Stop, look, think, then write

Posted: June 19, 2014 in writing
Tags: , ,

We all have days when a good idea takes us where good planning wouldn’t. Sometimes the results are genius – I doubt that the Pixies asked themselves ‘what’s the best song we could sing about a surrealist film?’ when they wrote Debaser.


Sometimes the results are less productive – this is where I come in.

I have a lot of short stories I’m trying to sell to magazines and websites. They get rejected a lot, and I usually then send them straight back out, after some quick edits based on any feedback I’ve received. It’s how I keep things moving on the short story front.

Recently I’ve been thinking that it’s time to refine my approach. By the time a story’s been rejected by half a dozen magazines I’ve had months to distance myself from it, and to learn more about writing. If I did more thorough edits on some of these stories then I might turn them from rough gems into sparkling diamonds- starting by taking out such cliché metaphors. It will cut into writing time, but I’ll sell more stories if I’ve got a few good ones than if I’ve got a big pile of mediocrity.

I still think it’s a good plan. But there’s a catch coming.

Yesterday I settled down to do some thorough editing on one of these stories, a fantasy piece called ‘Respect for the Dead’. It’s inspired by, though not about, the way we treat the death of politicians. I like to think that there’s something good in there. It’s had a couple of nice rejections but not made the cut anywhere. So I spent half the afternoon working on that bad boy, carefully picking over dialogue and descriptions, trimming the start to bring the conflict in faster, trying to punch it up. I was very pleased with the results. I got onto Duotrope to decide where to submit it.

All the markets I was interested in were either temporarily closed, unsuitable for this story, or already had something of mine to consider. After all that effort, I couldn’t send the story where I wanted to. Probably won’t be able to for weeks.

Sure, this isn’t wasted effort. It was good practice, and ‘Respect for the Dead’ will eventually see the light of day. But if I’d been more careful in picking my story to edit I could have sent it out straight away, made better use of my effort.

A couple of red traffic lights against a blue sky

So today’s lesson is this – sometimes writing is like crossing the road, you need to stop, look and think before you act. There are no trucks on this motorway, but there are a lot of self-inflicted accidents.

Ever wasted your effort in this way? Come on, I’ve told my mildly embarrassing story, now’s the chance to get some catharsis and tell yours too.


Picture by Horia Varlan via Flickr creative commons.

  1. I wrote a story about a zombie that went over well in my crit group, and I revised the hell out of it. You think I can get anyone to bite on it? Been trying for months. Sometimes, like you said, there just isn’t an available market. Publishing short stories is a tough business.

    • Yep. Even at an average success rate on submissions somewhere around 5%, Duotrope tells me that I’m doing better than most people submitting to the same markets. But it’s totally worth it when someone says yes.

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