Tuesday, June 17, 2008

To Submit or Not to Submit


I’ve been encountering an uncomfortable phenomenon lately. It’s called Why the Hell Did I Submit That (WTHDIST) Syndrome. Basically, WTHDIST is a condition where I pray for a rejection on a submitted story because I’ve figured out that it actually sucks.

I experienced WTHDIST just this morning. I’d been waiting on a response from my story, “The Game,” from Espresso Fiction for a few months. And this morning, the response arrived. I can’t describe for you the feeling of dread I had as I looked at the innocent Thank you for your submission to Espresso Fiction subject line. Usually, this is because I love a story and don’t want to see it rejected. But with “The Game,” it was a definite case of WTHDIST. Frankly, “The Game” is a damned stupid story. I’d be embarrassed to see it get published.

I filed away my rejection on Duotrope Digest’s handy-dandy Response Tracker, but a feeling of dread still hung on me. I wandered over to my remaining list of pending responses. And there, in all it’s hideousness, it was: a 118 day pending response entry for a little ditty titled “Nighttime Daddy.” I’d submitted the story to LitBits in a fit of pique after the story didn’t make the cut in a Writer’s Digest’s Your Story contest. 118 days later, this thing was haunting me like the lamb kebabs from my favorite Afghan restaurant. I found myself praying: please don’t let this thing get accepted. Or wishing it was lost in cyberspace.

The whole thing got me thinking: how do we decide what to submit and what not to submit? I’d like to think I can tell good from bad. But, usually, until I get a rejection, I often believe with naive earnestness that even my homeliest, gap-toothed, drooling babies are exquisite and graceful swans. Clearly, my internal editor has a bad wire.

But I think the real problem comes earlier in the process, long before I seek out a market, write my cover letter and send my darlings on their way. Bad stories are born of bad ideas. And bad ideas should be nipped before they sprout. I should dump duds early rather than waste time finishing and editing it. Then I could spend my time on the good stuff.

Easier said than done. Maybe it’s a matter of experience. Or of refining my literary palate. I wish I knew. Time is precious. I don’t want to waste it. And I don’t want to live with any WTHDIST’s haunting me by, somehow, making it into print.


Stephen said...

Don't be afraid of stories haunting you. Stephen King thought Carrie was a piece of crap, and it took his wife, Tabitha, to fish the manuscript out of the trash. Tchaikovsky thought his Nutcracker was just a lot of noise. The public continues to differ on that.

My opion (and it's only that): you put out the best you can offer and let the public decide on their own. Those pieces you think are priceless diamonds? Your readers might argue differently. It can also be said that the pieces you think are worthless might be the same stories your readers call your magnum opus.

In reading Heather Seller's Page after Page, I found that she has come to embrace the long periods in between submissions and rejections. To her, those periods are opportunities to see stories with fresh eyes and to fix things that maybe she didn't see before.

On "The Game", if that is the story I recall, it was a fine piece. I didn't see anything that you should be ashamed of. Maybe all you need is just to put a different spin on one thing to make it more satisfying to your editorial palate.

Take care, and don't be too hard on yourself.

Greta said...

Stephen, you make many interesting points. I like the idea of putting my work out there and letting the readers make their own decisions about it.

Also, the Heather Seller bit about embracing the period between submission and rejection.

I have a few favorite stories--some published, some not yet--and a few published that were good for me at the time, but I've now grown beyond them. I guess it will always be like this, that I'll look back on the old stuff and see things I could improve. It's a bit like being caught in that gawky pre-teen stage, isn't it? Tough to be seen in public with all these hideous zits :)

Anyway, thanks for giving me a new lens to see through. And for the encouragement. I guess I am being a little too tough on myself.