Short fiction triage

There is a print market which I quiet enjoy that I dearly want to get a story submitted for this month. The focus of what they’re looking for is pretty dang narrow, which is usually good for me. The deadline is coming up at the end of the month, and I’ve known about this since, oh, October or so. I’m usually very good with deadlines, but this one has me sweating.

So why is this particular one different?

Well, one reason is that I want it badly. The narrow focus of what they’re looking for aligns strongly with the kind of thing I tend to write, so I see it as a good showcase of what I do. But it also means I want my story to be as good as it can possibly be. This also shouldn’t be so difficult, as I want every story I submit to be as good as it can be.

But the biggest reason why this is difficult is the story itself. I’ve had four false starts so far. I get a concept, a character or a conflict, and start writing. I struggle with it for a week, maybe, and ultimately realize that there just isn’t a story there. What I have gets tossed in the recycle bin and I’m back to square one.

That can be a valuable skill to have, to know when it’s time to fish or cut bait on a story, when to let go and move on. I could have followed through and written each of these four stories all the way out. Or at least as “out” as they would have gone. One, I’m convinced, had no logical ending as it didn’t have much of a plot to work with either. And while there is much to be said for powering through and finishing what you start, there’s also a lot to be said for knowing when a story, through no fault of your own, just isn’t going to work. Knowing the difference between the story that can be worth saving and one that you should let die is an important distinction. Especially when you’re up against the clock. It’s triage. You can’t be expected to save them all.

Thankfully, I have been able to move forward, my schedule and will to life not overly compromised by things that were not meant to be. And it has allowed me to finally settle upon a story that will work. I’m halfway through with my eyes on the prize. You know how I can tell I’ll be able to finish this? I can see the ending clearly, and know how to get there. The same can’t be said for the others I set aside. With luck, I should be finished with this Monday night at the latest. That gives me a whole week to get some feedback, polish it up, and get it sent in.

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