted and ultimately failing anyway makes the punch even fiercer than it might have been, were the response a simple form rejection. I wrote a while back about how failure can be full of insight and lessons and can help us grow, but sometimes it can just knock the stuffing out of you and leave you asking what the point of it all is.

Nearly is nothing, after all.

I have no stories scheduled for release. I’ve sold only two shorts for podcast adaptation in almost twelve months.

So what do I do from here?

I keep on going.

I try to find the right places to submit those stories that were shortlisted and remember that some editors that I respect enormously have said things like:

“… is one of the most viscerally impactful scenes I have read in a long time”

“thank you the opportunity to read such a fantastic story”

My novella, The Balance, has also received some reviews that I couldn’t have dreamed of, from reviewers who absolutely know their stuff, so there is a home out there for my writing. I just have to keep sending it out there until I find it.

And if (when?) it comes back from the next market with a rejection I have to pick myself up, dust myself off and get it ready to go back out.

I guess, in the end, this post is a very long-winded way of saying two things: writing advice 101 really is grow a thick skin, become resilient, accept or even embrace rejection and keep on going anyway. But also, do take on board that positive feedback. Editors I’ve asked about this assure me that people don’t write this stuff just to soften the blow of the rejection. If they tell you it was a great story and they expect it to find a home elsewhere, they probably mean it. If we’re to let imposter sydrome kick our arses from one corner of our homes to the other most of the time, we owe it to ourselves to accept positive feedback and use it as a counterbalance.

Anyway, back to my WIP…