Has short fiction ever looked at you coquettishly? Ever given you a wink? Ever said, Hey, you! You with the infeasibly large notebook collection. You, whose head is full of stories. You, who thinks too much and writes too little. Are. You. Free. Tonight?
Or perhaps you’ve had your first date with a short story. You’ve sat down. Tumbled words onto a page. A messy jumble, but there they are. A creation of sorts. And later, you picked them up and set them just so.
Maybe flash fiction has already had her way with you. That cheeky devil! The first three dates – or more! – are over. Stories have been written. You’ve perfected your words. Cut. Pasted. Killed your darlings. Polished. Printed! You’ve introduced them to your mother. Your friends approve. This is serious.
And now to make it official:
Ah. That old chestnut.
And suddenly, from the giddy heights of the honeymoon period you recoil from rejection. Whereas before your words dripped off the page like sweet nectar now you stash them away in a dark drawer, a quick divorce looming in your future.
But don’t give up! Please don’t! You can make this work.
My first published short story – Not Yet Recycled – was just that; recycled. I had sent it out to various publications without so much as a whisper of a response. I withdraw it. Tweaked it. Melted it down. Tried again. And then, boom – just like that – it was picked up as October’s Irish Times New Irish Writing winner. It was, I decided, the last time I would teeter on the edge of quitting. If you’re there, looking into the abyss, I want to share some strategies to pull you back and onto the path to that first delicious moment when you see your name in print.
1: Look for deadlines
A few years ago, I dabbled in a writing course. I say dabbled because it was structured without deadlines – finish each assignment in your own time and wait for feedback. I, unfortunately, am addicted to deadlines. There’s probably a name for such a condition but I’m sure that writers are disproportionately affected. A quick cure for this – look for competition deadlines and write to those until you find your stride.
2: Check out as many shorts as you can
And I’m not talking about the type that are donned in summer. Short fiction is experiencing a rebirth. There are so many quality stories being published every week that we are truly spoiled for choice. I started out reading the fiction section of the New Yorker then began to buy Irish literary magazines, then international publications. Now I’ve branched into anthologies. As a lifelong novel-lover, it was an eye opener. Bookmark the stories that resonate with you, you’ll return to them again and again for inspiration.
3: Now stop reading and write
How is it possible to know when research spills into procrastination? I have absolutely no idea – and if someone knows, tweet me please. If fact, get off twitter, you should be writing! There’s only so much preparation you can do and at some point (the sooner the better) you just need to write those first fictional words. It doesn’t really matter what they are because…
4: First drafts are terrible
Just accept this. I wish I had earlier. Accepting this fact is absolutely, totally and utterly liberating. You’ll write faster and let your mind stride ahead to places you never would have gone had you held it back while searching for that perfect sentence.
5: Write non-fiction
You know that writing course I mentioned? It started with modules tackling non-fiction. And non-fiction articles require concise writing, flawless grammar and discipline (and deadlines!). Fiction is sent out ‘on spec’ (already completed) but non-fiction pieces are generally pitched in advance, forcing the writer to distil the key points of the article into a paragraph. What are your story’s main themes? Can more be said with less? Writing like this adds a new element to your fiction, don’t be afraid to try it.
6: Seek out feedback
Constructive feedback is vital. Pursue it. Can you do a writing course (make sure it includes one-to-one feedback)? Join a writers group? If you decide to pay for a critique service ask other writers for recommendations or see this list.
7: Know your market
Get to know the publications you want to submit to. Intimately. Don’t make the mistake of receiving a rejection for completely avoidable reasons – exceeding word counts, sending erotic horror to The Moth, ignoring submission windows etc. A shotgun approach (bulk emailing out a story to many publications) is a sure way not to get published. Be selective. It will give editors the chance to be selective with you.
8: Remember that everyone gets rejected. All. The. Time.
And take comfort from it! It can feel lonely to get that automated email We enjoyed/tolerated your story but unfortunately we will not be publishing it. But thousands of these rejections are sent out each and every day to writers. It’s just part of the process. And yet, the only way to get published is to try and try again.
So if short fiction asks you on a date, say yes! Take pen to paper. Put aside the fear of a blinking cursor on a blank page. Submit, submit, submit (in both senses of the word). You’ve got absolutely nothing to lose. Because short stories and you? Well, I think you’re meant to be together.
(c) Amanda Geard
Read Amanda’s story Not Yet Recycled here.