I keep a meticulous record of all the stories that I send into contests, on a large spreadsheet. I can see how many times a story has been entered, which competitions, and I can see where it has been shortlisted, and (hopefully) I flag where it was published. Some stories go through this process quickly (although never as fast as I think they did), so that within a year of the first draft they have been published. Most stories take 2-3 years. Some take 4-8 years. Then there are some, that never quite get there. So every now and then, I take a look at my spreadsheet, and I decide to archive some stories. The funny thing is, that when I take a close look, most of the stories that haven't been successful have been entered into very few contests. Which sounds pretty obvious, doesn't it? I should simply keep sending the story out, and eventually it will get shortlisted. Perseverance, and all that jazz. However, the reason it hasn't been entered into many contests is probably because there is something about it that makes me feel uncomfortable. May be the theme doesn't work for a lot of the target magazines, or perhaps I'm just not happy with some element of the writing. Before I archive the story, I open it up and re-read, to see if I've been mistaken, if the story can be salvaged so that I can start sending it out again. I have a few stories that I've rescued this way, stories that I think should be OK, and perhaps I'm being too harsh on them. I should send them out and let survival of the fittest test their capabilities. I have several other stories that I decide simply aren't good enough, and reluctantly I retire them.
The really challenging stories though, are the ones that I like, that have been sent out multiple times (I'm talking 20+ competition entries) and have yet to make their way on to a single longlist. I read these stories again, and I think they are as good as many of my other stories, but for some reason nobody wants to publish them... what do I do with those? The answer is edit, edit, edit and keep sending out. I think that ultimately a writer needs to know their own work. I can see when something isn't as good as it should be, or doesn't work for some reason, and I will retire it. When I have a story that I believe in though, I will stick with it. One day, someone will see it the same way I do. It seems like faith or confidence (or arrogance?!) is a positive trait for a writer.