The Arithmetic in Writing

Years ago, I came across the theory that if you had 12 things ‘out,’ you could expect one of them to be accepted. The first time I managed that, I had a poem published. Since then, I’ve kept a list and I make a line after I submit 12 individual things. Right now, I have 11 things listed since the last line I drew, so I’m antsy to get a ‘twelfth’ out.

I like to draw lines…

This led me to consider how valid the theory was, so I did the math. Since starting the list, I have sent out 295 things and 20 are still out = 275. I’ve had 17 things accepted/published, which puts me at 16.17 things submitted before 1 acceptance. Not bad. But if I add ‘special mentions’ (5) that takes me to 12.5 items submitted per 1 acceptance–which is awfully close to proving the theory. (I include everything in that list — from grant applications to New Yorker cartoon captions, letters to the editor to Scriblophile contest entries.)

The other bit of math I’ve been thinking about comes from Stephen King in his “On Writing.” In it he gives an equation that after a story is written, 10% should be trimmed. I agree with that — 90% of the time — in regards to my own writing. After years and years of hearing: “Trim! Cut! Less is more!” I feel trained. I automatically edit out ‘thats’ as I write, which is really going to be a hindrance when I start NaNoMo in less than a month…

Regardless, I’ve looked at a few things I wrote years ago and 10% is not always enough. In the last few hours, I’ve taken a 2890 word story written in the 1990’s and cut it down to 1677 words. I need to leave it for now and see how it reads in the morning, though I suspect a few more dozen words can be deleted.

That wasn’t effortless. I’d re-read it recently and didn’t think there was any saving this story at all. Once I gave up hope of ever being able to fix it for possible publication, I came up with a ‘fix’. Strange, isn’t it? It’s strange to me. I start browbeating myself, telling myself how horrible I am as a writer and then, boom: someone says ‘I like your story. I want to publish it.’ And on a few other days, I think, ‘Yes! This is good. It will be accepted and I’ll get the big bucks and be published in Glimmer Train.’ Then I receive the form rejection ‘why are you bothering us?’ email.

Sigh…

The ups…

The downs…

The life of one writer…

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