couple of weeks ago a link passed along on Twitter took me to the Write One Sub One site. The W1S1 folk are inspired by Ray Bradbury’s early working method which he called “Persperistance”. This saw him writing a short story each week and immediately submitting it to a publisher. He was a young man at the time and an unpublished author, so it was a kind of training for him in story writing, deadline keeping and marketing. It also had a forward motion about it that carried him over the rejections when they started to come.
On the W1S1 site there’s a video clip from an interview with the elderly Bradbury where he talks about his method. About the rejections, he says that, when you’re writing at the intensity of a short story each week, you don’t really notice them. “You’re momentarily bothered, but you figure they’re all stupid … and your ego keeps you going.”
Can’t say that ever worked for me when I was 17. Every rejection brought me down, but then I wasn’t writing and submitting a story each week. I was doing what, I guess, many people do. I was writing a story (or a poem), submitting it and then waiting in agony for weeks. Finally, as time dulled my expectations, I might start a new piece. Then the rejection would come, and bury me in misery. Neither my ego nor my method of working were strong enough to break me out of that cycle.
It’s not, says Bradbury, that what you’ve written is actually good: “you look back later and you see that the stuff really is dreadful and shouldn’t have been bought by anyone!” But through sheer persistence, perspiration and the act of writing itself, over time he became a better writer and gradually he sold one or two, then ten or more until finally he was selling the majority of the stories he was writing.
The W1S1 people set themselves the task of emulating Bradbury during 2011 and have been writing and submitting either weekly or monthly, and reporting back to the blog, pepping one another and promoting the publishers who have accepted their stories. They are not writing – as far as I can see – specifically to sell (though I’m sure they’re happy if they manage that). What they are doing is submitting to a very wide range of publishers, including internet “flash fiction” publishers, and to competitions, where there is some sort of editorial process.
n the Internet world, anyone can be a publisher and for almost no cost and very little extra effort you can publish your stories (poems, articles, whatever) on the net whenever you want. (And you’re welcome look on this site under Articulations for some of my stuff. 🙂 ) Some people will see what you’ve done; some may even read through to the end; very very occaionally you get a comment. But if you submit to an editor, you get very considerable added value.
First, you can be sure someone you don’t know and who doesn’t know you is going to read what you’ve written. Further, the editor is someone who has taken on the task presumably because he or she has an interest in literature, and will read what you’ve written with an impartial, critical eye. You need this because the probability is that a lot of what you write really is dreadful and shouldn’t be bought by anyone!
Bradbury’s perspiration and persistence did not break down the walls of the publishing houses by a process of attrition. Rather, his method was a way for him to develop as a writer. He developed because he wrote and re-wrote. His method also helped him surf over the post-rejection depression and continue to write and develop.
Painful though it is, editorial resistance and rejection is a necessary part of the process by which one becomes better as a writer.
The second value that submitting to a publisher gives is that, when you are accepted, you know you’re likely to reach a wider audience that if you simply published your writings yourself. Sure, you can pull out all the stops and learn to market your homepage, attract visitors, Facebook Likes and Google +1s, but … you wanted to be a writer, didn’t you? Not an Internet marketeer.
The edited sites (and the edited print publishers) are likely to have a greater audience than most of us can aspire to on our homepages because they are edited. Because they publish a selection of the best material that comes their way, they build up an audience of people who don’t want to wade through poor quality, unedited writings scattered all across the Internet in order to find that rare brilliant diamond. It’s easier and more certain to read the material published on an edited site – then perhaps you won’t like everything that’s served up there, but at least there’s a better chance that it’ll be of good quality.
The third major value I see in submitting to publishers is that as your work is published here and there, you build up a portfolio of published writing. Not only do you get better as a writer, but you are in an increasingly better position to approach the next publisher and be taken seriously. The top publishers, the ones who are in a position to pay you for your work, the ones who can commission writing, the people you go to with your 300,000 word novel or the manuscript of your Collected Works, they are even more difficult to reach than the e-zine and small press editors. But they are more likely to be civil if you already have a track record of editorial support.
Persperistance and The Supercargo
es, I’ve been turning this over in my mind for quite a while. Coming across Bradbury’s interview and the Write 1 Sub 1 site helped to crystallise it. It feels a bit late to join in the W1S1 crowd now – their year-long project has only a couple or three more months left to run. (Of course, if they decide to step on into 2012, then I might sign up.) But there’s nothing to stop me trying some Persperistance on my own.
So, from now for the next 6 months (it feels good to have an end to work towards), I’m going to try to write a short story each week and submit a short story each week. Maybe not the same story. I want to give myself a chance to re-read and rewrite. But that’s the plan.
And to start the ball rolling … between 29th September and 7th October (slightly more than a week, I know) I wrote the first short story I’ve written and completed for a long time. The working title is “Elephantasy” and it’s just about 6000 words long. Though it’s set about 20 years in the near future it’s less science fiction and more literary fiction (which seems to be the current genre name for fiction that doesn’t fall into any obvious genre). I shall put it aside now and let it rest and revisit it in a week or two before submitting it somewhere.
Watch this space!