As I mentioned on Facebook today, I dragged an old story draft out of the drawer for further consideration as a contender for publication. It's difficult sometimes to verbalize exactly what inspires me to make such moves, because inspiration for me is often less like a hurricane and more like a conspiracy of small breezes which eventually manage to catch my attention. In this case, the most recent nudges involved finally getting around to reading The Fire In Fiction after seeing Robin LaFevers endorse it, along with stumbling across a note I'd made to myself about a promising short story market which caused this story to leap to mind.
But the very first breeze (several months back) was a rejection letter. Oh joy. But rejection letters are not always A Terrible Horrible No Good Very Bad Thing. This particular letter (email, technically) came from the editor of IGMS and contained a personal note in addition to the usual form rejection wording--which is, oddly enough, always a very exciting thing to me, because writing personal notes in rejection letters is something not every editor can take the time to do for every letter. (Or so I hypothesize.) So if an editor does take the time to tell me something specific about my story, you damn well better believe I sit up and take notice.
In this case, what the editor had to say (paraphrased to avoid digging through email folders) was something like this: "You write beautifully, but this story is boring." (Actually, he elaborated more than that and gave me some specific examples of what he meant. Which was even more awesome.)
This tidbit of criticism came at a perfect time, because I had become somewhat obsessed with the minute details of my writing style. This editor made me remember that no matter how pretty my style becomes, I still have to TELL A STORY in an interesting manner. Which in turn reminded me that writing is a constant balancing act, because I do need to tell a story, but I do also still need to pay attention to the manner in which I'm writing it.
Which only goes to show that learning to write isn't something you do once and then you know how to do it. (At least not for me, and not for any of the many writers whose blogs I follow, so I will profess that this is a universal conundrum.) For me it's been like a long, slow spiral, where I focus on strengthening different elements of my writing in turn--characterization, setting and atmosphere, plot, style--and then back around to each in turn again. I gradually internalize at least part of what I'm putting into practice and then tighten my focus even more the next time I come around to an element, building on what I've internalized and understanding more than I did the first time I passed through--or at least reminding myself of things I'd thought I understood but managed to forget. And then I do it again. And again. And again.
With hopefully a whole lot more again's to go, because I am so not tired of this writing thing just yet.