Once, recently (ok, yesterday), I made a dumb mistake. I checked the status of a story I’d submitted to a magazine. There are web pages all over the Internet that indulge this kind of behavior, so it wasn’t, seemingly, a bad thing to do.
Reader, it made me mental.
Back several lives ago, poet Marianne Boruch sat a younger me down and explained that sending out work to publications was like keeping goldfish. She said “You feed them every so often, and go about your life.”
This was sound advice. Sage, even.
I am terrible at it.
I, and probably a few other people. Why else would these web pages exist where you can check the status of your story, repeatedly?
Instead of feeding goldfish, I developed magical powers of controlling happenstance. I became a master at divination (I found a lucky penny today, so they’ll like my story), ESP (You WILL Like My Story, dear editor), and slush-pile dowsing (This one has a good response time/pending submissions ratio on Duotrope).
I did this even while knowing the odds: thousands of stories, intrepid slush readers who see up to five stories a day, and not enough magazine pages to go around.
When I travel, sometimes my shoulders ache because I’ve been sitting in coach mentally making sure the wings stay on and seagulls stay out of the engines. This is dumb. I am not a seagull whisperer or a wing artifex.
With submissions, I told myself many times not to try to fly the plane, so to speak. But my brain refused to listen. “This time,” it whispered to me while I brushed my teeth, “They’ll love this story. It’s meant to be.” And, while I was cooking dinner, “Perhaps if you’d sent the story off on a Tuesday. That’s was an auspicious day.”
You get the idea. Looking at the status of stories made this all worse. And the ‘don’t try to fly the plane’ mantra was worn thin. So I called in reinforcements.
The next time my brain got on the slush-pile gerbil wheel, I imagined Wesley, imitating the (previous) Dredd Pirate Roberts, “Good work, Wesley, good day. I’ll most likely kill you in the morning.”
It worked. My brain shut up, and I got back to writing something new.
Until it didn’t.
- Brain: “But it’s past 1pm. Most rejections go out before now. They’ve kept it another -“
- Dredd Pirate Roberts (slightly louder): “Good Work, Good Day! I’ll Most Likely Kill You In The Morning..”
And sometimes, when my brain snuck up on me, drastic measures had to be deployed, with a**caps.
- Brain: “I think this story would be BRILLIANT in that magazine. They’ll have to realiz–“
- Dredd Pirate Roberts: “GOOD WORK! GOOD DAY! I’LL MOST LIKELY KILL YOU IN THE MORNING.”
It knocked my brain out of the loop often enough that I might have muttered it aloud. (Sorry, family.) But, before I got too batty, something else kicked in (which is good, because that line, repeated often enough, gets creepy).
What kicked in was the next line of the movie:
- “It was a fine time, really. I was learning to fence, fight, anything anyone would teach me.”
Somehow, the goldfish simile wasn’t enough. Ditto, the plane. I needed a masked Carey Elwes to really grasp that things were out of my hands. That I wasn’t in control. And that I should use my remaining time wisely, doing stuff. Maybe not fencing… yet.
Who knows how long this will work, really. But if it stops being effective, there’s always Fezzik, and Inigo.