Well kids, I did it. I submitted a short story to a science fiction magazine. My first submission! Now I see that the process wasn’t too awful, I’m wondering why I didn’t just go ahead and do it before. Why had I put that off for so long? The editing only took a few mornings of my writing time (though it did help that it was practically flash fiction and only ~1500 words). I learned how to use standard manuscript format. Again, not difficult, and now I have a template I can use. And the cover letter was quick and painless. Now that it’s written, I can adapt it for any subsequent submission (just as you do for real job applications). I’m really happy that I submitted, regardless of the rejection letter that is sure to follow.
Of course, now I’m totally obsessed with hitting refresh on the electronic submission form, watching my number in the slush pile queue slowly descend. It reminds me a lot of checking for fanfiction reviews, back in the day. Clicking again and again, getting so excited when the number of reviews shifted from 0 to 1, and then the disappointment that followed from getting responses like, “I didn’t understand this,” or “More please!”
Did you ever read or write fanfiction? I went through phases where I read a lot of fanfiction and eventually I would get so annoyed at the amount of time I spent looking for the story I wanted to read that I would just end up writing it myself. Really awful stuff. But then again, most fanfiction is pretty lousy. There were some rare exceptions, but as far as I can tell, they’re almost all lost now to the purge.
Eventually, I got to the point where I couldn’t read fanfiction anymore. I just got too old for it or I lost interest in the comic or show on which it was based. And then I stopped writing fanfiction altogether after I heard George R.R. Martin’s opinion on the matter:
"Write every day, even if it is only a page or two. The more you write, the better you’ll get. But don’t write in my universe, or Tolkien’s, or the Marvel universe, or the Star Trek universe, or any other borrowed background. Every writer needs to learn to create his own characters, worlds, and settings. Using someone else’s world is the lazy way out. If you don’t exercise those “literary muscles,” you’ll never develop them."
I think that’s very true. Fanfiction is good when you’re young and haven’t learned all the skills you’ll need to write new stories; original from top to bottom. But eventually you have to learn how to develop your own characters and settings. You can’t piggy-back on someone else’s ideas forever.
I’ll never condemn fanfiction. I had too much fun with some of it to say that it was worthless reading and writing material. It’s a good place to practice. But it can’t replace the struggle of writing your own stories. (One caveat: fanfiction is fine...as long as you're not making money off other people's ideas.)
Did you write fanfiction? Or were you original from the start? It’s taken me literally fifteen years to begin submitting my own work. I’ve always been a bit on the slow slide.
Update: As expected, story rejected. On to the next journal.