It’s 11:55 PM.
Palms sweating, fingers trembling from caffeine and sugar overload, I frantically type the last paragraph of my short story and triumphantly click the caps lock for a large, friendly, italicized THE END below the final line of my new masterpiece: The Sun Also Rises in Space.
With the last cold dregs of my coffee, I offer up a toast to my protagonist—Zaxx Jazzhands—so steadfast, so suave, so self-assured. I shed a single tear for the fate of my villain—Bojunk Bojanx—an evil maniac, but still sympathetic. I laugh to myself about the clever dialogue. Then, without a minute to spare, I submit my story to the new Solarpunk Star Surfers Anthology I’ve been chasing after.
11:59 PM! Another sixty seconds and I would have missed the deadline. Whew!
Now I just have to sit back and wait for someone to pluck The Sun Also Rises in Space from the slushpile and recognize my place in the sci-fi pantheon of greatness, right next to Ray Bradberry and Phillip K. Dick.
I check the time.
I check my email.
Weeks go by, and I don’t hear back. I think about querying to make sure my masterpiece didn’t get lost. I refresh the results on The Submission Grinder relentlessly, but the queue moves at a glacial pace.
After months of waiting, I receive a form rejection. No explanation. No notes. No offer for an advance on my upcoming (but as yet unwritten) novel, despite the fact that I provided a detailed synopsis in my eight-hundred-word cover letter.
I ask myself, “How could they not love The Sun Also Rises in Space? It’s perfect!” In a desperate attempt to reassure myself of my own greatness, I open the file and give it a read for the first time since submitting it.
But when I open the document, what invades my eyes? A story I barely recognize.
Who wrote all these clunky run-on sentences? How had all those instances of passive voice been inserted into the prose? Whatever happened to the werefox vampire hunter I introduced on page three? They seem to have gotten lost in space, along with a few other minor characters.
And the plot holes. Vampires in space would have burned to a crisp millennia ago, and I have one winning a solar flare surfing contest? How did I not think of that before I spent hours writing this stupid thing?
Obviously, I’m being (a little) hyperbolic here, but I hope the point I’m trying to make is clear:
You should let your story rest before submitting it. Stick it in a drawer and ignore it for a few weeks. Yes, weeks. That means planning ahead instead of sprinting on the last day of a submission call.
Many writers who are new to the publishing game (myself included) make the mistake of believing that they have a publishable draft when what they actually have is a really good start. The thrill of pulling a great idea out of your head and getting it onto the page is incredible.
Creativity! The Muse! What a rush!
You deserve to feel good about it. Writing is hard. Every day, thousands of stories are started that will never be finished, but you have beaten the odds and completed the narrative. Enjoy the feeling of success that comes with that experience.
But that rush can blind you to the problems in the story, and if you submit it before you are ready to look at it with an eye for its flaws, you will probably miss some things you would have caught otherwise. And those flaws can cause a slush reader to toss your story out of the submission pile before they make it to THE END.
Distancing yourself while your enthusiasm cools will help you gain the perspective writers often lack immediately after completing a story. When should you look at your draft again? According to Stephen King:
“If it looks like an alien relic bought at a junk-shop or yard sale where you can hardly remember stopping, you’re ready.”
If you don’t know what it’s like to be a slush reader or an editor, you can read our three-part series here, but to summarize: your submission will be one of hundreds, so you do need to send your best work, and unless you’re an extremely experienced writer with a strong grasp on storytelling and sentence construction, your first draft is highly unlikely to reflect your best work.
Errors and plot holes crop up, and you miss chances for character development.
Like: Why is Zaxx Jazzhands so cool?
Or: If Bojunk Bojanx is a vampire, how does he survive the fires of the sun while wearing nothing but a speedo?
If I give him a helmet and spacesuit it ruins the vibe I’m trying to create—the whole point of surfin’ space vampires is they don’t need to breathe in the vacuum of space and their long, flowing hair looks amazing in zero gravity!
Perhaps some type of sci-fi sunscreen…