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.