Like a good little "Oh God please just publish me pretty please" writer, I read a lot. I read books in my genre, and outside it. I read interviews with agents and authors. I read short stories in literary magazines.
There have been pieces in Strange Horizons and Clarkesworld that left a lasting impression, even years later, in some instances. I'm working through an issue of Ploughshares right now, and am impressed alternately by the richness of the stories and of the paper on which they're printed. At Christmas, my aunt got me a subscription to The Sun, and every month I page through it and enjoy. Even the non fiction is written such that it's experienced like a story, not just the facts, ma'am.
There are times, though, reading Strange Horizons, and Ploughshares, and others, in which I don't like the story. Its faults (as I see them) are glaring to me. Sometimes I can't even finish a story, and skip to the next. I try very hard for this to not be sour grapes, as I have received rejections from many of these venues I'm reading. I also try to look past my "I don't like this" to look for what made the story get accepted. If I think I've found it, or even if I don't, I look further.
I try to think about what the author meant when they wrote the story. What was that ending supposed to mean? How does it tie in to the beginning, or the middle? Was there symbolism, or was obliqueness overdone? Should different decisions have been made? What was it that inspired the story in the first place? How long did it take to write? How many rejections did the author receive?
One day, somebody will be looking at my story in a similar way. Once I get past those gates, my stories will be in the hands of strangers, on coffee tables and in bathrooms wherever those magazines are sold. One day, somebody will read my stories and think "Well, I've done better than that, why didn't they pick me?" Or, hopefully, they'll think "Wow, I really enjoyed that." Maybe they'll get my literary references (having an in joke with oneself is a bit pathetic after awhile). Maybe they'll say "I wonder if she's on Twitter? Or has a blog?" and I'll get followers and readers that way. It's the way these things work, nowadays. I find myself surprised and pleased to find an author I've read online, to peel back the curtain a little further and see more of their brain working, see more of their words strung together.