March 25, 2010

Writing Like Crazy: Revisionist History

When do you know a story is really finished? At what point do you stop, look at the story you've written and rewritten, and say, "There. It's done."?

If you're anything like me, it's a bit tricky knowing when you've hit that point. I'm one of those writers who is exceedingly efficient in the second-guessing department. I think that's a major reason why I force myself to write the rough draft of a story without stopping to rewrite as I go along. I could revise the story into oblivion if I stopped to fix every sentence and paragraph I deemed insufficient.

I outline--not meticulously, but I have a skeletal form to go by--and then I write. Then I read it and fix it. And fix it. And fix it again. There's a point though, when I go over what I have and decide it's finished. I have to. If I don't, I could easily go back in with the red pen and take another crack at it. And in doing so, I'd likely lose something that makes the story special.

I think there's supposed to be some kind of organic realization that the story is as good as it needs to be. I don't really have that kind of sensory perception yet. I sure hope that it's something that comes over time. Instead, I look at my story and ask myself if that little piece I think could use a bit more spit-and-polish is really necessary. If I edit it anymore, will I defeat my own efforts? That's what's going through my head when I'm done.

Sure, there's that sense of accomplishment, a bit of pride mixed in for flavor, but there's a tinge of doubt. Not a lot. Just a whiff of it. Enough so that I'm able to live with it. Part of my nature, I suppose.

Does that disappear over time? If so, does it rear its head again after so many years? What's your mindset when you've come to the end of the road with a particular story? After all the happy feelings that come with crafting something you're satisfied is ready to be submitted, is there some minute feeling of uncertainty?

Maybe it's some silly writer's equivalent to a parent's trepidations over their child's first day of school. That feeling that there's nothing left for you to do but smile and wave as the kid steps aboard the school bus. You wish you could do more, but it's out of your hands.

God, no wonder writers drink.

Notes: Two submissions this months, two rejections. Ouch. Oh well, rite of passage, eh? One rejection was a bit of a form letter rejection, but a kindly one. The other stated that while the story didn't fit with the theme and tone of the anthology I'd submitted it to, the editors liked it and encouraged me to submit the story elsewhere. Not exactly an ego boost, but I appreciate that kind of sentiment a lot as an aspiring author. So, now I'll just have to find a magazine or anthology where it might find a home.

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