All right. It’s Sunday and the last couple of weeks were kind of a miserable failure write-a-thon wise. Naturally, I am duty-bound to tell you the whole pathetic story. For my life is nothing if not a big weepy pile of self-caused angst.
My plan for this was: 1 week to write a story, 1 week to edit the same story, pick a market, and submit. But I went most of the week before last just not getting anything to take off. I poked at some of my ideas in my idea file, but it was largely a dispiriting and unproductive experience. Then on Saturday of last week I finally managed to kick out something that was more or less a story. It was okay, I thought, but it was missing something. You know, like a sauce that’s too bland.
I have a problem with short stories — they seem kind of all or nothing to me. Like it either comes out almost right all at once on the first draft or no amount of working on it seems to make it worthwhile. I have not had much success thus far creating a short story according to a plan or outline, or in turning those little idea sparks on file into an actual finished story. But this story seemed so close, at first, that I was sure I could pump some life into it somehow. Also, it seemed like a really dumb handicap to have if I ever wanted to be a professional in this business, so I figured I needed to work at overcoming it. I needed to work on being able to build a short story, you know, craft it and all that.
But yesterday morning, after a week of doing that, the story didn’t seem much better. In fact, I was starting to suspect that I was wrong the whole time about it being a viable story at all. So I left it alone for a while and went downtown and did a favor for Paul and bought myself my birthday Nook. We went to Big Time Brewery so I could use free wifi to register and add a few things to the device. One of the books I added was The Fire in Fiction by Donald Maass, because I had been thinking about ordering it anyway, and I also thought it might help me identify what was wrong with the recalcitrant story.
I started reading it and got as far as his attempt to distinguish between “status seekers” and “storytellers” — people whose passion is to be published, vs. those whose passion is to tell stories. For highly personal and idiosyncratic reasons this started to rub me the wrong way. Because honestly, no matter how much you are driven by a desire to write, unless you are at *some* point driven by a desire to publish as well, how on earth does anybody except your close personal friends ever get to read your fiction? He’s an agent, he knows full well that publication fairies do not steal into your house in the middle of the night and take your manuscripts down to Tor. But in this section he’s talking about writers trying to get published “too soon” and making it sound like a *bad* idea to keep plugging away at submitting, because the reason you’re getting rejected is most likely that you’re just not that good yet.
GREAT THANK YOU THAT’S JUST EXACTLY WHAT I NEEDED TO HEAR RIGHT NOW.
So I was a little grumpy and decided that instead what I needed to do was set about the task of figuring out how to format my own files to put them on the Nook. I was just outputting the werewolf novel and getting mildly frustrated with the PDF files produced by Scrivener beta, when I was suddenly doubled over by a sick, overwhelming feeling of shame. As if I had done something horrifically shameful by writing this novel and was just shaming myself more by trying to get it published. I was shaming myself by trying to get anything published.
Reading the little scraps of it here and there, I became so embarrassed that any of those words had come out of my head. I hated them. I hated myself for having produced them. They were ugly and unforgivably stupid, how was it possible that I didn’t know better? How was it possible that I had done such a shameful and awful thing?
So then I found myself weeping violently with the overwhelming force of this shame. And I did that for a while. Wept violently, I mean. It’s deeply unpleasant — a little like dry heaves. Then I tried to get back to the other stuff I was trying to do, but I’m still kind of weepy and dumb and hopeless and also have this weird squeezy headache that I always get from crying, so I decided to write about the experience. Which I am now doing. With words that will probably someday strike me as unforgivably stupid and horrible.
I swear, it’s like I have an arch-nemesis who torpedoes me with these ANGST RAYS every time she thinks I might be getting close to getting any of my fiction published. I can be doing the most ordinary part of the process, polishing a short story or outputting stuff to PDF files, and BLAMMO! Crippling angst!
I guess that feeling of shame is part of why I find rejection so incredibly painful. It never feels like I failed to get this one work published this one place this one time — it feels more like I’ve failed everything forever.
So, who is this nemesis of mine? Why is she so determined to keep me from a fiction career? Why is crippling angst her attack method?
I have no idea. But I am putting together a superhero team. We are going to hunt this bitch down and take her out, I swear.