Let Your Writing Marinate for a While

Dear writers,

Did you miss me last month?

I learned two important things while I was off-blog. One is that I missed doing this blog, even though I have two others to keep me busy. I like talking about writing, teaching it, and editing it. I just like playing with words.

Last month, I did some teaching at the Willamette Writers Conference in Portland, Oregon, but I did even more learning. The big thing that I learned is the value of setting a project aside for a while. I’m talking about my novel, Being PD, which does not yet have a publisher. At the conference, I pitched it to a couple of agents who were interested but made no promises. I also attended a “First Page Gong Show” in which actors read the opening pages of participants’ novels. A panel of agents and editors “gonged” them as soon as they lost interest or heard something they didn’t like. Only about four first pages made it to the end. I was number 38, and they never got to my page. Thank God. Most important, I took several classes from Jennifer Lauck, author of four memoirs and a fantastic teacher. Her workshops on structuring one’s novel or memoir blew my mind.

While struggling with a memoir, I’ve been marketing my novel. I was sure the novel was finished, that I could not make it any better, and that even though 105,000 words is a little long for a novel, the editors would just have to live with it. I did not plan to look at it again until an editor from a publishing house demanded changes for the final version. I’ll bet you can see where this is going. After talking to agents and editors, attending the Gong Show and inhaling the wisdom of Jennifer’s classes, I came home and started tearing PD apart.

I was working on a deadline. I had assured the agents I would send the book to them within two weeks. So I cranked into high gear and got it done. Suddenly I could see exactly what I needed to do with this book, none of which had occurred to me before the conference. The first thing I did was ditch not only my first page but the whole first chapter. I didn’t need it. I needed to start closer to the action. Plus the gong panel was universally turned off by certain bodily functions. So, bye-bye. Cutting that chapter meant I needed to figure out how to include certain necessary details later, but it was not difficult.

The agents said I needed more romance. That was easy to add. And most surprising, I found oodles of words I just didn’t need. Excess verbiage. As I cut, the word count went down painlessly. Another big chunk went out toward the end of the book because I could see the ending went on too long. I trimmed approximately 9,000 words in all. Now I’m in the ballpark. And now I know this novel is the best one I’ve ever written. I was certain it was perfect before. I was wrong. It was good but not quite cooked. To read a brief excerpt from the new and improved opening, click on the Being PD link at the top of the page.

I couldn’t have done this revision if I hadn’t set the book aside for months while I worked on the memoir. Sometimes the hardest thing to do is nothing. We all want our books out in the world as quickly as possible. But we need to let them marinate for a while, then throw away the excess sauce to make them the best they can possibly be.

It also helps to bring in someone with a fresh set of eyes, whether it’s a critique group, a teacher, an editor, or an agent. Take classes, read good books, never say “good enough” just because you’re tired. Set it aside and come back to it later. It will be so much easier than if you didn’t wait.

Jennifer Lauck teaches online as well as in-person in Portland. You might want to check out her classes. She strongly recommends Jane Smiley’s 13 Ways of Looking at the Novel, Christopher Booker’s The Seven Basic Plots: Why We Tell Stories, and Robert Olen Butler’s From Where You Dream: The Process of Writing Fiction.

The annual Willamette Writers Conference takes place in Portland, Oregon the first weekend in August.

Now, let’s go write.

Submittable simplifies submissions process

Have you heard of Submittable? No, I’m not referring a piece of writing that is ready to submit. That’s submittable with a lower-case “s.” Or, I suppose you could use the word to refer to the female lead in Fifty Shades of Grey. Okay, that’s a stretch.

No, I’m referring to Submittable, capital “s,” the service that many publications are using now to accept online submissions of all kinds of writing. We have traveled a long way from the tedious process of printing out perfect copies, writing a letter, addressing a stamped return envelope and putting it all in a big envelope to mail.

In recent years, editors started accepting submissions via email. Write a letter, paste in your work, hope the formatting doesn’t get too screwed up, hit send. No attachments, please. A few publications set up online forms, often quirky and hard to work, into which you entered your information and your work.

But now, ring them glory bells, we’ve got Submittable.com. It’s a company that makes money by selling its services to publishers who use it to accept submissions and contest entries from writers. I love, love, love Submittable. Writers can follow the link from the publication’s website, sign up for a free account and start submitting by filling in the blanks: name and contact information, title and genre, a quick cover letter in the space provided. If you need a refresher on the guidelines, there’s a link to read them in detail. Finally, you click on the browsing button to attach your submission, which comes up exactly as you formatted it. If there’s a reading fee or contest entry fee, you will be directed to fill in with your credit card or Paypal information. Click, click, click, submit. You get a reassuring email letting you know your submission has been received AND you can check on the status of your submission at any time just by logging in again. Submittable keeps track of all of your submissions, listing whether they have been declined, accepted or are still being considered. No more “I wonder what’s going on; maybe I should write them a letter . . .” It’s right there for you to see.

There’s a Submittable blog with interesting information, interviews and lists of upcoming deadlines.

Not every publication uses Submittable. In fact, I just mailed a packet of poems the old-fashioned way to The Southern Review. You always have to read and follow the guidelines, but I think this is pretty great. It really speeds up the submission process. Oh, and if you make a mistake, it will prompt you to fix it before you submit. Works for me.

Have you had experience with Submittable? Tell me about it in the comments.

Of course you can’t submit what you haven’t written, so . . .

Let’s go write.