Sunday, February 4, 2007

Baking a Story

Today, as Don played his guitar and I wrote on my story, I shared a bit about what I’m working on.

“I’m nearly finished,” I said. “But, I don’t think I’ve got it quite right yet.”

“Well, that’s okay,” he said. “You just rearrange all the parts until you get it right. It’s not like a soufflé where it has to come out of the oven perfect the first time.”

How true, I thought. But, how often I want to just sit down and write my story and have it come out perfect in the first draft. After all, isn’t that the way it happens for the famous writers? They take an hour and write a saleable short story, or they write a bestselling novel in 30 days? Why can’t I do that!

When writing stories, my greatest dilemma is following through on plot without leaving behind loose ends. For example, my current short story involves a woman who is unhappy and wants a different life. She receives a telephone call intended for someone else that has her name. She goes on a quest to find out all she can about this other person, and eventually tries to take over this other woman’s life. My first draft contained many loose ends that really had nothing to do with the plot. In writing my second draft, I concentrate on cleaning up the loose ends by either reworking them as part of the plot or getting rid of them entirely. I’m certain I’ll go through several drafts before being satisfied with the final work.

Once I have completed a draft I am satisfied with, or even a portion of a draft, I’ll take it to my writing peers for critique. A common pitfall for all writers is seeing the errors in their work. Fresh eyes can see problems that I, the writer, am unable to see. Something may seem like it fits into my story, but the reader may think it makes no sense. In the end, I decide what to keep and what goes, but other writer’s opinions are extremely important. I have never received a critique that I thought was harsh, but I’ve often wondered if someone has given me a sketchy critique because they don’t want to hurt my feelings.

Now, as I go back to work on my story, I know I don’t have to get it perfect the first time or at all. But, my final product needs to be my best work, something that I can be proud of and that editors don’t have to throw into a slush pile because it was poorly written.

If a story I write end up back in my mailbox, at least I know it’s not because I haven’t put my best product out there.

© Susan Littlefield

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