Insecure Writers want to know: Have You Ever Surprised Yourself with Your Writing?

I surprise myself every time an editor accepts one of my short stories. When I create my YA adventure stories, I feel as though I have both the inner and outer struggle for the protagonist. I have antagonists: one human; a cousin, sibling, friend, or self and one nature; an avalanche, a thick forest, a thundering river, or wild animals. I craft the adventures meticulously, usually setting them in a national park.

One of my five children or my husband will find me talking to myself—or worse, to the computer—and leave the room. Or they’ll discover me sitting on a dining room chair with one of my son’s canoe paddles, trying to understand how the mechanics of paddling works when negotiating rocks in a river, how to explain it to the reader. The kids—mine—help me re-enact stage directions with a stuffed [animal] snake or read what I have written to see if they understand the actions explained. The family can sometimes refresh my memory of what a trail was like when we were last on it during a camping trip to the particular national park I’m using as a setting in my story.  
I have a trusted writer friend who diligently tells me the short story is awful. So I fix it, and then fix it again. I stare at it. And “fix” it again. Then I sigh and submit it, and pray. You know how long writers wait to hear back after submission.
I try to move on in life and with my memoir, which mostly I’ve been staring at and crying about. I know what happens there. It’s truth. I can’t change it. And you’d think that knowing what happens would make it easier to write. Nope!
Memoir needs to be told as story. And the framing of this memoir story paralyzes me. My writer friend doesn’t have time to read or help me with this longer work. She says she’s not knowledgeable about memoir. I’ve taken memoir writing courses and story writing courses, the last being Lisa Cron’s Story Genius method, which is incredible. I have some good scenes. I’ve deepened the memoir story greatly. But each scene needs to be linked to the next. There must be a cause and effect trajectory. It seems like knowing so much about the story process makes me afraid to move forward in memoir because I can’t create what is needed. I must craft what really happened—choosing the events needed to do so—and create a story.
And until I can crawl ahead with my memoir, I live for an acceptance letter for my short stories. Like many writers, I ache for readers to enjoy my stories. But when the letter or e-mail comes, I hold my breath before I open it.
I had two stories in the queue at Cricket Media this time. I’ve had two stories before and Cricket Magazine, a literary magazine for 9 to 14 year olds, had accepted both stories. However this time, they only wanted one, a YA adventure about cousins canoeing the Delaware. Instead of rejoicing—okay, maybe I rejoiced a little bit—I couldn’t help but wonder why they didn’t want the second one.
I received the standard rejection letter: “it is not quite right for our magazine.” Yet I feel my stories are of the same quality. The only difference with this particular story was that I name dropped Susan Boyle, trying to connect Susan’s difficulties in life to my protagonist’s. Maybe an international children’s magazine such as Cricket doesn’t allow for name-dropping. Has anyone had experience with comparing a character to a known person in an attempt to imply that character has the same attributes? Is there a better method to explain how characters are in a few words without well-known comparisons?
The last story I sent to Cricket, they didn’t want either. Same standard rejection letter. I understand they don’t have time to tell you why. But the guessing on the writer’s part as to why it was rejected when other stories weren’t is grueling. In that story, I had one character receive a glancing bite from a rattlesnake. No one dies. It is a dry bite, which is explained in the story. Because it’s YA, maybe I can’t have the characters literally attacked by the wild animal, only frightened by them. Does anyone have any comment about that? I never have anyone die in my YA adventure stories. I know the editors wouldn’t accept that.
Thanks so much for stopping by Adventures in Writing and offering a comment. Please follow my blog if you haven’t already. It’s greatly appreciated.  

This post was written for the Insecure Writer’s Support Group. We post on the first Wednesday of every month.  To join us, or learn more about the group, click HERE.  

32 thoughts on “Insecure Writers want to know: Have You Ever Surprised Yourself with Your Writing?”

  1. it's really tough to make that connection with your story and an editor (or agent)
    but if you did it before, that's proof you can do it again!

    keep at it – and i love your process!

    thanks for stopping by (and reading 2 Princesses!) and the song at my blog was Knowing Me Knowing You by ABBA =)

  2. It sounds like you've had a lot of successes, which is amazing. That's a tough call, where to find critique partners for memoirs. You should scour #PitMad (is it tomorrow?) for others writing memoirs, and reach out to the ones that interest you and ask if they are interested in you trying one another out as critique partners. Try exchanging 500 words and the query to start, and see if you meld. Maybe?

  3. I doubt that anything as small as mentioning Susan Boyle would doom a story–that can always be taken out in editing if the story otherwise works.
    I don't think we can figure out anything from form rejections. There have been stories for which I've gotten form rejections that other editors have loved. For all you know, they may have just accepted a similar story last week–or have just seen five stories on the same topic–or etc., etc.

  4. Good luck with your stories in queue for Cricket Media!

    I loved what you said in the beginning of this post. I've enacted things, have talked to myself, and have done some other things that have embarrassed me when caught. lol

  5. It is so nice to read that you are staying focused with your writing, creating new YA stories all the time. The memoir process will be of a much longer nature, but I'm sure you are making good progress and researching plus learning more about the genre as you go. It all helps. Your processes are determined and success is present, one story at a time! Congratulations on anything that you have gotten accepted! The memoir will get completed one day.

  6. Hi Victoria – well done on getting a story through. Perhaps mentioning Susan Boyle brings ideas that the reader can't relate to … and perhaps they think they know her and thus that character for them is too much. I know it's right for you …

    Memoir – I would write by the chapter or just put some of it together … but why write to publish – yet … perhaps sometime later. Get it down and then adjust … have you thought about writing it backwards …?

    Good luck whichever way you go – cheers Hilary

  7. It's extremely tough to understand why editors take some stories and not others. Thanks so much for your kind words of encouragement. They are appreciated more than you realize.

    I thoroughly enjoyed reading 2 Princesses. Nuts, ABBA! I only know the Mamma Mia songs of ABBA. They're a great group.

    Thanks so much, Tara, for stopping by Adventures in Writing and leaving a note. I really appreciate it.

  8. Thank you so much for this advice, Raimey! I didn't realize you could just send 500 words to see if "you meld." I was always afraid of being stuck.

    It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. All best to you!

  9. I thought I could take Boyle out of the story too, if they didn't want a real person referenced. Why can’t they just tell me, if that’s all it is? I’ve worked with them before.

    This is sound advice, Jennifer. Writers can't read minds. We need to take chances with our stories; i.e. drop names, allow non-serious animal attacks, and just keep submitting. But I can't help thinking I may need to remove the name and the snake bite before submitting elsewhere. I also need to stop placing all my hopes and dreams in finding someone who loves everything I write.

    Thanks for setting me straight with this advice, Jennifer. It’s always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. All Best to you!

  10. OK, so the kids wanted to bring their friends in to see that one with the snake. I wouldn't allow it, though, and told them to stop laughing. I had to make sure I had the actions and angles correct, right?

    Thank you for your kind words, Alex. They are always appreciated here at Adventures in Writing. I still didn't think that mentioning Boyle's name would warrant a rejection. Who knows? All best to you, sir!

  11. I'm with you there, Chrys. Some re-enactments need to wait until the home is empty for sure. Oh and I think all writers talk to themselves. At least we should. How can we know what we are thinking if we don't?

    It’s always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. All Best to you!

  12. Liesbet, I can't thank you enough for your encouraging words here at Adventures in Writing. Writers need to hear that success moves one story at a time, and yes, sometimes you feel like you are only crawling forward. Truly, I needed to hear this. Thanks again for your comment on Adventures in Writing. All best to you!

  13. Now that could be true, Hilary. I tried to compare my protagonist to Susan's difficulties in life. Maybe that's what's wrong.

    You have great ideas for memoir. I do have a rough draft. The beginning. The middle. And the end. I'm working on the "because this happens, the next thing happens." Which of course is the most difficult part.

    It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing, Hilary. Enjoy your day!

  14. We all need good, honest friends like you have to give us the feedback we need on our writing.

    And as far as talking to the computer, he's my best conversation partner. He listens. He's patient. He has pretty pictures to entertain me when I'm stuck in a story.

  15. You are so right, Lynda. But it's still frustrating. I want to know if it's just that the story didn't connect or they bought a story like it recently or the story is not good enough. Grr…

    It's always a pleasure seeing you here at Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your week!

  16. For sure, Lee, writers need other trusted writers to critique their stories.

    Good for you! My computer just blinks at me, reminding me that there is nothing of value on the page. Although, you are right. My computer IS patient. Of course, I don't think he cares whether my writing is good or bad. But he does let me shout at him and bang the keys once in a while.

    Thanks for your comment here on Adventures in Writing. Enjoy your week!

  17. Good for you, Elizabeth, that your men help keep your male mc's manly-sounding. My kids like to sigh and tell me, "That's not how you paddle a canoe, Mom. Don't you remember?"

    The answer is, of course, no. I don't remember. Particularly what I don't remember is how to explain what I'm doing to the reader in the action of the story.

    I truly appreciate your comment here at Adventures in Writing, Elizabeth. All the best to you!

  18. I wouldn't mind looking over your memoir. I actually just did a critique of a friend's memoir a few months back. And I told her that same exact thing. The memoir needs to be presented in a story. Maybe I can help 🙂

    As for YA have you read YA books lately? They can be very violent. Think Hunger games. Extremely violent and yet 6th and 5th graders read these stories. And that was what, 10 years ago. There are hundreds of dystopian stories out there. I'm a fan so I've read a few. Some are violent some are not, some are more focused on diseases (still scary)
    Even Harry Potter, marketed to younger kids in the early books, grows violent over time. I have heard authors who write in YA complain that publishers/edidtors are requesting more sex appeal. I'm not sure why your story was rejected, but that's probably not the reason, unless you submitted it to a company that specifically ought out clean non-violent etc books. But a snake bite is minor compared to what YA book content is now a days.

    Otherwise, keep on writing! You're doing fine 🙂
    Sara Beth

  19. Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Sara Beth! First, thank you for your offer to read my memoir. Once I get it in a better condition or at least a few consecutive chapters, I'll let you know. I'm in the redrafting process since my Story Genius course.

    Yes, I do read YA. The protagonists are usually 14 year-olds in my adventure stories. Cricket Magazine caters to the younger teens. As for the violence in YA in general, yes, I see it. But that's not what I'm interested in. I write contemporary and not dystopian stories. I guess we writers can never know why editors prefer one story over another. Our fellow writers had lots of ideas why in the comments above.

    Thanks so much for visiting Adventures in Writing, Sara Beth. I truly appreciate your words of encouragement. And YES, I will include you in the reading of my college memoir once I get to a point of critique. I truly appreciate your offer. All best to you!

  20. Hello and welcome to Adventures in Writing, Brandon! Reading short stories is a great way to study the form. Notice the economy of description and backstory. Notice any pithy internal thought and dialogue. There is so much you can understand by dissecting the form. All the luck with it, Brandon. And thanks for following Adventures in Writing. It's greatly appreciated.

  21. I would also surprise myself if an editor accepted one of my stories, but I first have to surprise myself by actually submitting a story somewhere.

    I admire your persistence and diligence. You are doing what more of us should be doing and I think it sounds like you are doing a good job of it.

    Arlee Bird
    Tossing It Out

  22. Thank you so much for your kind words, Arlee! I truly appreciate them. I'm trying my best, but still, sometimes it seems I should do more. The important thing, I realize, is not to compare myself with others. This is true no matter what you are doing. However, it's extremely impossible for me to do.

    All the best to you, sir. Thanks again for your vote of confidence here at Adventures in writing. I certainly need it!


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