In the meantime, God bless Elizabeth Bear:
I was talking with another friend last night about the single worst stage of trying to break into print. It's the "there's nothing wrong with this story but I'm not going to buy it" stage. (Actual words (or a paraphrase thereof) from an actual rejection letter written by ellen_datlow to me, circa 2004.) It's the stage where you're competent, but you haven't yet found your voice. The snap isn't quite there, the pop, the narrative drive. It's the garage-band stage.She's the little voice that, even though she doesn't know me, continues to whisper, "You could get there, too. You know what I mean; it's just a matter of keeping at it. So keep at it." I do feel that I'm still working on the competence part, particularly where novel length work is concerned. I suppose that never really stops, although I can look back now and see that I've come a long way from where I started.
I read something somewhere that opined that the difference between garage bands and bands that break out is not musical competence, but having found their own sound. I've listened to this happen to a couple of friends' bands, and it's true, I think.
It also applies to writers. You get stuck at that stage because you are trying to find the things that will lift you our of competence and into the next stage. And I can tell you what those things are.
One is confidence (hard, in a business where one faces constant rejection.) Confidence in the story you're telling. Confidence in your ability to tell it. That confidence is what gives a narrative drive, allows you to stop hemming and hawing and say what you mean rather than talking around it.
Another is voice. Sounding like yourself, the rhythm and swing of your rhetoric, the unique chord progressions that make this identifiably your song and not something anybody could have written.
And the interesting thing there is that that personalization--which is what's going to make people love your work--is the same thing that's going to make some people hate it. Strong opinions are what you're after. And some of those strong opinions are going to be negative.
That's OK. I can get there. I just have to keep at it.