top of page

Submission Season!

And I am frantically trying to cramp in as much time as humanly possible to get my work in by deadlines. This will be the first time that I have devoted my time to submit the writing I’ve worked on over the past year. In the past, I narrowly missed deadlines by weeks, or had work that needed more editing than I had first believed, and realizing I wouldn’t be able to submit my work with confidence left me disappointed, distracted, and ultimately discouraged. My annual manta became “there’s always next year”...for the past eight years.

This year WILL be different. I have a lists and reminders and post-its, oh my! I’ve organized my top short stories and poetry submission options in a way that allows me to stay within my budget, while also being able to remain committed to concise, competent completion. Multiple drafts are being saved and I can finally allow myself the necessary time to step away and revisit my work when I’m ready to dive back in. But I do wonder what other writer’s do around this time of year. How do they pre-game for the season? There are some people who have strict rules, but do those rules apply to every type of writer? For instance, some may argue that you should never work on multiple projects at once, but there are some that work more effectively when they can bounce around from tab to tab. Some say you must write every day, while others say to do it when the inspiration hits. In this blog, I am posting the top five writing rules, and if they can, or should be broken.


1) Think carefully about what you want to write- Break the rule

Though I believe you should be conscientious, I do not think too much thought should be put into what you want to write. Yes, that sounds ridiculous, I know! But I’m a rambler, what else would you expect!? I believe in meandering creativity. There are some ideas that pop into my mind in the middle of the night. My late-night, pre-REM first lines of poems, or possible character motivation that I have never given much thought to when in waking life, a d that I know will only visit me in that one moment. We have all experienced a sensation like that, I am sure. Those thoughts that pop up before bed that you convince yourself are such good ideas that there is no way you will forget it by the time you wake up. Yeah, that one! The one you know you had, but no matter how hard you try, it is nowhere to be found. Your Keyser Soze. Poof! These are the ones you have to get on paper no matter what. With these words, there is no high-level process in place, just a simple idea, that snowballs into a writing prompt. An idea that can eventually get flushed out after the first two or three paragraphs. I will sit with it, marinate in it, decide if its one that is reader-worthy and time-worthy, decide where I want it to go, write the final paragraph, and craft the right outline that can take me there. For me, at that point, if its an idea I can commit to and want to spend my every free moment with, I craft an outline, and get ‘er done! But sometimes, I don't, and that's okay too.

Why go through the work of all that writing if there’s a possibility that you won’t want to finish it? Simple, If I spend that same amount of time contemplating the worthiness of an idea, or trying to jot down ideas to plan the story in an outline first, I've wasted precious time not writing sentences that can be edited in drafts. You have to keep writing as the words come to you, even in the middle of the night. Drafts are designed to sharpen your ideas so you can be careful about what you are writing. If it ends up being a few paragraphs on an idea that cannot be outlined and nourished the way you need it to be, stash that bad boy away, and revisit it another day. But guess what, I bet all that writing gave you an idea about something else, or how to take that other incomplete work siting in your drafts folder on a path towards completion or at least in another direction. Yes, be thoughtful about your writing: take the audience into consideration, be mindful of implicit bias in your language, call it out if necessary to stay transparent. But sitting outside listening to the birds in nature while drinking coffee, I find, only works for those who can honestly say they have no other responsibilities or anxieties that can cause distraction. Lets face it, Thoreau was the poster child for White Privilege, so lets stop romanticizing the idea that careful contemplation leads to inspiration. Lets not encourage writers to live intentionally and in quiet moments while bills mound, debt triples, and the world around them continue to disintegrate. These days, they only quiet moments I am afforded, are the hours I spend away from my TV and phone. The hours I carve out for writing in my quiet space, that now shares joint custody with my employer for 45 hours of my 168 hour week, are more precious to me than ever before. While mental illness and depression are on the rise and anxieties peak, we cannot pretend to run away from our reality. The words that keep you awake at night, will inspire you to deal with what lay in your subconscious, so write now, ask questions later!

2. Work on one thing at a time until finished- Break the rule

Okay, I get it. You don't want to spread yourself too thin, sure. You don't want ideas to become muddled, I get it. You have to remain focused so the story reads clearly, um, alright. But how about this instead. Just write! If you stick with an idea, even after you’ve fallen out of love with it, you will end up with rubbish. And that is wasted time! Period! As a culture, we encourage people to leave unfulfilling jobs, or unsatisfying relationships for good reason. We do a lot of talk about personal boundaries that allow for healthy progress in areas that might be damaged, but don't permit creatives the same luxury. I am notorious at speaking in non-sequitur. It was a idiosyncrasy that I had become known for throughout my adolescence until recently when I was finally diagnosed with co-morbid Bipolar II and ADHD. For someone like myself, balancing thoughts was a challenge, and harnessing ideas to completion prompted me to either avoid my responsibilities by procrastinating, or run away from those responsibilities altogether. I spent years not doing what I enjoyed because I didn’t think I was doing “right”. Once I discovered that its okay to live your life creatively without permission, and to set a boundary on ideas that were dissuading me from writing at all, I began to give myself a break, and so should you.

Real talk, lets think about this for a minute. Take cooking, for instance. We’ve all been catching up on our favorite indulgence as of late by binge watching food channels, so I think this comparison is relevant. When you plan a meal, the recipe is the outline, the instructions are the first drafts, but you don't slam all four dinner courses into the outline or instructions because that confusing! All chefs create meals by first preparing there mise en place. Those are all the small ingredients that need to be cut, chopped, sliced on the bias, measured, blah blah blah, you get it! They tend to do that for the entire meal in segments. Cooks know what the first course in a meal will be all the way through dessert. The mise en place is like the writing process. So its okay to have four ideas and work on them simultaneously. Just because the appetizer is the first course served, doesn’t mean it gets finished first! Maybe you have a second course that takes hours to prepare, you don't want to waste those other hours focusing all your attention at that course alone. Move to something else you started and bang that out, and so on and so forth. Before you know it, by giving the proper amount of attention to each element, you will end up with four courses that still somehow feel complete! Have you ever been to that one family member or friend’s house who pulled a rookie move by not planning their drafts out, and focused on completing one dish at a time for Thanksgiving? You know the person.

The one that served the finish turkey at 9 pm after all the side that were served at 2 pm sat cold on the counter. That was me one Christmas, but my flaw was lamb. I knew the lamb only took 25 minutes, so it could be last, but what I didn’t realize was that I had FIVE dishes that needed to be cooked in the same oven on different temperatures at different times. I was focused on doing one to completion only, and we were finally able to eat around 10 pm. Were the dishes yummy, yeah for sure. But was it worth it, no it wasn’t. The cook felt shame, and the guests felt irritation. That one dinner event showed me the value of purposefully planned multiple-tasking.

That is a very broad comparison, I know. It assumes the ingredients and cuisine are uniform, but perhaps your writing is the same! If you like to write short stories and poetry like I do, you will find that inspiration can come from your current project. I am in no way saying jump from your poem to a short story because I think that is madness and that poem will be impossible to tap back into. Edited once finished, sure, but if abruptly cut short before completion, just toss ‘er out and start again. But for short stories, yeah its okay to bounce. It may even do your writing some good. I would never be able to finish a novel if it weren’t for the fact that I love short stories and novellas so much, so perhaps those rules matter for long form writers. I’ll have to get back to you on that should I ever take that leap. As for today, I say stay alert and nimble! Give yourself permission to be inspired by yourself.

3. Fiction writing should be relatable- Follow the rule

This requires that you think of yourself as part of the audience. Writing is a very self-indulgent exercise in and of itself, so if you try to pander to a specific audience which you yourself are not apart of, you will miss the point entirely and come across as an ill informed know it all. Your narrator will be unreliable because you are writing from a place of biased observation instead of first-hand experience. In order to breathe life into something, you have to be able to use your five senses and not depend on a sixth sense devoid of utilizing the others. Perception can only be born with the existence of reality. A reader cannot develop an emotional connection because you tell them to. I cannot expect my reader to understand why a character has become transfixed on an opinion of someone without grounded that idea with something tangible that my reader can relate to themselves. For instance, if my character becomes nervous at the sight of a man who has just approached her at a bar, there had to be a cause. Her sixth sense cannot manifest itself from thin air. Was it the smell of the whiskey he was handed by the bartender, the gold chain exposed on his bare chest beneath a crisp white dress shirt, or the song that began to play overhead as he sat down. What drew her to that reaction, what memories does it bring, and how could someone who is reading the reaction relate to her in that moment. We are all prone to intuition, but it is not without cause. Characterization is the basis for great storytelling, and its a game of show and tell. By assuming your readers will get it, when you yourself never did it is a mistake we make as writers, but its an easy fix with editing your drafts, or simply killing your darlings. If you have to devote too much time describing moments that don't add substance to the work, your audience will not be able to relate to you as a writer.

I remember hearing a workshop piece written for an aspiring Young Adult genre writer while in college. She knew the trope well enough from being an avid reader, but her story rang vapid and false because all her descriptions of physical attraction were cliche, and her insistence that her characters were in love were baseless babble. The attempts to build a love story were impossible because she did not have the first-hand knowledge required to make her sixth sense descriptions relatable. The one thing she could have done to strengthen her piece was to remove the element of romance altogether and focus on her protagonists emotional struggle, which we later discovered was a similar familial crisis the writer herself was experiencing. And lets face it, teens know family conflict, and only know a very superficial idea of love. In addition, teens are not the only ones who enjoy reading YA. It takes a writer who is experienced in both of those relationship dynamics to strengthen those concepts for teen readers so they do not enter their adult years with false expectations, while also appealing to the older audience who can nod their head in agreement alongside a protagonist that may be their child's age. More on the complicated crafting of YA in later discussions.

4. Share your writing with others- Absolutely follow this rule

As writers, we tend to live a bubble of grandiosity. We know what we know, and we know our writing better than anyone else. We know that sentence makes sense because it made sense in our head when we wrote it, therefore it will make sense for the reader. If not, they are not astute enough to “get” you as a writer. Their loss! Wrong. So very wrong. When we write in a bubble, we commit to our ideas without feedback that can strengthen a piece. Perhaps you have created a scene that has many moving parts. Its high action involving multiple characters and the pace is quick. Throughout the five minute scene that we have played out in our mind and penned to paper, we are quick to forget that the other characters need to be active simultaneously and not plopped in without content or purpose. I once wrote a scene about a character who was prone to over analyzing everything. She was on a date, and constantly concerned about what her date was thinking about her and how everything that had happened on the date up to that moment reminded her of something else from her past. In total, it took three pages to describe her walk to the restroom and walk back to the table. All those pages where NOTHING was happening left my reader completely lost. He had gotten to a point where he had forgotten what had happened, and that she was still on a date. The story veered off and all those interwoven (or what I believed were interwoven) diatribes were wasted space. Then a few pages later, the drive to another part of town happened in a blink of an eye. The diatribes were misplaced, and the story was a stream of consciousness mess. I LOVED it before I let someone else read it because to me, my pacing felt right. It wasn't until i got that feedback that i reanalyzed the flow and saw my mistakes.

If you are not fortunate enough to have someone read your first, second, or even third drafts, walk away from the work for a few days, or weeks. Read something from another writer, whether an established bestseller, or a first published work from a new writer you discovered on a platform like #Reedsy. Pinpoint moments of the story that have a good flow of action and introspection, then revisit your piece as an outside observer. You will be surprised at how much your draft will unfold for the better. Be realistic as you do so, however, because too much pride can stifle you as a writer. Be willing to call out your mistakes after letting the work breathe, and be carefully proactive on the edits that are required. I have one story that has taken me 4 years to complete. I tinkered on toiled with it so many times, and its now a stranger to me. I only shared it with someone once, and yet each edit took me further and further away from where I wanted it to go. I read it now in disgust. Its so sad, as a writer, to hate something you once loved. It pains me to think about starting over, but too much plucking and tweezing will leave you with no expression and no eyebrows.

I say that to say this, though you may need to take a break and refresh your perspective, after sharing your work, getting edit suggestions, and making corrections, save each draft separately. You may have some lovely ideas that disappear by draft 4, and cannot

be resurfaced after being removed. Get feedback, but hold on to your original vision to pull everything together for your final draft so you're not asking yourself...

5. Work at a pace that is right for you- Follow this rule until it needs to be broken

Let me explain. There are some pieces that will need 39 drafts, just as there are some that come in like a lightning bolt and can be slammed down in a day! That is fine! If you have an idea with a rigid deadline, and you are inspired to sit down one afternoon to banged it out by 2 am, that may be your best damn version, period! Edit for spelling and grammar of course, but don't put too much pressure on coming back to it later to add in more shit that isn’t needed. Trust me, you’ll lose the whole thing! I compare it to setting your Fantasy Football roster. You know what players will have a good week, and you have the stats to back it up, so you set your RB1 and RB2 with confidence, your TE choice is BOSS, and your Flex is certainly going to be the nuts this week! Then you look at your oppositions lineup...and their projections for the week. Confidence wains, and overthinking begins. By the late games on Sunday, you realize those four surefire starters you had in positions at the start of the week, the ones who are now sitting on your BENCH, all outscored your entire starting lineup. Don't tinker!

But maybe you have a strong idea that fades after a couple weeks. There's just no place to go with it anymore. That doesn’t mean you have to trash the poor guy. Just set him aside until inspiration strikes again because it will strike again, I swear! Maybe read it through once, see where you were going with it, and draw up a clear outline that you can use to plug away at it until all the pieces are able to be strung together cohesively. There's no shame in a work taking multiple months or even years to complete. Whether its a novel or a short story.

Sometimes, there are last minute deadlines that kind of sneak up on you and force you to buckle down and bang something out. This may make you uncomfortable. It can be scary to push your creative limits to such an extreme. Yeah, your piece me not get published, and that's the chance you take. What you will gain, however, is the confidence that you are capable of writing on a deadline and finishing a work in a short period of time. Push your limits from time to time to flush your brain of zany ideas. Those “garbage” pieces may end up finding themselves in a more evolved piece later down the road, perhaps in draft 27 of that story you began in 2013.


There are some very true rules that will keep you in check when writing, and some that only bring you stress. As a creative, we face a multitude of anxieties, and getting through the process is the main one. If looking at a blank page fills you with dread, walk away, or open something that you set aside just to see hear your voice again. The only rule you should follow 100% of the time is to believe in yourself as a writer all the time.


bottom of page