I’m Getting Better. Aren’t I?

Okay, so I got belted in the face again, with a somewhat cold rejection today.  The sum total of the response was, "Your story does not meet our needs."  No big deal, it happens.  But this of course got me thinking.

(Muse:  Nothing good can come of this.)

Look you, I –

(Muse:  People like you "thinking" is how we end up with genocides, Communism, and Justin Bieber.)

Shut it!  As I was saying before Seniorita Strumpet interrupted me, I started thinking – not specifically about rejections and such, since that happens all the time.  But I wondered if I am as good at this as I think I am, which led to wonder if I have gotten any better … which made me wonder, "How can an author tell if they've grown in their craft?"

(Muse:  You tortured the reader with your bullspit to make that point?  Couldn't you just say it?)

It's going to be one of those nights….

Anyway, I started pondering that question.  If a writer has improved, how do they know?  I can think of a couple of possibilities and none of them are perfect.

Acceptance Rate.  I thought about this a little bit and did some math work back to 2007, when I first started submitting my work.  From 2007 to 2009, my acceptance rate was south of 3%, so I was getting about 1 in 36 submissions picked up.  That's pretty dismal.  Now, from 2010 to the current day, I am running at about 11%, or about 1 in 9 submissions picked up.  Objectively, that's better.  The problem:  Am I better or am I just more discerning about the markets to whom I submit?  If I am pinging markets with greater clarity of their wants, then my odds go up.  Maybe the markets have had less submissions and I am hitting them at a time when they are less choosy.  Too many variables to totally buy into this.

Peer Feedback.  Over time, it feels like my feedback from fellow writers has gotten more streamlined and more precise.  Rather than poking enormous holes in my characterizations and plots, what I seem to get now is mostly refinement on word choices and grammar (which is fine, since I suck at copy editing).  So from that perspective, things are better.  The problem:  Well, same as above.  I have a different pool of reviewers from five years ago and they could be better or worse than the previous ones.  And I was told recently that I needed to, and I quote, "learn a little more in the craft and it will bring up the standard of your story."  So maybe I've just received some kinder feedback and things haven't gotten better.  Hard to say.

Flesch-Kinkaid Readability.  It's a little online calculator that is supposed to objectively measure the reading level (by grade) and difficulty (higher is easier).  I plugged in the first story I ever wrote (in my adult writing time) and the most recent one I finished a few weeks ago.  Results?  The first one gave me a Grade/Readability of 7/64.  So basically, written for a US middle-school reading level.  The second one gave me 6/68.  So … basically written for a US middle-school reading level.  The first chapter of Pilgrimage scored even lower (6/69).  Well, fuck me, that was no help.  By this logic, I might have even regressed.  I know a supposed measure of "readability" does not translate necessarily to a good story, but still….

Okay, so I surrender.  Like any good writer, I want to improve, to be constantly morphing into a better, leaner, meaner author.  I have no idea if I have actually gotten better.  I mean, I feel as though I have, I think that my skills have improved.  But how would one know for sure?

(Muse:  Maybe there is no objective measure.  Maybe you just do your best and leave the rest to fate.)

That might be the smartest thing you said all night.  Why can't you be nice all the time?

(Muse:  I'm part of you, Buttercup.  If I am hard on you, it's your own fault.  So nut up and get back to work.)

Yes, thank you.

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