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This is What You do When You’ve Finished Your Short Story

You’ve finished your first short story. You’re proud, maybe a little scared. And you have no idea what to do next. Should you start editing it? (no) Should you hire an editor? (no) Should you throw it in the trash? (no, no, and a thousand times no)

This is what you do (and I’m fully aware that I’ll get some hate for this, but this is how the writing world works):

You correct any obvious spelling and grammar mistakes, and you send it out to markets that publish this type of story.

Yes, unedited.

Why? Because right now, you’re likely not able to edit it. You don’t have the skills for it. Anything you do to it will make the story worse.

How do you get those skills?

By editing the stories of OTHERS. That’s right. Offer feedback, or simply read stories up for critique and imagine what you’d do differently. You’ll want to read stories by writers who are just a tad further along than you are.

Too far along, and you won’t understand what’s going on. Not far enough along, and you won’t learn much.

What about the story you sent out?

It’s out in the world, collecting rejections. If it doesn’t, if it gets accepted first time out the door, it’s likely to ruin your writing career by setting the completely wrong expectations. Even if you are aware of it – a lot of great writers I know spent years getting over a too-fast early acceptance.

Because rejection is the norm in short story writing. F&SF rejects 99%+ all the manuscripts they receive. Clarkesworld has an even higher rejection rate.

That’s not to say that you should give up. Far from it – quite often an editor will take a raw story that has diamond potential over a story that’s polished into dust. So never self-reject.

But get used to rejection. Get used to getting a rejection, then sending that same story (still unedited) out to the next market on your list.

When do you edit your story?

When you’ve got the skills for it. When you’ve figured out whether you’re the kind of writer who edits or who writes clean. When you feel ready to do it. Sometimes, that’s never. Sometimes, it’s the first time you get it rejected. There’s no one-size-fits-all-answer to this.

Just be aware that you don’t want to edit your story into oblivion. A lot of beginning writers do that mistake – they focus so much on what “should” be that they forget what is, the rough, uneven, wonderful part of the story that makes it theirs. Editing that away is a real risk, and will turn your story into a competent but eminently forgettable story.

Yes, that means that you don’t follow grammar rules to the point. Sometimes, good grammar comes in the way of good story, and when it does, story should always triumph. If you take away a single thing from this post, take away this: story should always triumph. You’re not writing an English Lit. essay. You’re writing fiction!

You could take my word for it (I’ve got 40+ pro sales and a lot of semi- and token sales), but you shouldn’t. Instead, google what other writers say. If you want an extreme view, go to Dean Wesley Smith. And look at what writers tell other writers, not what they tell readers. That means “don’t listen to Hemingway”. Man was a born liar (hell, he was a writer) and made up a lot of crazy nonsense about his writing practices. A lot of writers are like that – they say what readers want to hear in order to sell more books (that’s a valid marketing strategy, BTW – not very ethical, but it works.)

So now that you’ve finished, go to The Submission Grinder, find a market, and send it out.

Then write your next one.

Luck and Persistence!

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