Last year I was five months in to the writing life I had always wanted. It started in April 2012 when I went to the Clemson Literary Festival and came home and wrote my first short story in 15 years.
By October I had a few drafts of disparate stories and a finished novel whose first ten pages had won an internet popularity contest.
But when Khara House suggested we submit as many as three pieces a week, 26 pieces to 26 different literary magazines, or at least four pieces over the course of October 2012, I was sorely underprepared.
That year I submitted one story – to The Baltimore Sun who never bothered to even decline the thing. They just ignored me as the literary universe has done my whole life.
I queried three agents with my first 10 pages, two of whom said, “thanks but no thanks,” very kindly, I might add, and the third took The Baltimore Sun approach.
What I learned in October 2012 was that I needed a body of work. I needed enough fiction that I could legitimately contend in the literary universe, or at least enough to draw response of some kind.
So I created the 2013 Short Story Challenge. I have one loyal participant besides me. Thanks, Melanie!
The goal was to have 13 polished stories by October so that I could complete Khara’s Submit-O-Rama challenge. I did it. It’s over. Now here’s what I learned:
Drafting Must Be Done Early
I took my October Submit-O-Rama lessons and applied them to a November challenge wherein I needed to produce a new story each week, receiving the theme on Sunday and submitting by Friday.
That challenge worked my time table approach. I like to draft and then come back weeks and months later to revise. But this has been days later. I think the first two were adequate. The prose was good, but the stories were just mediocre.
In the third week I couldn’t get the story to happen. The prose is excellent (if I do say so myself) but I couldn’t get the pieces to come together and so I missed the submission deadline Friday. I rebounded on Friday when the required theme was werewolves, but I didn’t make the “top mentions” in any of the four weeks. (No hard feelings, Reuts)
What I know is that drafting early and revising several times is my style. A challenge such as this is out of my comfort zone and it’s not creating good work. But it is working my craft. And all work on the craft is good work.
The Stories Don’t Write Themselves
My grandfather never considers that he has a choice. It doesn’t occur to him that someone else might do a chore, or that the household can continue on without said chore being done. If it needs doing he does it. End of story.
I want to be that way. I want to be the person who does what needs doing. But I’m not. I’m as prone to waiting to see if someone else will do it, or if I can survive without it, as everyone else.
In the writing life this means stories are unfinished, unedited, unsubmitted. I write and unload. The voices in my head are quiet after filling the page. The tales are moved from the shelf of my inner monologue to the white page of a Word document. I let that be enough.
But if I continue to stop at the creation stage, if I refuse to do the hard work of revision and the emotional work of submitting, then I am allowing the literary universe to continue to ignore me.
Some other lessons from Submit-O-Rama will appear on my Life on Clemson Road blog over the weekend. They are life lessons and lessons in personal growth and change, not necessarily writing craft lessons.
This is revision month for every writer out there and a terrible time to query since agents routinely dump their slush piles this month. I’ll keep my fingers crossed. I still have seven original submissions and two resubmits out there awaiting the response of the literary universe.
I am toiling in obscurity no more.
At this point, I’d like to say, “Bring it on, December!”