Last week, in the midst of post-NaNo depression (need to keep writing momentum on track…can’t start another novel until completing one of the four in finish/rewrite/edit stage actually is done…writers group expects output, now what?) I took a trip in my personal Wayback Machine (and I don’t mean the Internet archive…Google it, youngsters) and revisited a short story I wrote in 1991.
Yikes. Please don’t do the calculations and tell me how long ago that was.
Let me preface this by noting that a few weeks ago at my writers group, I brought in the opening of my first novel, Ties that Bind, which I completed in rough form as my master’s thesis in early 2010 and sat untouched since. One of my fellow writers commented how much my work had improved (his words) when comparing Ties to my latest WIP. I was flattered, but not entirely convinced.
The 1991 story proved him right. I’ve been rather proud of this particular story in my personal oeuvre, submitted it a few times over the years to various journals without success, tweaked it a bit here and there. After the last rejection, which was longer ago than I can remember, I stuck it in my files and forgot about it until now.
Good grief was it rough. The main characters were compelling enough, decent setting, interesting story line with a nice twist at the end. But I was appalled at the language – stilted, wordy, redundant narrative, unnecessary side plots…this was my idea of good? Maybe I have learned something.
I knew if I wanted to read it to my group, it needed a serious overhaul, no more tweaking. I turned to a technique introduced by the delightful Crystal Wilkinson at the Antioch Writers Workshop in 2009, and reinforced later during my master’s program. I printed out a copy and started retyping, editing and revising as I went. Within just a few hours I’d rewritten vast swaths of the text while maintaining the kernel of the original, tightening and focusing the piece. Along the way, I trimmed over six hundred words from the total.
My writers group was encouraging in their responses and seemed suitably impressed with the result. But I know that, even after twenty years, the story still needs a bit of polish before I inflict it on yet another journal.
Guess I have learned something. Now where’s the rough draft of that early novel…