There's a lot of talk about breaking into writing, and then there's some talk about moving into publishing and agenting problems, but I find that I can reflect at this point about not only the cuspy part of writing, as I've come to consider where I've been, but also this new place I've wandered into.
There have been a couple of very PRESTIGIOUS near misses lately. Oh, I mostly get near misses these days. We liked your story, but (fill in reason) here. It is the unusual magazine that sends me a form. No, just recently, I have had a couple of what I would have thought of as Big Break magazines take me to a higher round, and then cut me lose.
Which I don't mind, because it's what I expect. My friend Lisa has this don't expect anything so when something good comes, it's a reason to celebrate approach to life, and while I find that's no way to live, I'm pretty certain it's a good way to survive becoming a writer. So, what does that mean?
I don't know what that means. I wrote a post a while back on not giving a damn about anything but writing stories and sending them out, doing what you can control. However, from an artistic point of view, there is something happening here.
First of all, clearly the quality of my writing is getting noticed more and more. We all like that, here on planet Iowa. Secondly, I'm finding that it is true, that the better you get at writing, the harder writing becomes for you.
Take for example, my most recent rejection: the story begins too late and ends too soon. I can see it. I can see it, but what I can't pinpoint yet is this: where is the right place to begin and end? Because this thing could stretch like a light wool sweater. Too much and it's ruined the sweater. Too little, and well, this happens. The problem is harder to fix now. This one loves the characters, the dialogue, the relationship. The point is that beginning and ending. Where should I crop the snapshot?
Or, I received a beautiful third round list of suggestions for a rewrite. They love all the things I do well in the story. Great characters and relationships? Check. Dialogue? Check. Setting and mood? Check. Plot and rationale for what happens? Not so much. And mind you, I can see it. I killed myself on the first rewrite, but I played to my strengths, and magnified the beauty of the things in writing I could do, but still had trouble with the fundamental things I often have trouble with.
How do I move toward now working on the things that do not come easily? Or how do I work with increasingly demanding editors and readers? Because I do want to pursue excellence in my writing, and I can see what is being suggested.
I'm working on a novel right now. Well, almost right now, as in back at it tomorrow morning. AND I begin to see these things in my novel, even without other readers. But I cannot, must not, self-edit at this point. However, the point is this: improving my writing is becoming more demanding, because I know more than I did, and I expect more of myself.
Which might explain those prestigious near misses. While I will always improve my writing, I am mastering those things I do well naturally, and have kicked those things up to a new level. It's like I tell my students about their papers: if this one thing is that good, then I want the other parts of your paper to be that good. So, these careful readers are telling me that they want my plot to be as good as my language, my complicated relationships, my dialogue, my well-rendered characters, my beautiful scenery. Because these things are good, they notice the flaw more.
That's good news. It means I have to finally make myself master the Achilles Heel of plotting that I've just tried to gloss over. That's not bad news, but that's the challenge. Such a challenge.
However, it's my damned writing. I will push harder and see where I can get.