So I was having a rough day the other week. I’d received a short story rejection that really stung. No matter how often you submit—no matter how thick your skin gets—there’s always the odd one that still hurts. Funnily enough, the angst hit worse a few days after the actual rejection. I’m not sure what the trigger was, but it sparked a whole slew of thoughts, which I now present in the form of a dialogue.
ME: I’m never selling anything ever again.
ALSO ME: You just sold a piece to Augur.
ME: But I’m not selling anything else. I’m a has-been before I was even an is.
ALSO ME: Why do you say that?
ME: Everyone else is selling short fiction.
ALSO ME: Who’s everyone?
ME: People on Twitter.
ALSO ME: So what? You’ve had a good year career-wise. You have an agent!
ME: Yeah. That’s good.
ALSO ME: You had a story come out!
ALSO ME: You SOLD a story. To Augur. You love Augur.
ALSO ME: So what’s the problem?
ME: I don’t sell many stories.
ALSO ME: Why is that important to you?
ME: Because that’s what you’re supposed to do. You sell short stories, and then people start to know you, and then you sell a novel.
ALSO ME: That’s what you’re supposed to do. I see. Says who?
ALSO ME: Is that what [WRITER FRIEND] did?
ALSO ME: And is [WRITER FRIEND] still doing well?
ALSO ME: Okay, what about [OTHER WRITER FRIEND]? Do they write much short fiction?
ALSO ME: And does everyone still love them and think they’re an awesome writer?
ALSO ME: So it is possible that short fiction is not an absolute prerequisite?
ME: Fine, yes. But what if I’m just not good enough?
ALSO ME: (Deep breath) Okay. Look. You know that’s not the only thing. It’s budget. It’s personal taste versus the publication’s aesthetic. It’s balancing out the stories they bought three months ago. It’s balancing out the stories they’re buying three months from now. It’s publicity. It’s “OMG I love this story like I love every puppy in the shelter but I can only adopt two and my heart is breaking but I still have to leave this one behind.”
ALSO ME: Can I make an observation?
ME: Go for it.
ALSO ME: Generally speaking, your writing does best when you don’t give a f*ck—when you just write whatever makes you happy. Six Stories, for example. Angst-ridden friendship and fairy tales and a ridiculous metanarrative structure? Who does that? YOU do.
Or, okay, Beer Magic. Queer ladies—magic beer—Toronto history—you literally just combined your six favourite words and that’s what finally worked.
This is true of your short fiction, too. Most of the stories you’ve sold were about things that make you angry.
ME: I’m not sure I’m comfortable using anger as my main motivation.
ALSO ME: Yeah, that’s another conversation. The point is, the stuff you feel like you “should” write? Yeah. That tends not to fly. But the stuff that matters to you…that does well.
Let me ask you a question. If you could write anything right now, what would you write?
ME: That Southern Gothic fairy tale novella.
ALSO ME: Then why the f*ck are you beating your head against the wall with short stories?
ME: I can’t just write whatever I want! I have to think about my career!
ALSO ME: Okay, great. Think about your career. When Kim-Mei’s done with Beer Magic, then what? You’ve got to have something on deck. Why not this novella?
ALSO ME: It’s okay. It’s okay to focus on something else for a bit. It’s okay to explore other avenues. It keeps you nimble.
ME: I know.
Then I sold a story to Lightspeed three hours later. Even so, I still want to write this novella?
Everyone says, “There’s no one way to have a writing career,” but we all have our own blocks and unconscious beliefs. Part of me feels really guilty that I haven’t written much short fiction lately…
…but where is the guilt coming from?
I’m not sure. But I think this novella’s calling louder than anything else right now. Maybe it’s time to listen.
What I’m Listening to this Week
Ah, Louise Pitre, I love your music so dearly. It is sad and heartfelt and jazzy.
The Six Stories, Told at Night showcase/party is distressingly close. Blythe and I have been racing about, organizing things and booking things…and going to other people’s events.
It has been a bad week for social anxiety, as I feel terribly out of my element. In many ways, indie theatre is a lot like the SFF world. It’s small. Most people know each other. Different theatres have their niches. There is a whole web of social connexions and unwritten social codes that I can’t see, because I’m not aware of them. Going to the Word on the Street book/magazine festival yesterday felt like heaving myself onto a life raft.
Writers! Editors! Readers! Book people! I know how to do this! I have friends here! I feel safe!
And then back to feeling generally useless.
So what does it feel like, when the anxiety starts kicking in?
Imagine, dear reader, a dimly-lit bar with lots of loud conversations and lots of people clustered in groups. But it’s not a background hum of noise. Oh, no. You’re getting ten different conversations piped directly into your ears—and your brain treats them all as equally important.
It’s a bit like having pop-ups that can’t be turned off. You’re just trying to surf the web, but you can’t get very far before something fills the screen demanding all the attention, right now. My brain’s trying to navigate a situation that it’s fairly sure might kill us, but half of it’s stuck processing incoming sound.
Sensory issues make me good at podcasting, and bad at crowds.
Anyway, they’re all having conversations. Great. So – who has two thumbs and gets intimidated by groups?
Except at cons, weirdly. But then, I know con etiquette better. Loose circle of people drift into the hallway after that panel you all saw? It’s probably okay to introduce yourself and have a brief chat. Two people in a deep conversation, by themselves, in a withdrawn corner of the bar? Keep walking.
Anyway, it’s that classic social anxiety thing of being the weird kid standing along the playground fence.
And we can throw in some general competency-based anxiety, just for fun.
My chest tightens. My thoughts race. My hands shake. Really, my brain is trying to be helpful. It’s CERTAIN that danger’s lurking RIGHT HERE, and by George, it’s going to let me know.
But—I’ve been trying to remind myself that SFF has only started feeling comfortable over the last few years. And it’s only been really comfortable for…I don’t know, maybe the last two? Whenever I started going to Can-Con, I suppose.
What made the difference?
Some of it was time, of course. It takes a lot of form rejections, awkward cover letters, and nervous pitches to learn the rhythms of publishing. It also takes time to nurture relationships.
And I started going to stuff. That made the biggest difference. Take ChiZine’s reading series. I made myself go month after month. Sometimes, I had to literally force myself up the stairs. I still went. Every month. Hard rule.
And now…man, I love ChiSeries.
But the point is that it was a conscious decision to force myself over the hump. Going to new cons is a conscious decision. I can do it. I’ve proved it to myself.
I just need to trust that theatre works the same way.
Reminder that you can purchase your tickets for Six Stories, Told Again right here. And join us at Theatre Passe Muraille for the after-party! The Seventh Story will drop there, that night, and in the podcast feed the next day!
What I’m Listening to this Week
More Emilie Autumn, a take on “The Lady of Shalott” this time. I’ve been thinking about that poem a lot this year…
I wasn’t going to make this a thing, but I’m still processing it…and writing is the way I process, so here we are.
Yesterday morning, I was on the subway heading to work. And let’s be honest: things haven’t been great for a bit. Everything is kind of A Lot right now, I’m not sleeping well, my anxiety is flaring, huge upheavals are happening. And yes, I’m getting help for those things.
But, context: I’m miserable.So about halfway to work, a young man gets on the train and sits across from me. He’s maybe a few years younger than me. “That’s a cool jacket,” I think, and then lapse back into sadness.
A few stops later, I look up and notice that he’s crying. Silent tears course down his cheeks.
I pretend engrossment in my phone, because public emotion is awkward and I want to give him privacy. After all, I am also miserable. If I started crying right then, I’d want everyone to ignore me until I could regain control.
But then silent tears turn to that thin weeping you do when your heart’s really broken.
Shit shit shitshitshit
My heart’s hammering. We’re almost at my stop. The moment’s poised on the edge: it’s going to tip one way or the other, but which?
I look left. I look right. I take a deep breath.
And I go and sit—not beside the guy, but near him. “Hey, man. Is there anything I can do?”
He jerks upright, scrubbing his eyes. “I’m so sorry, I’m so sorry.”
“No, no,” I say lamely. “It’s just…I wasn’t sure, if it were me, would I want a stranger to reach out or leave me alone? So I needed to ask. That’s all.”
He hesitates a moment, then blurts, “I’m going to the cemetery.”
And so we have Dead Fathers Club: Subway Edition. Blowing past my stop, we talk about death, grief, and fathers all the way to his. “It may never be okay,” I tell him. “But it does get easier.”
He nods. “That’s why I’m alone, this time.”
Then we reach his stop. We say goodbye. He goes his way and I catch a train south to get back on mine.
And for all the sadness, I’m glad I was able to be of service; I’m glad he found the kindness he needed in that moment. But I think it helped me just as much as it helped him. I needed the connection too. I needed to remember that humans are Neat and we really do Try Our Best and that even two random strangers on a train can lighten each other’s burden. I needed to crawl free from my sadness and remember that this life is all about service and love.
But it’s strange: it’s both a beautiful thing that happened, but also I don’t want to make it a big thing. I didn’t do anything special. This isn’t at all about me.
The reason I’m writing this is…I just want us to remember to be kind. I want us to remember that even in the depths of our own darkness, we can still offer light. And I want us to remember that Being Human sometimes means being very, very sad, and also lifting each other up, as we are able.
Thank you, Guy with Cool Jacket. I hope you find peace and healing.Be kind. Be well.
What I’m Listening To This Week
“Soon Ah Will Be Done” is another spiritual that has a jaunty tune and a heartbreaking historical context.