On Persistence

In which I both vacillate and state the obvious, but here goes…

Should you ever give up on a story?

Yes, absolutely. Some stories are stillborn and can’t be revived. Sometimes, usually (but not exclusively) early on in your writing career, you just can’t recognise that. You see the story you wish, not the story that is. Maybe you’re not aware of the clichés that plague it. The clunky prose. The unoriginal premise or predictable ending. The beginning scene(s) that benefit the writer not the reader. Unless you come to recognise and acknowledge these potential flaws you’ll end up in an endless cycle of rejection and growing frustration and bitterness. Why oh why can’t anyone recognise the sheer magnificent genius of your work? You can’t move on. You can’t write new stories. You’re creative font becomes clogged. You become paralyzed with uncertainty. What if you’re too niche? What if you’re no good? More pertinently, what if the story is no good? The answer to that last most definitely could be, yes: the story is no good and it needs revision (but beware Heinlein’s 3rd rule), or indeed it is too broken to be saved. So learn the lessons. Move on. Apply them.

But, really. Should you ever give up on a story?

No, absolutely not. Have you scrutinized it in the light of any personal rejection notes? Do the editors have a point? Is it fixable? Do they say they like the story, or the writing is good but it’s just not a “fit”? After each rejection, have you revised the story to match your current writing skill level (which should always be evolving, improving)? Do you still love the story and have faith in it? Are there markets you are happy for the story to appear in but haven’t tried yet? Are there any markets you’re too scared to submit to because you think you’re not good enough? Then submit. And keep submitting.

Because there are stories I’ve looked askance at after only a few rejections and thrown so deep into the apocryphal trunk they’ll never see the light of day again, and there are stories that have received over 30 rejections, have spent a total of 1689 days out on submission at different markets, and they’ve still been published and paid for and received complimentary reviews.

So should you ever give up on a story?

The answer, my friend, is maybe, maybe not. The trick is to write and keep on writing, to keep learning and challenging yourself, so that you have many stories to choose from.


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