A couple of weeks back, Charlie-in-my-writing-group was recruiting a semipro SF writer who'd just moved to town to join our workshop. In his email to the new writer, he described me as "prolific".
No, I'm not prolific. Not by far. Take Gary A. Braunbeck, for instance -- he's prolific. 200 published stories, three collections, four novels, and five contracts for more. He's one of the folks the book publishers call up and say, "Hey Gary, we're 10,000 words short for our new anthology. Can you send us a new story that length in four days?" And he sits down and cranks out a good, publishable novella in less than a week. And his output is nothing compared to the likes of Stephen King or Isaac Asimov -- Asimov could turn out a 50,000-word novel in a week. That's prolific.
What I am is persistent. I get a rejection, I revise my story (or not) and send it right back out again. I don't stop until my stories find a home. Sometimes they sell quick, sometimes it takes years and lots of revision -- but I don't stop until they sell. It's because I can't shake the notion that if a story never sees publication -- be that publication large or small -- it's useless. To me, an unpublished story is a story that doesn't really exist.
Lots of fiction writers -- the bulk of the folks I went to the Clarion workshop with, unfortunately -- hit a couple of markets, get their rejections, and quit, deciding their work is no good.
Sure, it does no good to keep sending out something that's unpublishable -- if I've gotten, say, ten rejections on a piece, I take a long, hard look at it. But three rejections? Four? Five? Pshaw. 'Taint nothing.
The thing is, you have to develop the ability to objectively evaluate your own work -- and then you have to trust your own instincts. You have to have a little faith in yourself and your work.
And you have to expect rejections. Expect the worst and it won't sting you. Easier said than done, I know.
I decided to do a bit of housecleaning last night and started sorting some piles of paper I had in my filing cabinet. I weeded out:
- 500-odd pages of old work that can be safely recycled
- copies of two X-Files scripts -- "Ice" and "Little Green Men" -- that I'm giving to my housemate, who's been bogarting my X-Files Season One and Season Two DVDs since I bought them
- a couple of novel chapters and a story I thought I'd lost forever
Finding the novel chapters made me do the Dance of Supreme Happiness. It was something I'd written on my old Powerbook 5300 and got nuked in a system crash mishap. I hadn't remebered ever printing it out -- but there it was, nice crisp hardcopy ready to be OCRed back into Word Perfect.
Finding the story was, in some ways, even better. It's a tale I wrote back in 1995 at Clarion during the week we had Tim Powers and Karen Joy Fowler as instructors. I wrote the story in a night, submitted it, and then immediately had misgivings. It was a silly piece, I knew. Fluffy. They'd hate it.
I couldn't sleep the night before the workshop, fearing the worst. When I went to the workshop room in the morning, Karen and Tim wouldn't look at me, and I knew I was in for it. They workshopped the other folks' stories first, then announced we'd break for lunch before my critique.
I couldn't eat. I was nauseated, dreading the worst. My friend Debbie found me in the women's restroom, and I cried on her shoulder. "They're going to tear it to shreds," I told her.
She told me it'd be okay, and we went into the critique room and sat down on the couch. The other 16 students came in, then the instructors.
Tim Powers took a deep breath and began his critique of my story: "This is a perfect example of what's wrong in science fiction today ...."
And he and Karen began to tear my story apart like Cenobites dismantling an idiot who'd accidentally opened the Lament configuration puzzle box. Everything I feared was happening right before my very eyes. Debbie kept casting worried glances at me, wondering if I was going to crack. But I was perfectly calm. Numb. Maybe even smiling.
The majority of the other students liked my story, but with Tim's and Karen's words ringing through my brain, I didn't hear them. And it didn't matter that a couple of the other students were furious over my treatment and gave Tim and Karen a piece of their minds later that day. When the workshop session was over, I went up to my dorm room and expunged every trace of the story from my hard drive. When I later received the copies of my story with people's written comments on them, I shoved them in a file folder and forgot about them for the next six years.
Last night, I found the file and re-read the story. And you know what? I don't hate it. I like it, in fact, and the critiques from the others who also liked it make sense. It can be a decent little story; it just needs a bit of a tune-up. It didn't deserve the broad damnation Tim and Karen laid on it.
I should have had a little more faith.