Over the last week, I did something I do not usually do: I let my open submission count drop to zero. I nudged it back up to “one” by the end of the week, and today I will send out another, but as I look on the rest of the works rejected this past cycle, and think through the paid markets remaining for most of them, I’m reaching the point where I have to consider graveyarding the lot.
Mixed emotions come with this decision. Back when I wrote poetry with more vigour than short stories, I was part of an online community where poems would be put up and torn to pieces. I remember for much of my time there latching onto the criticism provided and endlessly reworking certain pieces–that is, until someone tore that practice to pieces, too. Editing isn’t always for the piece that lies in front of you, they explained; most of the time it’s just good practice meant to improve future pieces down the line.
So write forward, was the underlying message. And I hold to that. Letting go of older works is important to moving on and getting better.
But I am at the point now where many of my short stories, while missing out on paid publication, do not feel like bad writing. I can tell, because I don’t wince upon re-reading them as I do many other, older works. And why should I, just because they haven’t sold? A great many writers never got published in their lifetimes, but their oft-rejected writing was published posthumously to great success.
The other trouble is that many of these works lie in the general/literary fiction category, and so constitute a theoretical crossroads. I want to write the stories that make sense for me to write at any given time, whatever the genre, but if a certain type of story is not selling, while other, genre works are, should I not be dedicating the great bulk of my time to what sells over what does not?
The answer depends on my aim as a writer. Is it primarily to profit from what I do? To build an audience? To leave some kind of record of my existence? To shed light on a particular aspect of the human condition? To entertain?
To be quite frank, I am tempted to put some of these works up on Smashwords, a self-publishing site I experimented with last year. When I realized that the cadence of such self-publishing sites favours quantity and consistency over quality, I balked from proceeding further at the time–but there is something to be said for audience-building through a medium that promotes the use of a professionalized writing format.
If I were to go down this road, though, I would need to self-publish consistently–and that would easily take away from writing and editing time for works to be submitted to paying publications.
Already my time is split between book-length manuscript work (I have two on the go–a very bad practice, I know; but neither narrative will entirely let me go) and short stories for routine submission. In little more than a month, I’m in a PhD program, which will task me with different kinds of writing and so cut into my personal writing time even more.
So it’s hard to know what to do. I made a promise to myself last month about mediocrity–that I was going to allow myself to explore and experiment without hope of clear reward in the near future. I know by that metric I should start giving away graveyard stories for free.
But when even the practice of giving your hard work away for free requires consistency to be of any long-term use, I find myself questioning if this process is really going to be of any educative value to me as a writer.
Paralysis, though, is worse. Either way, then, I need to make a decision soon. Are you a writer? If so, what do you do with the detritus your submitting practice leaves behind?