On the Road to Publication - The IWSG Anthology Contest

Posted by Sammi Spizziri on January 05, 2022 · 7 mins read

I’m so honored to announce my short story “The Real Thing” will be included in the upcoming IWSG anthology, First Love: The Art of Making Doughnuts.

I’ve wanted to be published since I was probably five. In elementary school, year after year, when we filled out “What I want to be when I grow up” papers, I wrote “an author.” I submitted short stories to American Girl magazine, filled my notebooks with tales of gymnasts, and spent summers checking out armfuls of books from the library. Aside from a brief hiatus due to a lack of self-confidence in my writing ability, I’ve always put words on the page.

I started seriously aiming for publication back in 2015, and by 2018 I felt like I was finally making traction. Winning contests. Working with mentors. Finding constructive critique partners. Even signing with an agent in 2020. And yet, since then, I feel like I’ve only moved backwards.

I got the call from my agent with her offer from representation the DAY BEFORE my son was born (my second child) and signed with her two weeks later. He’s a mama’s boy who doesn’t want to sleep, so finding time to write since he was born (in addition to taking care of my daughter) hasn’t been easy. I spent a full year revising Say Something, the book I signed with my agent on, the same book that won and finaled in contests and is pretty much still the only complete work I have. And yet, I realized this past summer (2021) even after another year of revisions, a fifth major overhaul, it still wasn’t working. It still wasn’t ready to send out to editors. I know it’s not the end of the world to scrap a book. That most authors don’t publish the first or even second book they attempt to. And while I scrapped one long ago, it was before I knew anything about writing, so I don’t always count it. Say Something feels so much like the book that has made me a writer and gotten me where I am, and I very much want to share it with the world. So I kept forcing myself to work on it, saying once I was done I could write what I wanted again. 

My agent very wisely suggested that if I was struggling, maybe it was best to take a break from Say Something and start something new. So I brainstormed and attempted a few starts, but anxieties kept creeping up: What if my agent didn’t like anything else I wrote? What if I actually couldn’t write and that was why I couldn’t finish this book? What if I had fundamental shortcomings as a writer that made it impossible for me to ever be published? I thought something new might be fun and remind me why I loved writing. That the inspiration of a new story and new characters would carry me through. But every idea seemed to have the same flaws, every opening chapter fell flat, and every theme seemed to be me echoing the story I’d already written. Who was I to think anyone would want to read what I wrote? To think I could be entertaining or insightful or uplifting?

On top of all that, the idea of seeing a whole book through, from beginning to end, from draft to copyediting, felt daunting. I’ve revised several times before and made action plans and stuck to goals, but trying to write a whole book in 45-minute increments, at the whim of the sleep habits of two littles, wasn’t adding up to a cohesive story. 

It wasn’t until I saw the IWSG contest that I let myself just WRITE again and have fun with it. I figured it was a short story, 6,000 words, so I could just write. Yes, I came up with an outline, but I also went with what came to me. I got lost in the characters and the world and enjoyed what I was doing for the first time in maybe two years.

And you know what I learned, just by finishing the short story? 

  • It’s easier to write when you’re having fun.
  • A short story is perfect for my focus right now. I can write the beginning, middle, and end while still (mostly) remembering why I’m writing it and what I already wrote. I’m not daunted by the idea of a complete revision. I can find plot holes. I can read the whole thing in one sitting (books take weeks for me to read these days, sadly.)
  • I can still write. I still have stories in me. I can be inspired. 
  • My critique partners are the BEST. They gave me perfect feedback that took the strengths and heart of my draft and helped me revise it into a stronger narrative.

After submitting my story, I did that thing where I hoped and I waited and I hoped some more, and then I said, it’s not the end of the world if I don’t get this published. It took me about three weeks to write it, right? And look at all the things I learned from the experience. Plus, I like the story. That’s its own reward. But also…I had nothing to show for my writing time in the last year and a half. As 2021 drew to a close, I was prepared to write it off as a year without any writing progress.

And THEN. THE EMAIL. It actually came from the publisher (later, I found the IWSG congratulatory email in my spam folder). I saw it and I thought, oh they’re going to let me down easy. I took a deep breath. It’s okay, I knew this was coming. But they were asking me for details to publish my story! Cue celebratory dance in the middle of naptime routines.

I’m so happy to finally get to share one of my stories with the world soon!