I struggle to find story ideas. Occasionally, I find myself re-imagining something that happened in my family (as do all writers). Or something that might have happened, prompted by a remark somebody made. As I carry on along one of these drab avenues, I might think to myself, Nobody is going to be interested in this.
Sometimes, such such pedestrian stories (in my view) have been written in response to our writing group’s ‘homework’ topic. (‘That’ll do.’ ‘I have to get something out; the meeting’s next week.’) Later, some aspect of the tale has prompted me to polish it up and sent it off to somebody’s call for submissions.
Strangely, these are often the stories that have been chosen for publication by websites or anthologies (usually those with the word ‘literary’ somewhere on their home page). One I had little hope for when I sent it off as a second submission (for a reduced entry fee) is runner-up in a contest and about to be published in the resulting anthology, netting me the most substantial payment I’ve received so far for any win or story sale. (More about that nearer paperback publication in December.)
I’m wondering if I’ve perhaps spent longer editing and polishing such stories to make up for what I felt was their absence of ‘zing’. Or maybe I’m starting to get a better feel for those publishers likely to look favourably on what I think of as my ‘family’ stories.
But I’m not particularly analytical when reading others’ stories either. If I can’t always identify why I like those stories that I enjoy, it isn’t surprising that I can’t assess my own either. A shortlisting (and even a longlisting) is almost as encouraging as a placing when there can be so few winners among so many submissions.
If only we could know how far our submissions make it through the judging process before falling by the wayside…
I subscribe to a quarterly UK short story magazine called Scribble which invites readers to vote on each issue’s stories. Since this was the first magazine that published my writing (an essay on my writing day) and it has, since then, placed me in its annual competitions, I have some affection for it. I try to send in my vote each month, but I can’t pronounce with any authority on why I choose the stories I vote for. My most utilised praise is a vague, ‘It was fun’.
In spite of many rejections, I have learned to hope and to not dismiss any of my efforts entirely. A story may have fallen many times into that vacuum of non-response and yet it may still find a home somewhere.
You have to be in it to win it (or even to get longlisted).
What have you achieved that you originally thought hopeless?
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