As was our usual working routine, [Scott and I] discussed responses to the various letters from our clients, and he handed me the stack of manuscripts we’d received from them that day, and then he said, “Now your stories,” and slid my precious tales from where he had them neatly stacked on one side of his desk.McBain goes on to talk about the thrill of earning of quarter cent per word and thus becoming a paid author, but we ought not to brush on by the casualties, the ten literary corpses laid to rest on Meredith’s desk.
“This one, burn,” he said, and moved it aside, and picked up another one, and said, “This one, too,” and placed it on top of the first one, and then picked up the third story.
“This one, I think I can salvage,” he said. “I’ll tell you how to rewrite it,” and moved it aside into what I hoped would become a growing pile.
“This one, I think I can sell,” he said. My heart leaped. I looked at the title. It was called “Welcome, Martians.”
“This one, burn,” he said.
“This one …”
Of the dozen or so stories I’d showed him, only “Welcome, Martians” met with his approval.
When it comes to writing, all of us want to be successful. We don’t mind studying the greats. We don’t mind filling a set quota of words every day. We don’t mind stuffing envelopes, reading the rejection letters, finding new markets and firing our manuscripts back out into the void. But we don’t want to fail. We don’t want any of our efforts to be non-starters, duds, completely kaput. And the problem is that if McBain’s experience is at all representative, quite a few of them will be.
Yes, you need to believe in your work, to sweat over it and fight for it. You also need to give yourself the freedom to fail. None of us are God; we don’t always get it right. We’re going to write ill-conceived and poorly executed narratives from time to time. Don’t let it discourage you. Let yourself take the occasional (or more-than-occasional) tumble. Let yourself bust up your knees and bloody your nose. Just make sure you get back up again, grab hold of the handlebars and put your foot to the pedal.
(Picture: CC 2009 by richardmasoner)