Q & A: On Preparing for Submission

Last week, I answered a question about submitting your work for publication and not being accepted. I want to talk more about that process here, and about how you can get your work ready for acceptance before you send out your first submission.

No piece of good, published writing looks exactly the way it did when the first draft was written. Even if only a few words are changed, or the tense of a verb, revisions are a huge part of what we do as writers. When we are working on a large project (say a novel), it makes perfect sense to have several drafts of the work, allowing for the progression of the story and our ability to see how things unfold as we continue writing.

What about revisions on shorter works (essays, poems, short stories)? Especially on work that we plan to submit to magazines, literary journals, and contests?

Editing our work before we submit it for publication probably seems like a no-brainer. At the same time, we can be too close to our work to see where it needs a boost, and where we need to pull back the reigns on the story. Finding the balance (between listening to our instincts and not letting our inner critic ruin the work) is tricky.

Most professional editors work in very specific ways: manuscripts that have been accepted (like a book project), or only on larger work. There is something lucrative about working on a big piece (both in the time and money involved) that is appealing. Which means it can be hard for an author (especially one new to the publishing industry, or just beginning to send out work to journals and magazines) to find a fresh set of eyes with both experience and passion for getting work from those early drafts to being accepted and winning awards.

Hiring an editor might not be in your game-plan right now, but when it is, I can recommend a great one. Until then, let me share some tips for how to get a new perspective on your work:

Read your work out loud

It's amazing how different writing can sound when it is spoken aloud versus read in our heads. And yet, when we are reading something to ourselves, we can still hear the voice of the piece. Reading aloud helps us find the places the writing doesn't flow, or doesn't convey the messages me want.

Also, reading your work aloud to another can be a great way to get feedback. Instead of asking them what they liked or disliked, ask them what they remember: colors, sounds, shapes, places. These are the things that stand out in your work, and they are what others will also remember -- so be certain they are the memories you want to create.

Let the work rest

Take a break from your work. Put it in a filing cabinet or in a different folder on your desktop. Set a reminder for a few days, or weeks, or months. Getting some distance from a piece can shift your understanding and perspective on it. When you return, it might only be to a paragraph or a few lines.

It also true that taking a break from the subject matter can give you some new and fresh perspective on the experience and how you feel about it. A situation that may be fraught with emotion might, with some distance, provide insight into why you have these feelings/reactions, and how you can shift and bend and push through them.

Trust you instincts, but don't believe everything you say

As writers, we know our own hearts and our intentions best. We know the message we are trying to convey in our work, and it is up to us to get to the heart of that message before we publish something.

At the same time, don't believe everything you say to yourself. The voice of your inner critic can be overwhelming, and can push you to places of self-doubt and despair. Trust that you know the best ways to share your message, but don't get bogged down by the voices that tell you to stop writing completely.

What are some tools you use to get your work ready for publication? I'd love to hear in the comments below!