Last week, I resubmitted the Lame-O story that stressed me out a couple weeks ago. I found an ending that was logical, got some advice from my husband and my writing buddies about how to make the main character more sympathetic, and cut a lot of material that just seemed to distract from the main focus of the story.
I’m hoping the editor will now find it publishable, because I am simply sick of the story.
I’ve never really felt sick of a story before. I’ve been saddened when a story was rejected, frustrated when one was rejected repeatedly, believed we needed a little break from each other, but was never actually disgusted with a story.
I feel guilty about it, too. The story’s pretty good now. I worked long and hard over it. I shed tears. But I don’t have the same attachment to it as I do to my other stories, both the successes and failures.
Failure to thrive stories
Over Shabbos, I thought about the situation. (Caution, mixed metaphors ahead.)
The ugly truth is that my story didn’t get enough unconditional love in the first place.
Most of my story ideas show up in my brain out of the blue. They win me over slowly, enchanting me with their cleverness and heart. A character sometimes grows up in my imagination and then starts to tell me about their problems, almost as if it were a friend in real life phoning at the end of a really stressful day. The plot might take shape over weeks or months, during which it never strays far from my mind. I take my time refining the piece until it’s perfect, then send it along to an editor.
This story–the formerly Lame-O one–was written on command: please produce a story for Passover. Here’s the theme. And please have a draft ready in two weeks.
The unpure motive
Since I can always use both the exposure and my pocketbook is perpetually in need of replenishment, and the request came from a magazine I like working for, I tried to produce something to suit.
But the topic didn’t really speak to me. The editor rejected my first pitch, in fact. I thought up a few more, and they picked one they preferred.
The story idea revolved around a character I thought I knew, but she really never took up residence in my brain, begging me to tell her story, the way most of my main characters do.
Sometimes, this doesn’t matter so much, because the story is coming from deep within me. I’m telling a story I feel I know well. But I came up dry here, as well. Hammering out the story took a lot of effort and for not one moment did I experience flow (except maybe while writing a tiny snippet that I cut almost immediately because it took up too much space while achieving too little).
When my first draft came out substandard, I didn’t revise it out of love, but out of a stubborn desire to get some remuneration for my work by selling the story to a different venue. And also–I’m ashamed to say–out of a desire to stick it to the person who gave me the rejection letter without offering me a chance to revise.
I felt I had to prove my writing chops. I was angry, and probably a bit arrogant, too.
The puzzling thing is that when I write for tweens and teens, I often produce stories tied to a theme, on a short deadline, and I mostly care about those. Many of those stories fill me with pleasure when I re-read them in print. And sometimes I write copy for people, based on their ideas and not my own, and I usually do okay with that, too. I’m not sure if the length makes the difference (an adult story in this particular magazine is three times the length of one in the youth department, and web copy rarely hits that word count), the higher expectations (adults are more discerning), or what.
Lesson learned: just like unloved children grow into adults with problems, unloved ideas grow into stories with problems.
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