So many aphorisms about writing (and life, really) remind us that whether the job is a a haiku or a Russian novel, writing is a process. You can probably finish these sentences: How do you eat an elephant…? The journey of a thousand steps… Don’t put the cart before…
I passed a major milestone in my journey yesterday – I finished my first novel-length first draft! A cyclone of conflicting emotions swept me up as I typed ‘the end.’ Pride in the accomplishment. Relief at passing a significant checkpoint. Worry that the finished product may not be good enough to justify the hours spent. Satisfaction with the parts that I believe I did well. A sense of loss at the completion of a phase that will never return.
Live in this moment…
Reader, I am a very goal and results-oriented person. I know that this is not always how people imagine creative types, but there it is. I find satisfaction in seeing tangible progress in the form of measurable steps. I know the reader does not need proof, but one way I motivated myself to turn this writing hobby into a real habit was by tracking my growing word count. That may not work for you, but it did wonders for me. Minutes after I finished the draft and told my wife, my gears started turning again. What do I do next? When can I get started?
The prospect of ultimately getting published still daunts me. I find in me a temptation to worry about how to find beta readers and whether or not I need an agent and whether to self-publish (an increasingly respectable option today) and a thousand other things.
I need to stop. I need to breathe. I need to live in this moment and take stock of the next step, not the last step.
What is the next step, the first bite of the elephant, the actual horse and not the cart? I see it as twofold: First, and most obviously, its time to edit the book. I’m going to take the advice of many people who seem to know what they’re talking about and let the book rest for a couple of weeks so that I gain distance and objectivity. After that though, it’s time to roll up my sleeves and get out the red pen. Second, it’s time to build up credentials. As of this writing, I don’t have a real publishing credit to my name beyond self-publishing this blog and guest-posting to one other. I have two completed short stories that I have already started submitting to magazines and one idea in the barrel. It’s time to put the idea down on paper, give the two existing bullets one more brush-over, then fire them again towards literary magazines and short story competitions.
Can I take a tangent for a moment? I initially found most of my target literary magazines from articles online, one from 2018, one from ’19. Of the dozens of options they highlighted, 2/3 have sadly already shuttered their doors, and half the remainder are not taking submissions. If you imagine submitting short stories like throwing darts at a board, then it seems the magazine landscape is like throwing darts at a twisted carnival game where the targets pop out from behind a wall whack-a-mole style, and a cruel carny behind said wall sometimes removes the targets. When they do pop out, sometimes they turn sideways or spin around just for fun.
The lesson? More darts. More tosses. Patience. Persistence.
I hope that something in my experience encourages you, writer-reader, if only by letting you know that you are not alone. What was it like when you finished your first draft? How do you track the moving target of literary magazines or navigate the labyrinthine options for publication in today’s landscape? Let us know in the comments.