Years ago I took a Catapult writing workshop with Chelsea Hodson. (Bonus recommendation: If you have the opportunity to study with Chelsea, take it. Her workshop completely changed how I approach writing.) Early on in the course, she recommended that we take some time away from our work, especially when we’ve run into a wall. This advice was so counter to what I’d heard in other workshops, where I’d been encouraged to write every day, no matter what.
If you’re struggling with a particular writing project, I recommend stepping away for a few weeks or even a few months. I especially recommend stepping away from a story or an essay before you submit to a literary journal, even if you’re certain the work is ready for publication. So often we receive stories to Joyland that are almost there. These are, without fail, the most difficult stories to reject. They’re so close! But something is missing! Rather than submit a story the instant you think it’s done, see what happens if you take some time away from the work. When you do return, you’ll do so with fresh eyes, and you’re more likely to see problems that you were previously unable to.
Don’t be so eager to publish that you take the writing out of the oven before it’s ready. Perhaps that’s my real recommendation: Don’t value publishing over writing. There is so much external pressure in publishing that can get in the way of the actual work. You go on Twitter and everyone has exciting news they’re thrilled to share. You want exciting news to share. This desire can lead writers to value their practice only in relation to what they publish. It can also lead to publishing work that is not quite ready for the world, and not as good as that writer could have allowed it to be had they given it more time.
You can’t control the publishing industry—what’s trendy or what a particular editor is looking for. You can learn how to write a query letter and you can learn what journals your work might be a good fit for, but at the end of the day the only thing you can really control is the writing. So make it as good as you can. Take your time. Don’t think that just because you haven’t published in a while (or ever) that you aren’t getting work done. There’s no rush.
—Michelle Lyn King, editor in chief, Joyland