Rejecting self-rejection

So… some good news. Not only am I eligible to receive the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer, two of my stories are included in the reader anthology, Up and Coming: Stories from the 2016 Campbell-Eligible Writers.

But those stories would not have been included in the anthology if I’d been left to my own devices. More than that, I probably wouldn’t have been acknowledged as eligible if I not for a fortuitous push from my writing friends.

When I finish a story or an art project, I’m usually incredibly pleased it. I’m proud of the result.

… for like, 17 seconds.

After that, the narrative changes.

“I hate it.”

“It’s stupid.”

“The whole idea was kinda stupid to begin with.”

“Anyone who sees it will undoubtedly think that I’m stupid.”

“This new project I have in mind is way better, and I probably should have been working on it instead.”

I’m far more likely to trunk a story than I am to submit it for publication. And awards contention? That’s never even been on my radar. Awards are for the authors that I go out of my way to find and read.

So when the call went out for Campbell-eligible writers to submit their published works, I read the announcement and associated qualification criteria with a detachment that was too bland to be wistful. I thought, “Some day… some day.”

But according to the eligibility requirements, my clock was already ticking. ‘Some day’ had arrived.

A new writer is eligible for the Campbell for two years following her first qualifying sale in a professional market. That’s it. Then the window closes. And my first thought was, “I won’t submit. But maybe next year. Maybe. If I have some better stuff published.”

I took myself out of the running after barely even acknowledging my eligibility.

Luckily, a special guest sat in at my weekly writing group meeting. Mary Robinette Kowal is both a Campbell and multiple Hugo Award-winning writer. My writing group have all attended Mary’s seminar courses, and the Campbell anthology came up when she joined us for our online meeting.

As an aside, I’ve benefitted from several of Mary’s writing classes. If you’re quick enough with a computer to get in before they fill up, I highly recommend her as an instructor.

Go.

Go, now.

Find her online at maryrobinettekowal.com or @MaryRobinette on Twitter.

Aaaany who… I mentioned that I wasn’t going to submit for publication in the anthology and she slapped me around for being a dolt. The gist of the admonition being, “Don’t self-reject.”

Which seems obvious and true. I mean, if you never ask an editor to publish your work, the answer is by default a no. They don’t even get the choice if you’ve already drafted the rejection for them. The same is true for awards.

Submission, rejection and resubmission are elemental components of success as a writing professional. But I’m so good at giving myself reasons not to participate in final, commercial activities of a working artist.

Why is that?

For one thing, words on a page are a poor reflection of the iconic imaginings in a writer’s mind. I’ve found the same to be true of music, and perhaps this is something endemic to artist pursuits of all varieties.

I believe Guy Gavriel Kay had the right of it when he said, “I don‘t know a serious artist in any field who does not wrestle with the limitations of their own talent and energy, the space between the imagined work and what is produced.”

My own stories – irrespective of how well others appreciate them – always fall short of my expectations, even if only in some small measure. That they will always fall short is something I need to become better at accepting.

The harsh clarity of hindsight is another challenge.

I’m always learning some new piece of writing craft. It’s super easy to look back at completed works through the lens of whatever writing-nit I’m currently picking away at. The older the story, the more nits I have to pick.

Combine rear-view cynicism with a chronic excitement for each new, shiny idea and it’s easy to see how completed works struggle to compete against the vision of future accomplishments. I find it way too easy to write-off a good story as ‘just practice’ or ‘an interesting learning experience.’

But self-rejection is a miserable return for the investment of effort that the creative process demands. So rather than let my two-year window of Campbell Award eligibility swing shut, I’ve pulled aside the curtain and thrown the shutters wide.

Two of my stories appear in the Up and Coming anthology. I’m super excited to share those pages with friends I’ve made at writer conventions, classes and seminars.

Writers like Marin Cahill and Sunil Patel who attended the Writing Excuses Retreat with me in 2014. Jeanne Kramer-Smith who was in my first-ever writing class. Jamie Gilman Kress and Kim May who I met at my very first Worldcon in 2013.

I’m under no illusion that I’ll win the Campbell Award; that honor will be reserved for a writer better equipped to compress the gap between their imagined work and what manifests on the page.

But I’m part of a freshman class of blossoming science fiction and fantasy writers. I’m proud of that. And I’m very thankful that I didn’t pass on the opportunity to be included in the anthology or our debut works.

The Up and Coming anthology is free to download and available only for the month of March, 2016.

My short story The Doom of Sallee is a historical fiction about Barbary pirates and North African politics. It is set in Eric Flint’s 1632 universe and appeared in the November 2015 issue of the Grantville Gazette.

Brothers In Arms is a novella written for Star Citizen’s Jump Point Magazine. It is a tale of two ne’er-do-well brothers trying to go legit on the edges of colonized space. It was originally published in four parts starting May of 2015.

Best wishes to all the new writers out there, whatever your genre might be. And remember, don’t self-reject! I look forward to reading all of your work for many, many years to come!