To Trunk or Not To Trunk?

I’ve been submitting short stories since 2009, published one of them in an anthology, and have been working relentlessly to get more of my work edited and out there. Some of the stories have been floating around the short story market for 3 years. Some far less. My strategy has always been to aim high: aim for the markets that pay the most and have the best exposure. As the author, I seem to be least skilled to judge the quality of the story — so why send what might be a pro-level story a nonpaying market? Let the editors decide.

I’ve started receiving feedback on some of my stories, mostly from semi-pro markets. It’s encouraging that someone took the time to provide their insights on my stories. What’s troubling me about this feedback, is that they’re right. When I first sent these stories off into the world, they were the best I could make them. I submit, get rejected, resubmit to another market. Rinse, repeat. Now that I’m getting feedback I can use, feedback that resonates with me in many instances, I have to question my handling of these particular stories.

On one hand, no story is perfect. If someone liked it enough, would they ask for a rewrite, regardless if it’s this version or the next one that I’m planning to revise? Is it a waste of time to keep resubmitting a story that clearly several editors keep offering similar advice on?

Or is the waste of time going to be that revision? Is this advice a lesson I should learn, tuck the practice ground material (the story) into my trunk and just plod on forward?

I’m on the fence. As I sit here, working on my weekend short stories, I’m staring at the words on my screen asking myself if they really are good enough, or will I trunk it two years into submissions? It’s not stopping the writing, but it is distracting because it’s a valid question.

Am I growing as a writer? Or am I looking at the affect of time and distance between the story and its last revision?

I have a feeling part of the answer might be on DWS’s website somewhere, and I’m going to go searching for it this week between writing sessions. In the meantime, I’ve got three stories on a hold status: back from subs and not going out just yet until I can decide.

I write because I love it; I submit the stories because I want to share my characters and worlds with people who will enjoy them. That is the heart of why I have trouble trunking a story. It’ll languish in a drawer, get forgotten. But if I promise myself I’ll come back to them, they aren’t forgotten: they’re in the back of my mind.

The problem with that, is that the back of my mind is busy simmering with my current projects. When I start hanging on to too many thoughts and threads and issues, my unconscious workings get muddled. I’m sure I’m not the only one this happens to.

Have you run into this? Any of this? Do you trunk stories and why? Have you read a story you wish the author had trunked?

The other really big question this brings me to is my focus. The feedback from many of the stories are the same regardless of story: “this could be better told in a longer version”, “explore this in longer form”, etc. It’s not the same as my original issue writing short stores, that the ideas were really novel ideas in disguise. I think this time, I’m exploring deeper issues, in big worlds that leave a short story in the shadow of the bigger world issues.

The question it begs is this: am I spending too much time on short stories now? Should I really be focusing on novels? It’s not that I’ll deprive myself of the joy of writing short stories, but the answer would direct where I spend 80% of my writing time. I find it difficult to write a short story and a novel at the same time. I can do it, but it impacts my speed.

Part of the joy of writing a short story is that I build a world slowly; I plant a seed and it becomes Jack’s Beanstalk. It happens over time, unlike novel world building, which is more like Puss In Boots: searching for the beans that’ll give me Jack’s Beanstalk. I like exploring different people and cultures, even if I made them all up in my head. It becomes a much bigger responsibility in a novel. More work and less play, perhaps? I don’t know.

Until I do, I’ll keep writing. The novel is going well, though I’d like to pick up the pace a little bit. The short stories will mostly wait until the novel is done, then I’ll go nuts on those for a few weeks before I turn back to the novel for a revision. It seems like a good strategy. The hold queue will be dealt with, one way or another. I’ll figure that out, too, I suppose

Happy Writing!





5 responses to “To Trunk or Not To Trunk?

  1. I’ve only trunked one story–one which, when I looked back at it a few years later, I really didn’t like. After I got feedback from two smaller markets echoing the thoughts I’d already had, I decided it was time. I have other stories, older ones, that I know I would want to revise if I reread them, but I’ve basically decided to leave them alone and just work on new projects. If a rewrite request were to come in I’d work on it, but otherwise I don’t want to interrupt the thread of my own current projects.

    I think we all grow as writers so long as we keep writing, so it’s natural that we’ll want to revise our work after a few years. But the main problem with that, as I see it, is that I could rewrite/revise the same story every other year for the rest of my life and still it might not sell–and there would be lots of new stories that I didn’t write because of all that revision time. I’d rather take the advice and grow with my current works, and keep sending my older stories out, because you never know when someone will like them and give you another credit. No one will buy it (even if it’s the sort of thing they’d love) if it’s sitting on your hard drive.

    That’s how I approach this dilemma–subject to change based on my own whims and experiences, of course.

  2. Hi Dawn,

    I think DWS’ advice would be to stick to Heinlein’s Rules and don’t rewrite except to editorial request. And that’s for a rewrite request, not just from personal rejections.

    Here’s Dan Sawyer’s interpretation of them.

    I tend to stick with it. I feel that my time’s better spent writing a new story than editing an old one. But a lot of writers do keep refining stories.

    Good luck whatever you decide.

  3. I have piles of stories, and several novels, that are in the silicon equivalent of a trunk. I suppose I might go back to most of them one day, if I happened to be browsing through the old files when the inclination struck me. I suppose they’re all fixable, in some sense or another, but I can see that they’re deeply flawed. I have others that are in the edit-and-submit queue; those might have problems, but it’s not major work to remodel.

    One of the things I’ve done that helped me get perspective on what the various stories needed was to take on editor/slush jobs for a while. Looking at lots of stories from a different perspective helped me see mine in a new light. I know you’ve got a lot of busy stuff going down in your world right now, so I’m not suggesting that you take on yet another job.But looking at it from the other perspective — “If this came across my desk from somebody else, would I ask for a rewrite?” — might give you some ideas.

  4. Ladies: thank you for the reminder that it’s not just me… and for pulling my head out of whatever funk I’d started floundering in. I got one of the holds back into subs, and the second one really does need a fix on the ending. I sent it out too soon. It’ll take a day to fix, and then it’ll go back out.

    Slush reading might be a fun experience. Maybe after we’re done potty training my 3 year old. Hee.

  5. I’ve only trunked a few stories, most because I realized they aren’t good enough and I wouldn’t want readers to think that was the best I can do. One because I took its premise and built a novel out of it, changing a lot of things along the way.

    I have a few more stories that have been to nearly all the markets I want to send them to, so they’re effectively trunked. I still like them, though, so I send them to new markets when I find them.

    For the most part I don’t revise after I start submitting something, unless I think the comments would be very helpful and I haven’t sent the story to many places yet. I try to apply the comments to the next piece I write.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s