When ‘good’ rejections are the worst

16511061-little-girl-crying-Stock-Vector-cartoonA couple of months ago, two story ideas came together and I sat down and wrote. I changed one or two things the next day but essentially it was done. I loved it. Magic happens sometimes.

I sent it to Kill Your Darlings, a literary magazine run partly by Hannah Kent, an author I admire. I have been determined to be published in this magazine for a while and this, finally, seemed like the time.

I recently received the rejection email. When you research submitting short stories, there is lots of encouragement to rise above rejections, but there is also advice to take ‘personal’ rejections as compliments, or even as successes. Rejections are usually templates, but occasionally an editor will write an actual email. The email I received from Kill Your Darlings said:

Yours was [a submission] that we seriously considered as it captured the chaos and senselessness of grief beautifully, and while in the end it wasn’t quite right for our upcoming issue, we would be keen to see more of your work in future.

It doesn’t look like much, but it’s a little golden nugget compared to most rejections. It is still hard to take, however, despite all the advice. In so many ways it actually seems worse. If it was actually that good they would have published it anyway, or kept it for another issue, or changed this issue so that it could fit. This is when I go into toddler mode, stamping my feet and going red in the face. But I WANT it.

In typical me-fashion, I decided to cancel my subscription. I immediately sent the story to six other places. I started writing another one, a better one! Which isn’t better at all because, while magic does happen, it doesn’t happen that often. This one will take work, which is fine. Luckily, I still remember that glorious feeling two months ago when I thought I’d created something a little bit perfect.

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How big is a hole?

Digging ManFor the past two months I have been working rather feverishly on the basic plot of my novel. After the manuscript assessment, I started reading about plot and tried to use what I was learning to help guide my revisions. It turns out that an awful lot has been written about plot.

I read two books and reworked the whole thing, cutting out more than half of what I had and adding and adding and adding more back in. I read through the whole thing the other week, start to finish. It was okay. I had hoped for it to be a near-final draft but clearly it isn’t, because I want it to be more than okay! Rather than a couple of months of editing left, I think it will take me into winter again.

The first half seemed good but then something happened. It drifted and I couldn’t understand why. So I’ve read more and I’ve written lists and I’ve paid much closer attention to novels that I’m reading to understand how they do it. Why do we care about people who don’t exist? Why do we stop caring?

The characters were lost in plot holes because I didn’t want that part of the plot to matter, or because I hadn’t thought of why it should matter. I hoped it wasn’t obvious but of course it was. If I’m treating parts that matter like they don’t, it is very easy to start seeing the whole thing as something that doesn’t matter.

It is back to the drawing board with my shovel. I will fill in those plot holes and god damn it, it will be better than okay when I’m finished with it.