A story of mine was recently rejected. It was actually a very nice rejection: the story had gotten far along in the submission process and I received feedback on it from the magazine’s editors. I decided to take what they had to say into consideration and tinker with the story a little bit before sending it back out (oh yeah, take that Heinlein!).
I knew what I had to do: I needed to strengthen the bad guy, smooth out the middle, and basically just set it apart from your run-of-the-mill mystery story. But when I sat down to re-write it...the re-written story was already there on my computer. Doo doo doo doo, doo doo doo doo (that’s supposed to be the Twilight Zone theme music, in case you are horribly confused).
What was going on? I searched around and found on my hard drive two versions of my story. There was the one I initially wrote and then there was the one that I had severely edited down. The severely edited one was the one I had sent off and been rejected. Re-reading the two versions was painful. My first draft was so much better. Sure it was a little flabby, but it had spark. Story-wise and character-wise it went somewhere the second draft never even looked towards. In my quest to get the word count down I had cut out everything that made the story special. I had taken out the weirder elements to streamline the plot. I thought I was making my story better but I was actually killing it. Everything the editors had suggested were steps I had already taken, and then undid in my stupidity.
Would the story been accepted if I had sent in a version closer to my original vision? Maybe, maybe not. But at least this has taught me not to second-guess myself so much. Maybe Heinlen’s right about the not re-writing. The whole thing freaks me out a little bit because if you can't trust your instincts, what can you trust? There has got to be a middle ground between that formless, initial messy creation and fine-tuning something to death.
I did end up revising the old draft before sending it out, but this time instead of taking out plot points and story elements I took out unnecessary words (let that be my tip of the day: if you want to lower the word count on your story, instead of taking out plot points and story elements TAKE OUT UNNECESSARY WORDS), got it to flash fiction lengths, and sent it out again. We’ll see how it does this time.