Writing Duds

“Write a short story every week. It’s not possible to write 52 bad short stories in a row.” — Ray Bradbury.

I love Bradbury’s words of wisdom. The more you write, the more you will improve, and you’ll increase your chances of writing something of quality, as well as publication.

You will continue to write duds though. Every now and then, you’ll write a story and it might not be bad, but it might not necessarily be good enough to be accepted. You’ll submit it and submit it to no avail. You may even revise it a number of times, to appease the editors, yet no matter what you do, you can’t find a home for it. So, it may be what I call a “dud.” And it sucks. Trust me, I know. I’ve been there time and time again. You put all of this time and effort into this one story and nothing comes of it. You do have some options though.

  1. You can continue to submit it. Maybe you’ll luck out and someone will publish it after all. I’ve done this. I’ve had one editor tell me that such-and-such a story isn’t publishable and then some months down the line, its accepted. Publishing is a subjective business; what one-person dislikes, another will love. You may have to wait months, or years even.
  2. Have another writer (or several writers/beta readers) read it and critique it. Having a fresh pair of eyes can be beneficial. Then revise and start the submission process all over again. Some editors will accept resubmissions.
  3. Publish it on a blog or submit it to a magazine that offers no compensation. In the end, you will still have the credit.
  4. Forget about it and move onto another story. Just forget it exists. Maybe a couple years from now, you can look at it and borrow elements from it for another story.

What have you done when you have written a dud?

Try Something New

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I mentioned in another post that I used write strictly Christian fiction. I thought since I was a Christian that I needed to write Christian fiction. It made sense to me. Never mind the fact that I wrote utter crap and it wasn’t suited to me, but I limited myself. For a number of years, I cranked out predictable historical romances, to no avail. I was never successful in the Christian market (thank God for that; seriously I would have made the worst Christian romance novelist). My light bulb finally came on and I moved on from that.

So, I tried something new. I wrote a couple of secular novels that mean a great deal to me, are far better written, and are far more realistic. One of them is really promising. In the last couple of years, I have also tried my hand at short stories…for the speculative markets, and I have had some successes. They won’t win any big awards, but I actually get feedback now, and the occasional acceptance.

My point is, don’t limit yourself. Don’t write what you think you should be writing. Because in the end the editors and the readers will know that your heart is not in it. Try something new, expand your horizons. Write in a different genre or attempt a new, fresh character’s POV. What is it going to hurt?

You may end up surprising yourself. I know I did.

Potential

I’ve had more than my share of rejections, literary and otherwise. It comes with the territory. Some rejections are form letters, others are a bit more personalized. Then there are the rejections that drop the word “potential” and offer some constructive criticism. I am happy and appreciative of the criticism, even though I may not want to hear it. But there is something about the word “potential” that gets under my skin and makes me see red.

For me it’s like receiving a patronizing pat on the head and being sent on my way. I think it’s because after all of the work that I pour into a particular story or novel, I think it’s past the “potential” stage. After years of writing and rewriting, having a number of short stories published, I often feel like I’m past the “potential” stage. The “potential” stage is for beginners, for those who don’t know any better, those who need to be taught the basics, etc.

I get so wrapped up in the word “potential” that I miss the bigger picture. I forget the feedback that I have received, that a profession has given much thought to and wishes to impart on me. For an agent to say your novel has potential, give some examples on what to revise, and encourage you to keep trying is a complement. This novel may not be for them, but they see the “potential” that it has, and they think it’s worthwhile. They are guiding you to that path that you need to take.

“But my novel is just as good as —–‘s novel!” I doth protest.

And that may (or may not) be true. But I don’t want to be as good as so-and-so. I don’t want to write a mediocre novel that is read and quickly forgotten. The idea is to do your utmost, to create a work of art, and to paint pictures with words.

What now?

Apparently, my novel has “potential.”

So…back to writing.

My July 2017 Femnista Article

This month’s Femnista theme was The Wild West and I chose Laura Ingalls Wilder as my subject.

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Like many of you, I’m sure, I grew up watching the show “Little House on the Prairie.” It wasn’t until my teen years that I read Laura’s books and fell in love with the plucky, little pioneer girl.

So, I hope you enjoy my observations on Laura Ingalls Wilder, the books, and the Wild West.

Click here to read it!

The Zookeeper’s Wife: Movie Review

(Beware: There are spoilers in this review, so if you haven’t watched the movie, or if you’re not familiar with the story, you might want to postpone reading this.)

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I recently watched “The Zookeeper’s Wife,” which tells the story of Antonina and Jan Zabinski who ran the Warsaw Zoo in the 1930s and 1940s. The Nazis invaded Poland in September of 1939 and occupied Poland until 1945; during that time they killed millions, the majority of them Jews. Rather than look the other way, Antonina and her husband chose to use their zoo as a safe haven for those they smuggled out of the Warsaw Ghetto. With the exception of a mother and daughter, the Zabinski’s rescued hundreds of Jews who eventually survived the war. Antonina kept a diary, which became the basis for Diane Ackerman’s book, “The Zookeeper’s Wife.”

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I was ecstatic when I heard that the book was being into a movie. Excellently crafted, the acting was superb, the pacing and cinematography was great. Watching Antonina work with the animals, I was mesmerized and could sense her deep abiding love for them, which extended for all living creatures. I never lost interest in the stories told. For the most part, the movie remained true to the book and Antonina’s story. While not for general family viewing, due to a scene towards the end of the movie (where one character is threatened with rape), it is the perfect tool to introduce someone to the subject of the Holocaust. Especially if you’re not ready for something like “Schindler’s List.”

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There were historical inaccuracies though that I couldn’t ignore. In one scene, Jan Zabinski takes his young son with him to the ghetto to smuggle Jewish people out. I can’t imagine any parent doing that, bringing a child straight into the lion’s den. Later on, Jan scolds his son for following to him on a resistance mission. Those two scenes contradict one another. Staying on topic of the son; at one point the boy shouts “Hitler ist Kaputt” which wouldn’t have happened. While it was painted all over Warsaw, children knew better than to say such a thing aloud. They knew it would lead to death. Also, Lutz Heck (the Zabinski’s former friend and now Nazi enthusiast) gives the boy the Nazi salute…while it may have been an attempt to trick him into trusting him, Germans looked down on the Poles as subhuman. A Polish person could not use the Hitler salute.

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The Zabinski’s Jewish guests hide in the cellar and some of the children paint on the walls. That may have happened, but the Jewish guests would not have painted Stars of David on the walls. It would have been evidence of their existence. Antonina also would not have painted Star of David’s on the structures in post-war Poland, because antisemitism was still running rampant. My biggest issue has to be how Antonina used her “feminine wiles” to lead Lutz Heck on, as a means of protecting her Jewish guests. Yes, the Zabinski’s and Lutz Heck had been friends and Zabinski’s used their friendship to manipulate Lutz. Lutz probably had feelings for Antonina too, but they were never on the brink of an affair. Nor did Antonina go to Lutz and offer herself up for information, and it did not turn into an attempted rape. Lutz locking Antonina in one of the animal pens and leading her son off to be shot, did not happen. (Also, what happened to the baby? She disappeared not long after her birth and showed up again as a two-year-old.)

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Aside from those minor objections (I can be persnickety from time to time), it was a remarkable movie about remarkable people. Antonina is someone we can all aspire to be.

 

Have you seen “The Zookeeper’s Wife?” What are your thoughts?

Rejection

Rejection is a part of life. No matter where you go or what you do, at some point you will be rejected. It’s painful and it sucks, but it is something we learn and grow from.

Now as a writer, rejection is something that you become intimately familiar with. Trust me, I know this to be true. I started writing as a kid and when I joined a writer’s workshop, I was immediately forewarned that when you begin to submit your work, you will receive rejections. Not just a few, but you will have enough to paper a whole room. Boy, were they WRONG!!!! I’ve received enough rejections to paper a house. Maybe two houses even. Thankfully everything is digital now and I don’t have to print out my rejections.

Every literary great faced rejection. It took Jane Austen approximately sixteen years to get “Pride and Prejudice” published. Louisa May Alcott was told to “stick to her teaching.” Charlotte Bronte couldn’t get “The Professor” published in her lifetime, despite that fact that she eventually wrote the best-selling “Jane Eyre.” Beatrix Potter had to self-publish “Peter Rabbit” because no one would touch it.

There are different kinds of rejections too. There is the form rejection, where they more or less say “it’s not you, it’s me.” There is the “this story has potential” rejection, which feels like a demoralizing pat on the head, but it can be useful (it’s a challenge to completely revamp your work). There is the “ritual hazing” rejection, where you do receive actual feedback from an editor or an agent. This kind of rejection, though probably truthful and for the best, will destroy little pieces of your soul. You’ll find yourself torn between huddling in the corner, sucking your thumb (reevaluating how you make life decisions), and throwing violent temper tantrums.

Then there are those rare, awe-inspiring rejections. The ones that confirm what you hope, that your project is worth something. That maybe, just maybe, if it falls into the right hands, your dream of publishing this piece will become a reality. These are the kind of rejections that have been known to cheer me up on a bad day. It’s not a yes, it’s not even a revise and resubmit, but this person has taken the time and effort and thinks you’re on the right track. They’re not the right editor/publisher/agent for this WIP, but they encourage you anyway.

I received one of these awe-inspiring rejections recently and it did my heart a little good. So, I’m going to keep trying and hope that you do too!

Faith in Fiction

As a Christian, writing about faith in my WIP’s and shorter pieces can be a challenge. There was a time in my life when I strictly wrote Christian fiction and wanted to be known as a Christian novelist. My main characters would be Christians or would end up as believers by the end of the novel. There would be a great, evangelical message and sinner’s prayers, numerous Bible verses, speeches, prophetic dreams, etc. It took me a long time to realize that I wasn’t meant to write for the Christian market. I couldn’t. No matter how “baptized” my WIP’s were, the quality of the story was poor and the characters weren’t realistic.

Life is not black and white, its full of shades of grey. I try to write respectfully about faith and God, but I also try to be realistic about it. I never want to take Christ or God the Father lightly. But it takes all types to make a world. Writing about one kind of person – or one group of people – again and again, fitting a story to certain generic formula strips a WIP of all its creative potential. God didn’t make us all the same; we are all made in His Image, yet we are all unique and special. Therefore we shouldn’t write our stories or our characters in the same repetitive way.

While some of my characters are professing Christians, others are atheists, agnostics, pagan – some are straight, others are gay, some are nice and others aren’t. I’ve written about Protestants, Catholics, Jewish people who find themselves at odds with God – some do make their peace with God, others don’t. I think there must be a way for a Christian to write for the mainstream markets, create stories of substance, touch on subjects that are usually off-limits to Christians, and still bring glory to God.

If there isn’t a way, then we’ll just have to make a way ourselves.