Thursday, June 30, 2011

Rejection disclaimer

     Anyone that has had a piece of writing rejected by an editor, publisher or agent is familiar with some form of  the following statements:  "Our rejection of your story is in no way a reflection on your writing", "We read a lot of great stories we are unable to take", "It might be a perfect fit for someone else".
     Any and/or all these statements might be true. Or it could be that your writing sucks. This phrase used to be as pointless to me as, "This isn't right for us". Thanks to an experience I had last year, words like those above now serve as a confirmation and reminder that any rejection of my work does not mean it isn't great.
     I entered a short story contest (Cafe Doom) in which all entrants had to read and judge all the contest submissions. We were to pick our top three choices for first, second and third place and provide feedback when and where we could. I have to say this was an incredible experience that all writers should participate in!
     There were 60 entries, ranging from 3 to 20 pages and the stories were mainly of the fantasy/sci-fi/horror/paranormal variety. A lot of them I just hated. However, I loved a lot of them, too.  Choosing the 10 I liked most was hard, cutting it down to 3 was impossible. Even among the 3 I finally settled on, it was hard to decide which I loved best.
     The most difficult thing was figuring out why. Some I loved everything about. Characters, setting, writing style, plot. Some stories I loved one or more things about, but not other aspects of the work. How do you decide what facet of a story should be more important?
     What I did learn first-hand from this was how hard an editor's job is. Most importantly, the statement "Our rejection of your work does not mean it isn't great" is no longer ambiguous to me. I know exactly what it means and that it is true.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011


     I had riding instructor once tell me that when working with a horse, you are either training or untraining. That makes sense in regard to horses. Horses assume that whatever message you are sending is the one they are supposed to be learning. So if you are riding badly, or communicating the wrong things to your mount, they are learning the wrong things.
      That does not apply to writing. Writing badly, while not something you neccessarily want to do, is often what you have to do.  The difference is you can fix the writing. You can recognize bad writing and improving it through rewriting and revision is an important part of the writing and learning process. Repairing something that is broken is a great way to learn everything about it.
     I often hear the phrase 'unproductive writing'. We have to remind ourselves that there is no such thing. If you look at it the wrong way, working out can be seen as unproductive. Spending several hours a week walking, doing aerobics, weight lifting, or climbing stairs may not help me practice my riding skills, but keeping my muscles in shape makes a huge difference in how well I ride. If you don't write, if you don't practice, you can't improve and may even lose the skills you have. The only way to untrain yourself in writing, is to not do it.

Friday, June 3, 2011


     Titles are great things. Except when they're not. They are always important. A title is the ultimate hook. Which means they should be good.
     I have a problem with titles. Mine and other writers'. I don't like long titles, but I prefer them to uninspired short titles.   One- or two-word titles can be fun or useless, especially if you don't know what kind of story or book the title is telling about.
     My favorite author of all time, Dick Francis, has great short titles: Proof, Slay Ride, Comeback, High Stakes. Stephen King has some great one word titles: Desperation, Insomnia, It. However, SK also has uninspired titles. His first big hit was called Carrie. And he's had a few more titled with the name of the main character.
     The problem with titles, as with many things, is that different readers are intrigued by different things. "The Blue Room" doesn't interest me at all. For someone for whom the color blue is significant, that might be a title that draws their attention. "The Scarecrow" should make anyone wonder what the story was about, simply because scarecrows are just creepy. "Sunset" to a horror or dark fiction fan, would mean the coming of scary darkness. To someone of a more inspirational mindset, it might suggest peacefulness, relaxing at the end of the day, the promise of tomorrow.
     The title, "Me and Bobby" doesn't interest me. "Me and Bobby Under The Ground" might get my attention. "Taxi". So what? "Invisible Taxi". Hmmm. "The Baby". Boring. "The-Thousand-Year-Old Baby", Not boring. "Our Cab Driver" vs. "Our Cab Driver Is Dead"  And so on.
     I read somewhere that a good title should come from the story; should tell something about the story. Therefore, an interesting story should inspire a good title, something that would draw potential readers. That sounds a lot easier than it is, but if I - and other writers - can remember that one bit of advice, the chance of choosing a nondescript title will be much smaller.