I’ve mentioned last week I’m writing a post-apocalypse themed short story. I also brought up how it was another attempt at an idea I’ve tried before. Well, today is about that; It’s about rewriting. Yesterday marked the third iteration of the same story. I’ve been trying to manipulate it different ways but it still leaves me feeling disappointed.
In my first attempt, I thought I was onto something brilliant. I worked hours in editing, making sure things sounded exactly right. I toyed with the piece until I couldn’t see it for what it was. I sent it to my “beta readers”. They rejected it immediately. I broke the first writing rule you ever learn, “show, don’t tell.” I didn’t want to let the story go, so I shelved it.
In my second attempt, for all 2-3 weeks of it, I found I was hesitant to write. It carried the stigma of rejection from the piece it derived. I didn’t want it to happen again. Yesterday as I was writing, I felt first hand why I didn’t want to write it anymore. I was writing the same thing, I was still telling instead of showing. The only difference was that it read a little better. Here’s an example of what I mean (I wont even edit it):
Before the first sunburst over the horizon, Jovahn left for the Oasis. Deciding parting words would only weaken his resolve, he spoke to no one the day leading up or the day he left. The desert wind howled. Jovahn knew not to confuse the cool wind of his parting as a good omen; the sun would ignite the breeze as soon as it rose. He headed north, the eastern sky was a dim orange. Sand dunes that shifted as the wind did, blanketed the north. Jovhan knew this and went anyway.
See what I mean? Very little was shown here; I was telling the reader everything. This carried on for paragraphs. That’s the worst part. I carried on like that despite what I knew.
I was going to drop the story again but I wanted to learn from it this time. If I was going to spend weeks on a piece and end up scrapping it, I’d better figure out avoid my most common mistake. I sat down with a notepad and noted common themes that encompass my better stories:
- Emphasis on interaction
- Character development
- Strong, realistic characters
The story had none of these. I was plotting to move forward. I really wanted to get a short story done by mid-January so I had to press ahead. Then the pieces of the story fell together. I knew, at last, how to work the story in a way that melded with the components I listed above. Hopefully you’ll be able to see the result of this pain by mid-January (I suspect you will.) But what’s the real lesson here?
Your Work Will Evolve
Writing can be an unforgiving undertaking. It will challenge you creatively and will demand you have even a minute knowledge of the craft. People more talented than myself have said it better, but your first draft is not going to be good. Maybe not even your second draft. Over time you will be able to forge your story. It wont be exactly the way you imagined it because the journey of writing often doesn’t work that way. But it will become something made out of itself and of you. You would have successfully communicated to your art and with your art.
So maybe you’ve got a novel or short story you’ve laid aside for sometime (which could very well mean forever). Maybe there’s an unfinished script you just couldn’t get into lingering on a hard drive somewhere. Instead of scrapping it or pushing it off for later. Try to help your work evolve into what it wants to be instead of what you force it to. Don’t quit on the project just yet because there could easily be a discovery on the other side.