(Part of a series applying the Prayer of St. Ephraim to the writer’s life, and considering where I can improve.)

Grant not unto me a spirit of idleness,
of discouragement,
of lust for power,
and of vain speaking.

Writers are powerless. Everyone knows this. We are the playthings of editors, agents, publishers and buyers. We are buffeted by the cruel winds of the market. Vast, capricious forces determine whether our books and stories will sell. We have no control over our fate. So why should “lust for power” be a writer’s vice?

Well, for starters, writers aren’t completely powerless. We do have one power: the power to tell a great story. This is not a power that we should give up. I think that the key word in the prayer here is “lust”. The problem is not that writers have or do not have power. It’s that we want the power that is not, and never will be, in our grasp, namely the power to ensure our success.

Why do so many writers go ballistic when they get rejected? Why do writers occasionally lash out against critics? Why do the self-published writers condemn the traditional publishers for cowardice? Why do the traditionally published folks condemn the self-published for unprofessionalism? I’m not talking here about legitimate criticisms or disagreement, I’m talking about the over-the-top nutty-butter insane things that litter the inboxes of agents and editors and spill out on the internet with depressing regularity. I propose that what’s going wrong with these people is the lust for power. These are writers who believe that they deserve success for having published good books before, or having gotten an MFA, or merely having completed a story. So when anyone, whether it be a publisher or an editor or a reader, comes along and refuses to give them what they deserve, they simply lose it.

This is the lust for power. You will never, ever be able to force someone to like your writing, no matter how good it is. As writers we all want acceptance and success, but it is never in our power to simple take it. When we feel that we deserve to have success, and that those who disagree are merely obstacles to be destroyed, we are engaging in the lust of power.

We still have the power to tell a great story. That’s the only power we need.

Next time: vain speaking.

These are all for the same story, which I completed last summer:

It was well received here, but after some thought we have decided not to accept it for publication. this came very close. Very pretty :).

I quite liked this, but it felt a little insubstantial for this length, and my co-editors didn’t like it quite as much as I did.

Even though the narrative tone was more external or fable-esque than I usually prefer, I really enjoyed the first third or so of the story… I was hoping for something more character-centered… I hope you will feel free to submit again.

Your story was held for further consideration either by myself or my assistant and carefully read. I was intrigued by the idea behind this story and the style in which it was written, but on completing my reading ultimately decided I wasn’t compelled enough to make an offer to buy it.

My reaction to this is a mixture of pleasure at the positive reception, and annoyance at the lack of actual publication. Ah, well, such is the fate of a newbie writer. Once more into the breach…

In this case, you made it all the way through round two and into the winnowing phase. There were some rough spots, one person thought, but two others thought it was quirky and interesting enough to publish. It lost out in the winnowing phase. That’s pretty far — about 5% of all stories make it there.

Woohoo! Maybe next time.

Wow. A bumper crop of envelopes in my mailbox… but none of them say what I want. I do want to highlight one response I received, though. This wasn’t for my novel, but for one of my short stories:

We thought it had a promising start — the writing is good, and it’s genuinely funny in places. But… [snip lots of useful information about what this editor didn’t like about the story]. That said, please do try us again with more work in the future.

I’ll take that. Yes I will. It’s not quite the same thing as an envelope full of money, but it’s the next closest thing.

It’s been a while since I got any agenty love. Even of the “not what we’re looking for” type–which, admittedly, is only “love” if you take a very expansive definition of the term.

This one came back with a very polite note at the bottom:

PS: You might want to be more careful with cut and paste next time. 😉 My name isn’t (other agent’s name).

Oh, wow. So now I’m one of those writers. The ones I’ve read about on other agent blogs, the ones that send out way too many queries and get confused and insult the agents by using the wrong name. I am horribly humiliated. I would have rejected me too.

However, this agent was so winning with her smiley that I’ll be sure to put her near the top of my list next time. I’m sure she’s incredibly honored.