In the past fortnight I’ve received rejections from Tin House, Ploughshares, and Fifth Wednesday. In the same time span I’ve only submitted poetry to Spillway and Vallum’s annual contest, and I’ve not written a full draft of a single new poem. That puts me at a mildly distressing six poems and six submissions in the hole. It is at about this point that the big gaping cracks in the foundation of my “one poem and two submissions per rejection” regimen start to show.

The main reason why my output has fallen off precipitously is because I’ve put so much time into a short story submission for the new Machine of Death anthology. If you’re not familiar with it, the premise of all MoD stories is that a machine exists which can predict, with 100% accuracy, how you will die. You stick your finger in, it takes a small blood sample, and spits out a card on which is printed “CANCER” or “DROWNING” or “MAULED BY SPACE BEARS.”

I don’t really write much fiction these days, and the stories I do write tend to be short—more “narrative prose poems,” I guess. This one, though, is a whole different animal: flat-out speculative prose fiction, no question about the pedigree. At 5500 words (and that was after cutting a whole character in the eleventh hour) it’s scads longer than any story I’ve written since high school, or maybe ever.

I’d been plotting it in my head for the past few months, and then spent a very sleepless week actually getting it down in words. I finished the first complete draft on Thursday night just after midnight; my friend Matthew unexpectedly sent me extremely helpful edits and suggestions a mere ten hours later, and I incorporated most of them yesterday afternoon. I sent in my submission a whopping nine and a half hours ahead of the deadline (and found the inevitable typo about five minutes after that).

From a strict cost-benefit perspective, this was all a terrible use of my time. According to the editors, Machine of Death 2 has received over 1200 submissions. The first volume comprised about 30 stories, and since it was a pretty hefty volume, I expect that its successor will weigh in roughly the same. That means only one story in 40 will be chosen, which are not good odds. Moreover, this story is so specific to the MoD premise that it’s essentially unusable anywhere else, so if it’s not chosen, it goes nowhere.

But it was a story I wanted to write, and I enjoyed every sleep-deprived minute of it. I’m happy with the result, my daughter liked it, and it felt really good to crank out over 5000 words of finished, edited fiction in less than a week. I’ve always found longer projects to be daunting, but now the idea of a 50,000-word novella or even a 100,000-word novel doesn’t seem like Everest anymore.

Come to think of it, neither does six poems.