That’s why I started this blog – as a public commitment to my writing. It was kind of like giving up smoking and telling everyone that you were doing it so they could publicly shame you when next they saw you light up.
And now I’d like to tell you a little bit about what I learned these past couple of months.
I commenced the story in April, for a Walpurgisnacht deadline. The story was for a themed anthology by a niche/micropublisher. In fact, an earlier blog post even shows that I was literally working right up until the submission deadline.
By day I earn a living as a writer. Speeches, media releases, media responses… I interact with journalists, ministers, chief executives and senior government types day in day out. I am the conduit between the press and the bureaucrats. Some call this being a spin doctor… sure. Spin is essential in commercial and mainstream media *sharp intake of breath* because some journalists are paid simply to fill in the gaps between the advertising. The advertising success is measured, in the same way that the success
This is not a judgement call – it’s just a simple fact that in a commercial space, journalists must keep themselves relevant. Some will do this via excellence in reporting. Others will do this via sensationalism, beat-ups and bullshit. In a very small way, that’s where people like me come in. To help one and hinder the other. And to be honest, it’s often more about the editors anyway. Many a time I have seen a story about a particular issue start off fairly balanced only to see a headline that is spurious and misleading… but anyway blah.
The thing is, it’s pretty much ALL deadline driven. In the 24 hour news cycle everything is urgent. Everything is reactive – and when there’s a major issue of public interest, and my phone starts ringing, it keeps ringing until everyone has got their information, had their questions answered, been given the quotes, attended the last minute press conferences etc. I’m used to turning and churning words out fast.
The Apeshit Continuum:
Naturally (to me at least) I figured this is how I would be writing my first short story. The fast-paced experience of my dayjob merged with my romantic ideal of the inspired writer going apeshit on a typewriter. I would plot when not at the keyboard and make notes, so that when I’m writing, it’s nice and fast. Uh uh. The dayjob thing is pretty unrelenting. I’m sure some really fit people or meth addicts or teetotallers can do 8 or 9 hours of fairly stressful work and then levitate home straight to their laptop and do it all over again for another 6 hours. I can’t. Or rather, I can, but not for very long. And I am pretty sure the output would be rubbish anyhoo.
The thing is, I didn’t really want to do it that way. I wanted to linger over the words and the sentences. To write them out, then rework them, and make them smaller and more concise but occasionally counterpoint them with description and detail. One of my favourite short story writers is known for his succinctness, whereas one my favourite novelists is known for his incredible use of descriptive language. I’m inspired by both, but I can safely say that I don’t have the skill to emulate either.
So the first thing I learned was that you don’t submit your first short story the same moment you write The End. Faulkner could do it. Those who actually like Kerouac will say that he also could do it.
I can’t do it.
But I did it.
Because I was working to a deadline.
And despite having to edit and proof bajillions of words each year… I missed a couple of typos and some syntax and all that jazz. If the story was brilliant straight off the bat, this may not have been a deal-breaker. And it was brilliant. Really it was. I had just spent a month writing it – my first short story since high school. I’d done it. Yes I’ve had some great professional and industry interest from a couple of screenplays, and my non-fiction has been published, but no prose. No fiction.
But it wasn’t brilliant. It needed work. I knew this in the cold light of day, approximately 12 hours after hitting the submit button. And then, because this whole thing was new to me, I already had it in my mind that it was going to be insta-rejected. Well actually it took a month to get the rejection.
What happened in that month?
Well, I learned about short story markets. I learned that by the time I finished my short story it had changed to a point where it wasn’t really even fitting the brief of that themed anthology any more. And then I set about trying to work out whether the story was in fact a genre piece or something else. I still don’t know, but I have a much clearer idea of the markets now than I did. And this was excellent fun.
I became rapidly immersed in dozens of small magazines and journals and most importantly I read a bunch of great short stories, by people in a fraternity that I very much wanted to join. Also, during this month, I sought feedback further and wider. Indeed, I sought feedback from a couple of people who were in that fraternity. And so while studying the markets, I reworked the story – incorporating some feedback and found that things that were obvious to me were not obvious to everyone else.
So after the initial month of writing, getting the guts of it down, the second month was spent looking at potential homes for it, and studying the existing residents of those homes, all the while, tweaking, reworking and cutting and polishing the story. 400 words just fell away.
So I submitted it to a couple of places. Four in fact. And the first one I submitted to came back to me pretty quickly saying my story had passed the first round of reading and had been sent on for further consideration.
So it’s been refined… it’s out there, and someone has said ‘Hey this is ok I’m going to pass it up the line.’ This is great!
And I then a few days later… an email FROM THOSE GUYS.
Aaaaand they’re going to pass.
But, from this ‘shortlisting’ I now have my first ‘proper’ piece of feedback. The writing was great but the ending was left field.
Because during those days between the first and second emails, I’d received some further feedback that said likewise about the ending. And I’d made the ending better. And more of a flow…
The story is now reasonably different to the one that was sent on Walpurgisnacht. It’s better. Stronger. Tighter. So I send it out to a literary journal I had discovered along the way. One that accepts most genres. And I get this response:
“Thank you for allowing us the opportunity to read and consider The Irishman. I’ve just finished it, and, after passing it along to our Editor-in-Chief, have agreed that it is a story we would be happy to publish.
Your prose is exceptionally strong, and your descriptive ability as a writer was apparent from your introductory paragraph. Your hook wasn’t as striking as we usually like, but it was absolutely present and compelling (especially at the end!)”
So that’s the story…
Naughty chair postscript
I made the faux pas of sending the story to a couple of places who aren’t keen on multiple submissions. My first task when I got the good news was to withdraw said submissions. I received a couple of responses congratulating me, saying that they would be happy for me to submit another story in the future, but please could I keep in mind that they do not take simultaneous submissions. Oops. Fair enough. Chalk it up to over-enthusiasm, and wanting to join that damned fraternity.