Don’t make it your goal to be published, become a better writer instead
When I first started writing short stories a few years ago, I thought that getting published would be easier. I began submitting my short stories: one to a contest and then two others to the same literary journal. I hoped that I’d get a yes to at least one of my submissions.
But what I ended up getting instead was a very big reality check.
I realized just how difficult it can be to craft a well-structured short story. You only have so much time and space to make a point. To show a moment in a character’s life. To set up conflict and suspense.
I learned that writing a short story is truly an art. One that I think is sorely underrated in favour of the novel. Looking back, I also realize it was naïve to expect more results from such a small output.
This understanding was further solidified by a passage I read in Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life. Her students asked her how’d they go about finding an agent. Her response shows that they were asking the wrong question:
“However, in the meantime, we are going to concentrate on writing itself, on how to become a better writer, because, for one thing, becoming a better writer is going to help you become a better reader, and that is the real payoff.”-Anne Lamott
Reading this was a like opening up the door to a burst of cold air on a winter’s day. Sometimes I rush ten steps ahead without thinking through the process, of the baby steps that are required first before I’ll reach my destination.
And even then — it’s not the destination that matters so much as the experience along the way.
When I turned my focus away from publication and toward writing itself, I developed a real appreciation for short stories and for people who have a real knack for writing them.
I acknowledged that while my detail and characterization were good, my plotting skills needed work. If anything can highlight your plotting skills, it’s a short story. It can be painful to be pulled out of the daydream you were once in and come flying down toward Earth, only to realize you had missed some key details along the way.
But it’s necessary.
Necessary for growth.
Necessary for improvement.
Necessary for your writing.
You’ll gain a new passion and appreciation for writing, and all its elements.
You’ll learn that rejection doesn’t make or break you as a writer.
Instead, it will drive you to work harder, to learn all you can, to immerse yourself in the world of words.
You’ll begin to approach your writing with an attitude of generosity. Because you realize after a while that words have the tremendous power to move people.
It’s crucial to focus on being a writer who cares, both for their craft and for their audience.
Not someone who just cares about publication.
Fall in love with the written word again.
After all, that’s where the love for writing first began.