About two years ago I wrote a short story. I had a novel idea forming and wanted to test some of the characters. If you've been reading this blog since 2014, you know it was called "After Their Kind," and deals with sentient animal societies that have arisen in the wake of humankind. I thought it was a pretty good story. 4200 words. Some action to go with the mystery. And the characters were not "furries," they were real animals.
I thought it was a good story, but it racked up seven rejections over the course of almost a year (owing to most magazines' policy against simultaneous submissions). As I kept writing and better stories came out I started to think "After Their Kind" was unsellable, and I wasn't so desperate that I was going to give it away for nothing. I went on to sell "The Nimrod Lexicon," "The Black Lady," and "The Voice of Thunder." I've got a dozen more in circulation right now.
Then one day I hopped onto Submission Grinder and noticed a new anthology was advertising: "The Dogs of War." An anthology dedicated to animals in military situations? It was practically tailored to my story! I read over the manuscript and made some minor revisions before sending it off in July. I got the acceptance letter yesterday. It won't pay much, but people will read it!
Professional fiction writing is only for the patient and persistent. And the key to writing is to write. Was I sad by the thought of being unable to sell what I thought was a perfectly good story? Yes, but not crushed. I had more stories coming out, and each one was better than the last in some way. I was getting personal rejections from one or two editors at major magazines. Hopefully in the coming years I can change those into acceptances too.
I learned some important lessons from this experience. One, never throw away old work, even if it doesn't sell immediately. Two, keep writing. Seriously. It's so simple it's stupid. Stupid simple. By continuing to write, you will eventually solve every problem that your fiction currently has. Brandon Sanderson once said that the writers who succeed are usually the ones that are moderately talented but unlike the lazy or the super geniuses, they don't quit.
That doesn't make it any easier when you get nothing but rejections for seven months, or you have to restart that one short story idea you love because the first three beginnings left you blocked.
Keep writing. There's no other way but forward.