Be a Hoarder

Dear Sarah:

Whatever happened to that Deep Water Whale romance you sent me awhile ago?  I was having lunch today with T. Editor, and he’s actively looking for whale-themed romance

Yr. Agent.

Okay, once again, this is not the actual email my agent sent.  But it is close, and I got it just a week ago.

My response:

Erm…nothing happened to it.  Do you need a fresh copy of the proposal?

She said yes, I went back to my files and it turned out I had not just a proposal, but a completed mss.  Wow.  When had I written that?  Thinking back, I remembered I’d written it at the request of an editor who subsequently rejected it.  V. upsetting.  But I didn’t throw out the offending mss.  I put it in a file, and I kept it.  Because I knew the odds were decent that something like the above would be coming in eventually.

This was something else I learned early on.  Never EVER throw anything out.  Keep the scraps, keep the snippets, and above all, if you’ve finished a project, keep it.  Even if it never sold.  Especially if it never sold.

Back in the day when I was strictly a denizen of the short story zone, I wrote a deal-with-the-devil story set in the old west.  I have an unhealthy fascination with deals-with-the-devil, and I’d just read a good book on old west gamblers and nature took its course.*

It was only after I started sending it around that I found out fantasy editors did not share my fascination.  It must have gone to 20 publications, and gathered an equal number of rejections.  So, with many a gentle tear, my masterpiece went into the drawer (yes, this was back in the days when the submission process was still mostly paper.  Thank G*D those days are done), and it stayed there for two solid years.  Until…I got word a new magazine, REALMS OF FANTASY was opening, and actively buying.  My story came out of the drawer and went into the envelope.   This time, it sold, for a decent rate per word too.

Since then, I’ve saved just about everything.  Even if a market doesn’t appear for the work in its current form, I do flip through the archives from time to time and see what still strikes my imagination.  Ideas and storylines are malleable things and can be reworked.  I (G*d willing!) improve at my craft, and can make improvements, or a good ending to an idea that wasn’t quite there a year, or two, or five ago.   Or, a new market has appeared suddenly (see above), and I have something I was toying around with that might now have a shot.

A metaphoric attic full of mss. and ideas is one of the greatest resources a writer has.  It means you don’t constantly have to start from scratch, and when a new chance comes, you can be one of the first in line to take advantage of it.  So keep them, all of them.  You never know when they’ll come in handy.

*If you want to read the story, “The Redemption of Silky Bill” you can for free under my Sarah Zettel page.

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Be a Hoarder — 5 Comments

  1. This post certainly struck a chord with me. I had one story “The Final Choice” that bounced from editor to 5.n5 floppy disc to editor to 3.5 disc to editor to flash drive for ten years. Finally I got an invitation to an anthology that fit the story perfectly. A decent payment per word as well.

    Another story that followed a similar path for 3 years and many rewrites found a home in another anthology — this one a last minute invite to fill a vacancy — and ended up with 7 recommendations for the Nebula award.

    Become a hoarder of stories. With digital storage the pile of printed MS won’t fall over and bury you.

  2. I just love reading your blog for these kinds of posts — which are helpful *and* make me frantic with curiosity to read these mss! I love the range of stories you’re writing — it makes me feel better about the random stuff I keep working on!

  3. Phyl: What can be said except GO YOU!

    Audra: I’m glad you found this (and the other writing-related posts) helpful. It’s frustratingly difficult, I know, to get good information about the craft and business of writing, even in the Age of Interwebz. Keep working on that random stuff. You never know what will catch fire.

  4. Be duly aware, however, that you may have dust off your work before you resubmit it, having realized just why it never sold.

  5. I’ve kept copies of everything I’ve ever written because I’ve always had this fantasy of giving all my notes, old manuscripts, etc., to some university when I become beloved and famous so poor fools can write their dissertations on my genius.

    Yes, I have a great imagination. I am a writer, after all.

    I’ve gone past that fantasy, but I’ve discovered that it’s always smart to keep copies of different versions of a story, etc., because sooner or later, I’ll need to refer back somehow or reinsert a large section I removed.

    A paper trail of changes is also useful in case someone accuses you of plagiarizing or ripping off ideas from another writer.

    Some writers are also using those cut scenes, etc., on their websites as extra content for their fans.