Don’t Self-Reject

Don’t self-reject. Let the professionals do that for you.

This is what I keep repeating to myself: If I don’t submit, I’ll never sell a story. I say this to others as well. I’m not saying submit crap — it needs to be your best work — but don’t let the fear of rejection stop you. Even the most successful of writers receive rejections. It’s a part of the job.

I finished final edits on my newest novella in time to submit it to a market that was open to novellas for a few more hours. It was a market I hadn’t submitted to before because I had been writing short stories. Their hard upper limit on short story size meant my stories were too long. My recent stories, though, have been novella sized. They opened for novellas at the right time for me to have a fresh story for them.

I don’t expect them to accept it. I’m not convinced I write anything anyone wants; however, I have received rejections with personal comments that indicated the story was close. I think my problem is my stories are too normal. They’re not odd, experimental, or mind blowing. Many of the stories published by the various markets don’t appeal to me and I don’t write those kinds of stories. I write what I like to read.

I’m hoping for a good outcome with this submission, but I’m also preparing to submit the story to the next available market on my submission plan.

I’ll do my job and let the professionals to theirs.

High level view of the pages of my newest novella.
Pages of My Newest Novella

The Road Not Taken

As I worked on my current writing project, I wrote the line “Patrick realized he had chosen the wrong path for his life.” I then described the path he took and the path that in hindsight he wishes he had taken.

This reminded me of the poem The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost. I often think about the poem and ponder how I came to be where I am today, what roads I took, what roads were the wrong roads, and where would I be if I had followed those other roads. Now, as I work on a second draft of the story, that theme pulls at me and cries out for more attention.

The story already had a theme about doing the right thing but not necessarily knowing what the right thing was until too late in the process. This new theme blends with the original theme in the sense that a choice was made and then later events called the choice into question.

The road most people’s lives take is the result of random opportunity and desperate grasping for any job so they can simply survive another day. In my life, though, there were a few moments when two roads diverged and I had to choose. Did I choose wisely? I often doubt I did. Regardless, I have to accept where I ended up.

The Road Not Taken by Robert Frost

TED-Ed animation of the poem.
TED-Ed analysis of the poem and its interpretations.

Narrative Conflict Type

I tend to write stories that use a narrative conflict type of Person versus Self where the main character is struggling with their own prejudices, doubts, or flaws. This creates an opportunity for the type of character change arc that most appeals to me.

My current project still has that conflict as the main character struggles with his purpose. He had thought himself to be doing the right thing with his life, but came to believe he’s living a lie. Just as he is ready to quit and move beyond the lie, disaster strikes, a disaster that causes him to rethink whether or not he really was living a lie.

As I worked on the story, I came to realize that another character was responsible for triggering his doubts, a character who was actively working to undercut him. This brought into the story the Person versus Person conflict type, a conflict type I have little experience with because of being so drawn to Person versus Self.

I’m a couple of chapters away from finishing the first draft of this story. I look forward in the second draft of expanding the Person versus Person conflict. It makes the story stronger.

Interviewing Characters

I always know an assortment of details about my characters, but I have not in the habit of actually interviewing them. As I worked through my current project, I discovered when I answered K.M. Weiland’s Question of the Day on Twitter I learned facts about my characters I had not considered. Those facts helped me improve my presentation of those characters. That has prompted me to enhance my writing process by doing more character interviews.

Following are examples of questions that improved my story.

What are some of your protagonist’s idiosyncrasies?

Patrick’s friend had given him a chess piece, a knight, on his ninth birthday because all he ever talked about was becoming a dragon-slayer knight. Carved from fine marble, the piece had always been shiny and silky, but it was even more so now after years of him fidgeting with it, spinning it in his fingers, and rubbing his thumb on it when he sank into deep thought as he strategized.

What makes your protagonist laugh?

Patrick tends to be impassive, stoic, disciplined, and affects an austere manner. However, he’s not above enjoying satire, parody, hyperbole, and irony even at inappropriate moments. When his friend says she has nightmares, he tells her his warhorse’s name is Knight-Mare. He has to apologize because she thought he was mocking her.

What is the worst thing your protagonist has ever done?

In all the years Patrick had been a dragon-slayer knight, he had fought many dragons, wounded several, and drove them away from the human lands, but he had never killed a dragon. But when he fights his most recent dragon, and severely wounds her, almost mortally, he realizes what he does is wrong. The worst thing he had ever done was become who he is.

Next Story Includes Chiastic Story Structure

I’m progressing on my writing craft skill building. My Alpha Readers are reviewing my most recent story and I’m beginning another story.

The theme, story structure, character change arc, DREAM Tool (which stands for Denial, Resistance, Exploration, Acceptance, and Manifestation and is involved in relationship building between characters), MICE Quotient (which means Milieu, Idea, Character, and Event and has to do with nesting the various story types), and the chiastic structure are designed, and the starting outline has been generated.

I’m currently reading Writing Your Story’s Theme: The Writer’s Guide to Plotting Stories That Matter (Helping Writers Become Authors Book 9) by K.M. Weiland. Weiland’s discussion on theme has helped me focus my story, which will make the story better.

On her web site , Weiland posted a series of articles about Chiastic Story Structure, which is something I had not heard of. When I looked at my outline I discovered it had Chiastic Story Structure. Now that I’m aware of it, I made a few tweaks to tighten the structure, which will make the story better.

Now, it’s time to write.

Image of three page outline of the new story that is not large enough to read because it contains spoilers.
Outline (not intended to be large enough to read)

Writing and Editing are Different

Writing is hard. Editing is a challenge, but not as hard. Different neural networks are involved. Creating something new out of nothing is like following the shadow of a thought through a marsh. Editing something already created is more like chiseling a granite mountain to perfect its shape. Each step in the creative process has its joys, and its pains.

In editing, I use various tools to help me. One set of tools are Word macros I wrote to highlight items I should pay attention to. I finished that process and now move to another tool someone else wrote to look for more items to review.

Soon I will declare this phase finished and ask my Alpha Readers to provide me their feedback, which will lead to more editing.

All 238 pages of document in a single image making pages to small to read but showing the color highlighting of items to review.
All 238 pages of document in a single image making pages to small to read but showing the color highlighting of items to review.
Manuscript marked by Word macros highlighting items to review.

Finished First Draft Now Time to Revise

I finished the first draft of my current project. Now it’s time to revise. Often, when I learn new things about my story, I go back to previous scenes to make changes, but sometimes the needed changes are too extensive. I make notes about those for use in my first revision pass.

Here are seven of the items I will review to see if I should work them into the story. Some of them probably aren’t needed and won’t be used.

1) The dragon economy uses delayed reciprocity and social ties as the means of exchange. Obligations to Kedekitley exceed Kedekitley’s obligations to others. Therefore, Kedekitley is affluent and prosperous.

2) Kedekitley is good at math and designing structures. Other dragons say he is a genius, although he disputes that. Early in his career, though, he made a math mistake that resulted in a structure collapse. Now everyone keeps reminding him of it, but in an admiring way because they say having only made one mistake is proof he is a genius.

3) Early in the story, Kedekitley mentions Xenkerdecley had spoken to him. Late in the story, he visits with him. In that scene, I realized Xenkerdecley is Kedekitley’s mentor and the dragon Kedekitley most admires. The magic and thrill I felt at that moment is what keeps me writing. I definitely want Xenkerdecley’s importance to Kedekitley to be shown in the story.

4) Kedekitley has no enemies except the Dragon Council (who prohibit interacting with humans), Cultists (humans who want to murder Naia because they claim she is a beast), Travis (who wants to restart the Dragon War), and Viren (who leads the kidnapping of Kedekitley’s human friend).

5) Dragons use aromatic (camphor-like) plants to keep insects out of their nests.

6) Kedekitley picks up Sten’s habit of saying “Oh, bother,” when things go wrong.

7) Dragons have more technology than I originally envisioned. After all, they are descended from spacefaring dragons who came to this world to have a more agrarian life, but they didn’t abandon everything technological.

So much work yet to do. So much fun yet to experience.

Learning Character Details

When I envision and design a story, sometimes I already have a character in mind. Sometimes I create the character specifically for the story. In either case, I typically only have enough of the character designed for what the story needs to propel the plot. The character grows in depth as I discover the character’s details. This is one of the fun aspects of writing.

In my current story, the dragon Kedekitley is an example. At the story’s midpoint, Kedekitley points out to the human Sten that Sten has a mathematical calculation error in his bridge design. This is a turning point in the story as Sten learns the dragon is more than simply a beast of burden. The dragon is smart.

Later, in a scene with his life-mate Arizesyley, Kedekitley mentions finding the mathematical calculation error and blames it on Sten’s overconfidence. Arizesyley teases him saying Kedekitley knows about how being overconfident can cause one to make a mathematical calculation error. In his defense, Kedekitley says he only made a mathematical calculation error one time.

That exchange added facets to Kedekitley’s personality I had not known, and brought about scenes where other dragons mention he had once made a mathematical calculation error. Kedekitley is admired and considered a genius by the other dragons, but no one lets him forget he once made a mathematical calculation error.

I’m having so much fun.

Continuing to Work on Overlapping Events

Moving through the overlapping portions of these two stories has been instructive. I experimented with different methods to keep the two stories in sync and found that simply opening the two documents side by side and stepping through paragraph by paragraph works best.

I’m also enjoying comparing overlaps between Tui T. Sutherland’s Dragonslayer and the two stories The Dragonet Prophecy (Wings of Fire, #1) and The Brightest Night (Wings of Fire, #5). One difference between Sutherland’s stories and mine is in her stories, the dragons and humans (called scavengers by the dragons) do not speak a common language. In my stories, the language in the two stories is the same. That means I must keep the dialogue matching exactly even if I change the action beats to accommodate the different point-of-view characters.

This is a good exercise, and the stories are excellent. I am continuing to learn as I work on the project.

The Format You Use to Write is Your Business and No One Else’s

When I write, I use methods that help me be accurate and efficient, methods that help me find and fix errors, methods that help me avoid typos and blunders. I created a document format to help me accomplish this. What started me down this path were opportunities to see how a few successful writers worked. I felt encourage to experiment and develop a method that works best for me.

My writing format is as follows.
• 12-point Courier
• Double-spaced
• One-inch margins
• 25 lines per page
• Two spaces after sentences
• Two hyphens (‐‐) for em dash
• Underscore for italics

It shouldn’t have surprised me that this generated outrage from some people.

I was told “Courier is obsolete and no one uses it anymore and therefore I am wrong to use it.” There’s nothing wrong with Courier, and a monospace font makes the text visually easier for me to edit.

“Double-spacing is archaic and a waste.” I find double-spacing’s white space helps me concentrate on what I’m editing and it provides space for making notes on the page when I edit a printed version of the manuscript.

“One-inch margins are a waste of space.” I find one-inch margins provide the same benefits as double-spacing.

“Twenty-five lines per page is stupid.” Well, that’s what 12-point Courier, double-spaced, and one-inch margins gives me.

“Two spaces after sentences is archaic and outright wrong in this modern age.” I use two spaces when I’m writing because it helps me see the sentences better, which helps me edit better. I would use five spaces after sentences if it helped me write and edit better.

“Two hyphens (‐‐) for an em dash is so wrong. The word processor can change those to an em dash for you as you type.” That’s true; except, I sometimes miss that I typed a hyphen where I intended an em dash. By using two hyphens, I can see when I’m editing that I made a mistake and can fix it.

“Underscore for italics is an abomination. Just make them italics to start with.” It’s easy to mess-up italics when writing. By clearly marking them, I reduce my error rate as I write and edit.

I decided the problem is these complainers conflate submission guidelines with how one’s computer screen should look as one writes. They say one should write in the format one’s target audience wants the finished product to be in. Why? Moreover, I don’t necessarily know what the submission guidelines will be for the different markets where I might submit a manuscript. How am I to know which guideline is the proper guideline to follow when I’m in the writing phase of a spec project. I’ve been told there’s a standard. No, there’s no standard. Different venues can have different guidelines.

It’s strange, though, that it seems these same people who are so zealous about what is the proper way for a writer to write on a computer don’t have the same complaints when the writer writes by hand. If you write by hand, you can write anyway you want. Although, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone said there are rules about what kind of pen and paper a writer must use.

I believe writing and submitting are two different steps in the process. One does not dictate the other’s format. My method is to write in a format that maximizes my productivity and the quality of my work. That version is my “golden document.” It is the original. When the manuscript is finished and it’s time to submit it, send it to an editor, or deliver it to a client, I format a separate copy that meets the specifications the recipient provides.

Of course, it helps that I’m a master of my tools. A tweak to the document’s style settings and a few easy find-and-replace commands makes the needed changes. This might be a problem for some people because they haven’t mastered their tools and can’t make these simple changes. The solution to that is to master one’s tools.

My recommendation is to write using a method that works best for you to maximize the quality of your work instead of adhering to a style someone else dictates about how your working document should look. You don’t have to write in the format others want the finished product to be in. Make a copy of the finished version and adjust the formatting to meet the guidelines where you’re sending the manuscript. Always keep your golden document in your writing and editing format in case you need to go back and edit.

Each writer must find the method that works best for them. Everyone is different. One solution for all does not exist. What is your method?

Example of how my working document looks.
Example of how my working document looks.
It’s not readable because I’m still working to sell the story.
If you could read it, the First Publication Rights would be used up.