When Is Your Writing Done?

chasing tailBoth experienced and new writers often struggle with how to know when a piece or project is ready to submit or “shop.” Revisions could potentially go on—and on and on. So how can you tell if your work is ready to submit to an editor agent or a contest?

Writing Tip for Today: Although a piece or project’s readiness is subjective, here are a few considerations when making the decision to submit:
Avoid The Jackrabbit Start
As creators and purveyors of ideas, we writers are usually anxious for the world to benefit from our efforts. Some writers toil in silence for years, showing work to no one and revising in isolation, but I haven’t met many like that. More commonly we jump the gun, excited about the stuff we’ve worked so hard to write. It sounds so profound, so unique when we get the words down! Yet as the last post reminds us, rest is good for drafts which are “hot off the press.” I confess to being a jackrabbit when it comes to submitting. I constantly remind myself that if my work is brilliant today, it should still be brilliant after it’s cooled off and gone through revision. Sometimes a piece is timely and deserves the fast track. But most of the time, slow and steady wins the race.
Do Due Diligence
Another part of the submission decision should be, “Have I done due diligence in reaching publication standards?” Professional writers take a project through its paces. The draft is set aside or rested for a period, possibly revised and then read aloud by the writer and another set of eyes (such as your critique partner or group). Several revision rounds follow, both in terms of the structure and pacing as well as sentence mechanics, word choices and typos, polishing, rearranging and cutting. At this point I like to do another brief rest period and sometimes a final critique. At the very least I recommend a final read-aloud. It’s easier to spot problems by reading a hard copy aloud than to read silently from a screen.
Some writers fret over their work for so long that publications go out of business before these writers submit. You go to a writer’s conference and see the same person every year, who always says, “Yep, I’m still working on that story.” Writers like this will tweak and re-tweak their works simply to stall. Yet pro writers must learn that chasing perfection is futile if you want to be published. If you’ve done your due diligence in revising and resting and critiquing the work, it’s okay to submit or enter that contest. There is a time to “let go” of your baby and let her compete in the world. Don’t allow your fear of rejection to prevent you from submitting at all.
Embrace Rejection
But what if you do all of the above, submit the work and are still met with rejection? This happens to me regularly, and yes, it hurts to be rejected. I allow myself a full 24-hour mourning period, where I can feel hurt, cry or think awful thoughts about the rejecting publication. But after 24 hours, it’s back in the saddle. Following the guidelines for the first submission decision, I begin to see my work from a different perspective. A rejection can function as a mind stretcher as well as raise my own writing standards.

Rejections can help you expand your ideas and understand how your original ideas might be received by your audience. Armed with this information, you can either rewrite and refocus your writing to better fit that audience or you can aim for an audience better suited to your ideas. An example might be a piece with some religious content that you try to market to a secular publication. If it’s rejected, you could either delete the religious references or you could aim for a market which embraces that kind of content. Either way, with every rejection you’ll be learning how to better gauge your writing’s fitness to submit. Rejections are opportunities to fine-tune your sense of when your work is “done.”

About Linda S. Clare

I'm an author, speaker, writing coach and mentor. I teach both fiction and nonfiction writing at Lane Community College and in the doctoral program as expert writing advisor for George Fox University. I love helping writers improve their craft and I'm both an avid reader and writer of stories about those with wounded hearts.

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