Short Fiction: Letting Go

And there’s one other trait I hit on lately:  Abandonment.  Knowing when to let go.  Being able to move on to the next thing when one thing isn’t working.

What this means if you’re an aspiring writer, if you want to be a professional writer:  Don’t pin all your hopes on one thing. As soon as you finish writing that first story, that first novel — start the next. Immediately.

—Carrie Vaughn, “On Being Prolific”

Earlier this year, I opened up the file that contained all of the short stories I wrote during my stint at Odyssey back in 2005. The reason for this was simple: Lightspeed Magazine was accepting submissions for their Women Destroy Science Fiction! issue, and I wanted to see which of those stories I’d worked on would be most appropriate to dust off, polish up, and submit.

But after reading each of those stories, and all of the short stories I wrote since then for various purposes, I found myself largely dissatisfied. It wasn’t that the stories were totally bad: they still needed revision, but my problem was that I’d moved on. I wasn’t the same person who wrote those short stories, and the revisions that need to be made should’ve been made back then, not now. Not by the current me, who is so far removed emotionally that while I recognize there’s good stuff in those stories, and I definitely learned something from those stories, they aren’t the stories I want to tell now. I definitely don’t want to get sucked in the mire of working on such old material when I really need to be stretching my brain and working on something new.

It was a frustrating lesson to learn on a lot of levels. Frustrating, but necessary.

So from here on out, this will be my modus operandi for short fiction:

1) Write.
2) Get it critiqued.
3) Revise.
4) Get final feedback.
5) Polish.
6) Send it out.

No breaks in between. No letting something “sit” for a while. With short fiction, it is what it is. I’ve now got ten years experience on the girl who was at Odyssey. I’m not the same girl who was learning how to hone her craft and slowly gaining confidence writing SF/F, which was still such a very new genre to me back then. I know why I let those stories sit:

I wasn’t confident.

I wanted to make sure things were perfect.

I feared rejection.

I felt like a story wasn’t ready to go out unless all readers I sent it to for feedback gave me a thumbs up.

I felt like a story wasn’t worth publishing unless a big market accepted it.

I now know that way lies madness. And likely dragons. And right now, I’ve got enough dragons to battle in my own head, thanks. No need to add more.

So if you’re an aspiring writer, and you’re revising and revising and revising, or maybe you wrote something and you’re letting it sit for a while (which, in some cases, isn’t wholly a bad thing, but that’s a post for another day), you need to learn when to submit, and when to let it go. Carrie Vaughn’s above-referenced post has some excellent advice. Right now, I’m applying that advice to my short fiction: letting the old stuff go and learning from the past.

As for my novels? Well, that’s a different story and a different post. 🙂

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