Recently I read a submission call for an anthology. The publisher was looking for tales of the supernatural with an unusual twist. Many years ago I had written a story about a young man who had lost hope and tried to end his own life. Before he could take the final leap Satan approached him and offered him a deal. He would make his life better in every way… Well, I probably don’t have to explain the details, it is an old story.
But, there were so many legal entanglements, typos and errors in the contract they had to abandon the agreement. In the end everybody was happy. I almost always end my stories happily. I just like happy endings, and they are my stories.
Anyway, I had written this story long ago. Every time I learned something new about writing I would go back and change it, “improve it,” add to it. I never really planned to send it to anyone. For one thing when I first wrote it I had no idea you could send things and people would publish them. And it was like an ongoing experiment. It grew and shrank and changed with my life and with the things I learned.
But, seeing your name attached to a piece of writing is intoxicating. So I sent my work in progress.
One of the editors I follow, and who has given me golden advice, preaches the value of reading your work out loud. It feels silly, and I didn’t always heed her advice. I have learned my lesson, though.
The gentleman who was publishing the anthology emailed me back and said he liked the ending and wanted to use the story. I was thrilled.
Until I opened the file, which was marked so red, it looked to be on fire. Sentences fell apart and went nowhere. Every stray though I had and wrote was just that, an orphan, with no support.
I was ashamed.
I fixed it. It took hours, and sent it back with my most profound apologies.
Since then I read everything carefully, aloud, trying to imagine someone else, someone who didn’t know what I was trying to say would sound like reading the piece. It makes a huge difference.
I am going to thank the editor who told me to always do that. It made me a better writer. Plus, I don’t look quite so silly. And I have started a new, never ending story. I may never send it to anyone, my little Frankenstein’s Monster, but it is a great way to practice new techniques, and it might turn out well.
So, you should write, you should read, and you should sometimes do both at once.