Discipline. Control. Rejection, and Other Stuff It Took Me a While to Figure Out
by Jeff Baker
I’ve been writing in some form since I was in grade school. I actually sent something off to a contest in a kid’s magazine when I was about eight years old. Didn’t win. (Dick York was still on “Bewitched,” that’s how long ago this was.) In Junior High and High School I wrote comic book parodies in my notebook (in class. Yes, I know!) In High School I worked on the Yearbook and wrote for the school paper. Seeing my work in print felt good, and so I wrote for the paper in college, minored in Journalism and planned on a career writing non-fiction. But I wasn’t any good at following up on anything and I was seriously unmotivated to finish anything even a couple of free-lance articles I thought I had a handle on. So, I wound up with a day job and after reading a lot of short-stories I decided to try writing fiction myself. Like a zillion other wannabe writers I started a bunch of stories and didn’t finish them. By the early 2000s I had actually finished a few stories (had a couple of them published) and was slowly starting to learn about discipline and finishing what I start. By the end of the decade I’d gotten some nice responses and actually sold a poem. (My first fiction for pay!!!) I started writing regularly, largely finishing what I started and sold some stories, got more of them published and through practice, became a better writer.
Of course, discipline and experience do not guarantee publication. Rejections are an inevitable part of any writer’s career. So, here’s some of the kinds of rejections I’ve gotten. (Some of these were e-mailed and some made use of the self-addressed self-stamped envelopes I used to send with the manuscripts.)
The plain-old form rejection. “Thank you for submitting to such-and-such, we regret your story does not meet our present needs.”
The form rejection with comments: I got a nice long typed form rejection in the late 90s which also had some good advice in a handwritten editor’s scrawl at the end! I also got a form rejection on a story which had a handwritten note saying my target audience must be about eighty. (These are nice because it showed me that the editors were actually reading my stories, something I wasn’t quite sure of then!)
The rejection which mentions me by name and mentions the story too and says something nice and encouraging. A subset of these is where the editor gushes, wishes me serious luck with the story even though they’re rejecting it. (Also pretty nice.)
The rejection where the editor encourages me to send them more of my stuff. (Actually very very nice.)
The acceptance letter addressed to someone else e-mailed to me by mistake. (Got one once.)
The rejection which called me “Maria,” but did get the name of my story right!
The rejection by way of actually not contacting me at all. (Hate those.)
The not-quite-a-rejection where the magazine or anthology vanishes without a trace!
The rejection where the editor e-mailed me later and apologized, hoping I didn’t take it personally. (I didn’t. Nobody should take rejections personally.)
And as I was putting this blog together, I got word that one of my stories is going to be published later this year. That sort of thing feels pretty good too.
Note: I highly recommend reading Robert A. Heinlein’s “Rules for Writers.” I think I was unconsciously following most of those, or at least learning to!
Jeff Baker’s fiction has appeared in “The Necronomicon of Solar Pons” among other places. His non-fiction has been posted to the Lambda Literary and Amazing Stories sites. He blogs about reading and writing sci-fi, fantasy and horror around the thirteenth of each month in this same space. He lives happily with his husband Darryl who reassures him during avalanches of rejection letters. Jeff regularly posts fiction on his blog https://authorjeffbaker.com/and wastes time on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/Jeff-Baker-Author-176267409096907