Thursday, May 21, 2009

What is The Race?

For those of you who aren't familiar with The Race that I referred to this morning, it's a system concocted by Dean Wesley Smith as one way to help motivate writing.

Check out a post from back in September '08 for more details:

I am currently at 21 points:
3 points for a novel synopsis+3 chapters to Elder Signs Press.
18 short stories at various magazines.

I don't see the points as a goal, but a means to an end. A high score, by itself, doesn't imply skill nor does it imply imminent publication. You still have to put your best work in and strive to make each story the best thing you've ever written. But I do like some of the behaviors it encourages, and so I see it more as one metric among many that helps me determine progress. Unlike most other metrics, this is easily quantifiable, which makes it easy to judge at a glance.

The Race isn't for everybody. Using the system encourages you to behave in a certain way, which is only good if you believe that behavior is beneficial to you. In particular, in can help if you believe:
1. The more stories you write, the better you'll be at writing. That is not to say that you should send a story out before it's ready--far from it. But I believe the more stories you write, the more point-of-view characters you write as, the more plots you construct, the more versatile you'll become. Some people don't agree with this, preferring to continually revise the same story many times, trying to approach the best the story can be. There's nothing wrong with that, but that approach doesn't work well for me. If I revised the same story over and over trying to make it perfect, at best it would an asymptotical approach, always getting closer but never quite making it. At worst I would over-analyze it and edit the life right out of the story. By using the score, you're encouraged to write more stories, because you can only increase your score by writing more stories.

2. It's best not to overanalyze form rejections. If I get a form rejection, I don't spend a lot of time trying to figure out why it got rejected. I just send it right back out again. The reason is simple--there's not enough data to come to a sound conclusion about why it was rejected. Maybe they didn't like your writing. Maybe they don't like stories about dragons. Maybe their magazine was overbooked already. Maybe they had a bad taco for lunch and now your story has an unfortunate association in their mind with food poisoning. By keeping a Race score, it encourages you to send it right back out again.
Now, if I get a personal rejection or critique from someone, listing specific reasons why they didn't like it, such as "the beginning was too slow" "I never felt close to the POV" or "The ending left me unsatisfied", then of course I consider carefully what's been said and whether I want to change anything.

3. You don't want to put anything in the trunk yet. So far I haven't really felt comfortable putting stories away in "the trunk" and taking them out of submission. Even my earliest stories have some merit, though my skill has definitely grown beyond those days or I wouldn't have written them. By using the Race, it encourages me to keep these stories in submission.

What do you think of The Race? I'd be interested in discussing what flaws advantages you see in it. :)


Juliette Wade said...

It wouldn't be right for me, because I'm one of those who likes to take a story and redo it until I get it right. Also because I think I'd feel pressured by the idea of a "race." But I could see how it might help people to keep going when they're in the constant rejection phase. My life changed significantly when I started getting content rejections - then I really felt like it was worth addressing an editor's comments if they resonated with me.

I'm glad The Race is so great for you.

David Steffen said...

That's true, you are definitely in a different stage of your career, having sold multiple stories, particularly to the same mag. That is great!

I look forward to the days when I can hope for more than form rejections from editors.