I’ve been a bit stuck on my WIP novel The Hencha Queen for a couple weeks now.
I’ve also sent my previously-written short stories to most of the magazines on my list.
So it seemed like a great time to write a new short story – exercise those writing muscles and have something sparkly and new to submit on the SFF magazine circuit too.
It would only take a coupla days, right?
Famous last words…
So I sat down and whipped up a new short set in the same world as my (as-yet) unreleased shorts High Seven and What the Rain Brings – a near-future world where most of the population lives in domed cities like Vancouver, Seattle, and New Delhi.
I wrote it in three days, and was quite pleased with myself. I sent it off to beta, and waited for the congratulatory comments to roll back in.
You can probably guess where this is going.
“Sucks” is too strong a word for this one, but most of my beta readers flagged major issues with the story – sometimes pages of issues – from how I dealt with the past trauma of one character to issues with how the main character perceives women.
Most did like the idea of the story overall, but it quickly became clear that fixing it was going to require a major overhaul.
So much for writing a quickie short.
My response so far has been to thank everyone involved, and then to shove all of those critiques into a folder. I haven’t opened it since – I’m kind of scared to look at them. And yeah, I’m aware that this is not a good long-term strategy. At some point I’ll need to open that file and deal with the critiques that my betas were kind enough to spend their hard-earned free time crafting.
No writer likes to hear criticism of their stories. They’re our babies, after all. But in the end you gotta person up and take responsibility for what you wrote, and hope you can make it better.
My larger point here is that, as authors, sometimes we have misfires. Writers are human (at least so far), and from time to time we’re gonna write things that just don’t work.
One of my writer friends read a story years back at a library book reading. It was weird. It had cats. And milk. And maybe a feline orgy?
I remember him saying “This is either the best or the worst thing I’ve ever written.”
The thing is, we don’t always know until we get some outside feedback. Beta readers are excellent for this, to help you catch your misfires before they are shared with the general public. We’re too close to our writing.
And when they have problems with what you’ve written? Sometimes it’s best to slip something back into the drawer for a bit, and then take it out later, when you have a little distance.
You also need to cut yourself a little slack. So your story sucks. Rework it, keep writing and learning, and hopefully the next one will be better.
The worst thing you can do is to let it stop you from writing at all. I’ve been down that road, and I never want to follow it again.
Writing feeds me, even my “bad” stuff. And in the end, there’s nothing I’d rather be than a writer.
To my writer friends – what do you do when a story just doesn’t work?