I submitted a short story to an anthology contest yesterday.
I wrote it in 2006, during a particularly rough period of our deployment to Afghanistan–the first piece of fiction I had written since the third grade. It was followed by two more banged out in rapid succession, tying up a story arc. No one but my wife has seen these.
I’ve pulled them out, blown the dust off, and tried to take an objective look from time to time. Generally, I change a few words, change an em dash to a semicolon, and put them back on the shelf. I do write and edit for a living, after all: dull reports with a very limited distribution, but good work. Good enough that I was able to turn it into an adjunct faculty gig teaching the art of writing such reports.
However, editing very dry reports to extraordinarily exacting (and arbitrary) standards is decidedly not the same as looking at my own work, written to my own (equally exacting and but even more arbitrary) standards.
I’m a different person than the guy in 2006 who wrote those stories. (Not just heavier.) For one, I’ve been edited and have edited in a ruthless manner, and I’ve learned (mostly) not to take it personally. It may be deathless, beautiful prose, but if it doesn’t accomplish the objective, it gets cut. I’m an editor; I understand. Sometimes the whole work gets thrown out as unsuitable; that hurts a good deal more, but that’s the way things work sometimes.
Who is an editor? An editor is someone who loves the written language and hates you for what you’ve done to it.
Anyway, I saw the contest pimped on Scalzi’s Twitter feed, and after long thought, decided to submit the first story. The second one also stands on its own; I may polish that one and send it, too. The third ties back to the first one too heavily to stand alone; also, I hate the ending. I’ve hated the ending for almost seven years and haven’t yet figured out a better way, but since someone is actually going to read the first one (if only to reject it), I should probably get around to fixing the rest of it.
Why submit it somewhere now? I wrote those stories for me; I still like them (except for the aforementioned ending). If someone else likes them, great; if not, well, I still like them. Mission accomplished. Anything beyond that is bonus. Once I realized that, the potential cost to submission/rejection became pretty close to zero. (It’s still not comfortable, mind.)
Application phase: So that’s me. What about you?
What’s the worst that can happen if you write something you dearly love and some anonymous guy somewhere doesn’t decide to publish it? You still wrote something you love. I can entertain myself for hours reading blog posts I wrote during The War. I am my own biggest fan. I will still be my own biggest fan, even if no ones else agrees. Be your own fan, and rejection by others loses its power over you. [If you find this thoroughly unoriginal advice useful and you someday use it and get published, you may feel free to buy me a pint.]
Anyway, we’ll see what comes of it this summer when the submission deadline is up.
I realize that I haven’t “outed” myself as a writer/editor here before. Yes, that’s setting myself up for hurt. Egregious typo or grammar error to be pointed out in 3… 2… 1…
- SwordAndLaser.com Anthology
- Amazing Stories series on writing for the short fiction market by Douglas Smith