Obviously the first step to being a “writer” is writing, but I’m assuming that most aspirants have done that step. If you’re anything like me, writing (albeit in fits and starts) isn’t the problem. It’s what to do with it all . . .
The solution is, of course, to submit it. My problem, however, was that years of poems and stories and ideas had accumulated and I didn’t know where to start. I had 2 major struggles with this:
- Too much clutter (physical and mental) made it difficult to separate the strong work from the half-finished, weak, or just plain bad pieces that were hanging around out of nostalgia.
- Having a stockpile had lulled me into a false sense of complacency. I harbored the illusion that I had a lot of great stuff and as soon as I started submitting, I could just roll it out and people would love it. The “I’m going to be great . . . once I get around to it” complacency really derailed my creative momentum and set me back years.
So, in order to help anybody else who has fallen into this trap, I’ve put together some tips to help you approach your first submissions and clear out the backlog.
The first step is taking stock of what you have.
1. Print or pull out EVERY poem/story/etc. and identify “complete” work
One of my biggest roadblocks was the misguided feeling that I had a vast store of excellent work waiting to be sent out, once the first piece was published and the literati came clamoring to my door, crying “Open the vaults!”
But I didn’t. I had, like, 25 pieces that I could consider “Complete.” Not “good,” not “great,” not “publishable” . . . just “complete,” as in there were complete thoughts on the page or at least a period at the end of the last line. My mistake mistake was thinking that my many ideas had become many finished pieces.
That’s why you need to print out everything. You need to take the time to go through your hard drive, your musty box, your messy drawers, whatever, and see what you actually have.
Put the ideas and fragments aside into a separate box or folder on your computer for now, but What do you have that you could actually submit today?
2. Review all of your complete work
This was the hardest part because one of the reasons why I didn’t get around to ever submitting writing was because I was afraid to go back and look over my work again. I was afraid that a strong, witty poem filled with concrete images actually read like it had been written by a LOL Cat.
And yes. Some of them stank. They looked lazy or were baldly sentimental pillow talk or venting confessionals that were all too earnest and lacked any real merit.
Some of them were better, however. Some of them I actually quite liked and thought were possibly even “good.”
During this review, I re-read everything . . . and it was awful, so I’m with you. At this point, however, you should try doing the following:
- READ all of your work
- TYPE up any poem or story, etc. that was only handwritten (you’re going to need a word processing copy for submitting it, so do it now
- EDIT any typographical or formatting errors
- SAVE a new word processing copy of each poem or story
- Even if you already have a copy, save a new one (see the next step on how to organize them)
- MAYBE make minor content editing that jumps out at you (but hold off on any major changes)
3. Organize your work
There are a few pieces to this, storing your work and the categorizing your completed pieces.
Storing Your Work
It’s going to be important that you can find specific poems when it comes time to print them out or submit them electronically, so you need to have things organized. How you do this will be up to you, but here’s an example of how I’ve done mine:
The parts that I find the most useful are
- “Completed Poems” folder – I put in a copy of every completed poem, one per document, in this folder. Once I submitted a poem, the file goes to “AAA-Submitted” subfolder [the “AAA” at the beginning is so it always sorts to the top].
- “Poetry” and “Prose” folders – These contain files that are half-realized thoughts and sketches. I’m still working out a way to organize those, but those are more of the “inspiration” files so they aren’t crucial at this step.
- “Working Drafts” – Anything that is starting to take shape gets saved in here. It’s where I keep things that I think have realistic chances of becoming finished poems. When they do, they move to “Completed Poems.”
Your mileage may vary, but I think the key element really is having a separate place to store completed work. Start filling that up during this step!
Categorizing Your Work
This is where you need to start thinking about how your work fits together so that you’ll be able to choose where to submit which pieces. It helped me to have a hard copy of each poem so that I could make piles and rearrange things in front of me.
I can’t really tell you the best way to categorize your own work out, but I sorted mine into categories like “Mythology and animals,” “Narratives,” “Formal Styles,” “Abstractions,” and “Short Pieces.” Then within those, I put the ones I liked the most or thought were the best on top.
You won’t necessarily submit them in these groups, but it will help to get a clear idea of what you have and what pieces might either go thematically together or which disparate, yet complementary works could showcase your many creative facets.
*PHEW! * That’s enough for today. It’s tough work, but its necessary to break off the rust and get ready for the next step . . . actually sending your poems/stories/etc. to editors.
Next time I’ll try to give you a guide to how I did my very first submissions, which can hopefully give you some ideas if you need them.