On the Writing Life: That One Story
In which I indulge in writing advice without any real authority. . .
Every writer has That One Story.
The story that scared you to write. The story that contains a part of your soul. The story that you swear is the best thing you’ve ever written, that will make you a star, that is your breakout work. If this does not sell, you think, there is no hope and you might as well give up. Because this story is the best thing you are capable of.
I wrote That One Story in December of last year. My trusted critique partners loved it. Unknown readers in my Critters group loved it. Multiple people told me that it made them cry. I sent the story off in high hopes to the venue of my dreams, a submissions call that seemed encouraging . . . and received a form rejection in reply.
I’ve received three more form rejections for that story since.
And I was hurt. Am hurt. I’ve actually been surprised by the hurt—I thought, after more than two years of regularly submitting stories, that I was somewhat inured to rejections. And I do think that I’m generally good with rejections; I don’t take them personally, I log that rejection into Duotrope and send that story out to another venue that same day.
But when it comes to That One Story. Ouch.
And then I remember that I also wrote That One Story two years ago, in the fall of 2014. It was a story with completely different themes, plot, and characters. And at the time, it was also The One. The One that scared me to write. The One that revealed a hidden piece of my soul. The One that my critique partners praised, and which I secretly thought would be my ticket to the Big Markets. The One that was the best thing I’d ever written.
That old story, The One that once was, racked up 15 rejections over the last two years. It did come very close at some good markets. It did receive some very nice personal rejections, including the nicest, most encouraging rejection letter I’ve ever gotten. But most of its rejections were form rejections. And I felt hurt. Discouraged.
I kept writing. I realized that The One wasn’t the only one I had in me. It wasn’t the best thing I was capable of, after all. There were yet more stories in me, more things that would scare me to write, more stories that claimed a piece of my soul.
That One Story from two years ago found a home this month, on the sixteenth try. Clearly, it did not resonate with most editors. But it finally resonated enough with one. It should appear late this year in a new pro-paying market—a market that did not even exist when it was first written.
Yes, it hurts when That One Story gets rejected.
But if you believe in it, keep putting it out there. Keep submitting it. And keep writing new stories and submitting those as well.
Over the last few years, I’ve gradually come to learn that a rejection doesn’t necessarily mean your story sucks. It might. But it might also mean simply Not this market, not at this time. I’ve come to realize that not every story resonates with every reader—and that’s okay. It’s okay if some people don’t “get” your work. Your job is to get your work in front of the editor who does get it, so that it can be shared with the readers who get it.
My latest rejection for my latest That One Story came yesterday. I got an acceptance for a different, newer story that same day.
Keep writing, keep moving on.
I still believe That One Story is the best thing I’ve ever written.
But it won’t be the last. Hopefully, it won’t be the best thing I’ll ever write.
Hopefully, I’ll keep writing That One Story--writing the piece that scares me and thrills me and pushes my limits—agonizing over it, sending it out for rejections and eventual acceptance. . . and then writing it once again, and again.