As a writer, I have three minds, and one of them I don't like.
Before I explain what I mean, a little background. I've been a writer all my literate life. I'm 51 now, and for the last 20 years, I have not been writing as consistently as I could, because I've been so distracted by a rewarding but often turbulent career in PR and advertising and caring for a beloved, profoundly autistic child with a high degree of needs. During that time, I was still writing and, blessedly, having pieces published in Kendo World magazine, but I was not practicing writing as I think it can or should be: writing consistently with some kind of daily or weekly regularity, and submitting stories, my focus, to online and print publications. That's what I am getting back to and the past two years have been fruitful, disciplined and productive. I have in large part my employer to thank for that, and I do so every day. It's been somewhat surprising for me to realize how much of your intellectual and emotional energy can be absorbed by your job.
But that's a conversation for another day. What I'd like to point out is that in those 20 years a lot changed. The internet and the availability of digital publishing tools has, as far as I can tell, lead to a drastic increase in publishers of stories, books and other media. Email, digital manuscripts, online forms and collaborative review tools have created a more streamlined submissions process that can move faster. Publications are cheaper and easier to get hold of. Gone are the days of having to learn about a magazine, get a physical copy that was likely not cheap and maybe had to be mailed to you, read it, consider whether your piece could be a fit, send it by post, and wait a year for a response, then try again if it wasn't accepted. Now you can find a pub, often read it online for free or cheap, email your submission, get feedback sooner, and move on to the next pub if it's not a fit. Meanwhile. you can hang out on Twitter or other online forums sharing insights or ideas about this with other writers.
It's in this environment that I find myself with three minds. I've begun to think of them as the reader's mind, the writer's mind, and the submitter's mind.
I could write separately, and maybe I will, about the reader's mind. It's the one that reads for the unique pleasures of reading, which is not to say it only reads lightly, and I have over the years developed a very good sense for what I like to read. I've described it broadly as post war men's literature or work in that groove, usually a cycle that includes a thriller - say, a Travis McGee novel - then a capital-L literary work - say, John Updike or Jim Harrison - then something in history, biography, or current affairs - say, a biography of Harry Truman - and in between, short stories, comic books and articles or essays. To be sure, I try to strike out into new or modern territory - I'm becoming acquainted with a whole new generation of indie crime writers, for starters - but this is primarily the pattern I read in. The dilemma of what to read next, the anticipation of knowing myself and what I like to read so well that I'll have a reading treasure to experience, is immense. It's a lot like music, actually, like knowing you love an artist and discovering another album by that artist.
By writer's mind, I mean the mind that reads for pleasure but, as it does so, is also paying close attention to technique. I'm just about as comfortable with this mind as the reader's mind, in part because I'm confident in my own abilities or preferences as a writer and don't feel envy or antagonism toward any other writer. Sometimes this mind emulates or steals from other writers, especially writers I admire. Sometimes it simply appreciates what another writer is doing or contrasts and challenges its own methods. Occasionally, I do not like another writer's writing for whatever reasons, or some aspect of it, and that's okay; I can note without urgency why I don't like it but also examine my own writing for similar characteristics.
The submitter's mind is the one that tries to keep abreast of the publications where I might submit stories, and this is the one I'm still trying to make peace with. The challenges to this include the large volume of pubs to read, and keep reading, follow. I'll take a moment here to remind or acquaint the reader with the fact that I focus on stories and work in two genres, crime and what can be called "general" or "literary" or what I personally approach as "crime-adjacent." I'm also always on the lookout for horror or speculative pubs that might welcome crime stories, especially if there's an element of those other genre in any of my stuff, so this adds up to an even bigger list of publications. In this environment, there's often new pubs popping up, or coming off hiatus, in addition to the ones that exist, and when I encounter a new one, my interest is in learning what the pub is all about, what kinds of stories are there, and whether my work might be a fit. Because writing occurs in my free time, this cuts into my time as a writer, and maybe because of the brevity of that time or the urgency to be productive in that time, I often approach publications at a high speed. What I don't like about this is the frenzied quickness with which I consume the masthead, About Us and some of the works at these pubs as I try to figure out whether it should be on my list of places to submit. It reduces the pub to a target, and the stories I read there do not get the attention of the other two minds. As I said, I do not like this.
But I'm getting better at it. One thing that's helping is I have recently published a handful of stories, and feel more comfortable holding onto one that has been rejected, waiting for a pub or open submission window that might a better fit, as opposed to eagerly wanting to always get work out right away. In the meantime, a bit more relaxed, I can continue to work on some stories with a certain pub or short list of pubs in mind, usually impacting word count and other considerations. Another thing that helps is, I keep a spreadsheet of these publications and add notes to help me keep them all straight, including notes on stories I liked at those pubs or writers whose work might be similar to mine and can guide the fitness of my work to the pub. Or, the reverse, pubs where I'll likely never submit - it's good to reduce, too. There's an element of time organization to this. I think writing in the early morning before work helps, something I have more of on the weekend, and try to reserve "research" into new pubs for afternoons or evenings, maybe once a week, when I'm more relaxed and out of that productive, worker mindset. Too, I have to reject both minds to simply enjoy myself as a reader, something I'm usually able to do even while other stuff is going on around me.
Ultimately, I think it's important to exercise patience and slow down, which is true about so many things in life. Realize the enormity of the landscape in front of you, the tasks, and the longevity you may have available for the work. Be conscious of the way you structure your days and hours, sure, stay cognizant of deadlines. But at the end of the day, this current digital publishing environment has a lot of advantages to writers and readers that the old print days didn't have, so that's another thing to be grateful for. Maybe the attitude one should have can be described as missing a bus, but knowing there's another one coming, and meanwhile to enjoy the wait, stop, look around, use the time.