I was instilled from a young age by my parents – Mom in particular – that I could do anything I wanted. What no one told me was that I couldn’t do everything at the same time. It’s been a long year of operating at the uppermost limits of my capacity while trying not to lose what’s left of my sanity while I also suffer from a rather rare condition called FOMO – Fear Of Missing Out.
So begins the cautionary tale of 2016…
Back in January, the Utah Horror Writers decided on the theme for our next anthology. I was still riding the high of being published in the last one and started right away on brewing up a new story – this one even better than the last. Or so I hoped. A few weeks later, I had come up with a premise for the story and jotted down a few notes. But I was still deep in the throws of the first draft of my latest novel so that’s all I paused for. My subconscious could work on it while I finished the current project.
Fast forward to March when all the craziness of running a chapter of the League of Utah Writers descended on me – because I couldn’t say no, of course. Progress on the novel continued and I tried not to admit how much the pace suffered while I split my “writing time” with things related to writing but not all of it spent putting words on the page. The main focus still the completion of my latest novel, the horror story could wait a while longer. How long could it really take to bust out a short story, right? I’m a professional now with two of them published so I thought it wouldn’t be a big deal.
Then I decided to go back to school and things ground to almost a halt on any writing – minus my English Comp courses that is. It was then, when my self-imposed deadline (goal) of having the novel finished before school started flew past and I still wasn’t finished, that I admitted, as I struggled to find balance in my everyday life, school work spilling over into my writing time in order to keep up, that I wasn’t going to have time to write a short story for the anthology.
I told myself it was fine. My number one writing goal is finishing this novel. This amazing novel that started early on to pour from me. I refused to step away from it long enough to build and grow a completely different story since that would take me two steps back when it was time to return to the project. Added was the fact that all this time had gone by and no concise story or characters had grown from my initial premise I’d jotted down months ago. Which meant it wouldn’t come easy if I did pause work on the novel to write it.
Nope. I do not have a short story to submit to the anthology this year. Sorry. I told everyone this. I was fine with this. I was sticking to what my number one goal right now is and I felt good about it.
Then my fear of missing out reared its ugly head. I went to my writing retreat and there were several people working on short stories for the very same horror anthology. Some of them read excerpts aloud and they were good. I wanted to have a story to submit. Why couldn’t I? Oh, right, because my original idea was complicated enough it required a full novel to do it justice. No, I reminded myself that my number one goal was still the novel.
No short story. No short story. No short story.
I told everyone who asked that I was not submitting. Nope. Not this year.
Two days before the submission deadline, a snippet of a dream came to me. One that I’d had years ago and had stayed with me, plausible and terrifying at the same time. Hey, it would work as a flash fiction piece – super short, maybe one scene. BAM. Self-delusion engaged.
I started to write it between my school assignments. It was really cool and really fun to write. I finished it about an hour before the submission deadline. Finished the FIRST DRAFT, that is.
Everyone knows you don’t submit a first draft. Anywhere. For any reason. You’ve got to step away for at least a day or two to get perspective on the writing itself. Better if it’s longer. Then you read it and revise it because you WILL find problems. No one writes a perfect first draft. No one. Ever. Once you’re done with your revision, you’re still not ready to submit. You’ve got to show it to other people. Have them read it and tell you what you missed but didn’t see. You incorporate that feedback and do another revision. THEN you’re probably ready for a submission.
Did I do any of that? Nope. None of that. Zilch. Nada.
I SUBMITTED MY FIRST DRAFT.
Yes, you read that correctly. I completely justified it to myself. I had read it three or four times. Out loud once, too. It was fine. Because the alternative was not getting it submitted before the deadline and then I’d for sure miss out.
I hit send at 11:57pm – with three minutes to spare.
I regretted it almost immediately. I knew better. What was I thinking?
Understandably I was not selected to be part of the anthology this year. It was perhaps my easiest rejection ever, since I agreed that my piece wasn’t up to par when I went back and read it a few weeks later. It still hurt. It was a rejection all the same. But I understood.
Did I learn from the experience? Yes. Will I ever do that again? I want to say absolutely not, but I also know myself and I can’t guarantee it.
What’s my lesson in all of this? The “rules” as they are loosely thought of by most of us are there for a reason. Let this be a painful lesson I lived through so that others don’t make the same mistake I did. Do not ever submit a first draft no matter how great your desire to do so. Do not query a manuscript until it is polished and just as perfected as you can get it.
I’m back to focusing on the novel – amidst the chaos of being a college student again. I’m keeping my eyes on my biggest goals knowing that right now there are major things that I’ve got vying for all my resources and it will most certainly mean missing out on other things in the future. But that’s okay.