the time it takes

There’s this moment in the writing of a story, when you’ve written and rewritten, revised, edited, taken out all the extra words, and given your characters a few more things to do other than nodding their heads, shaking their heads, smiling and shrugging; there’s this moment where you think you have finished. Yay, you wrote a story! So you give it one more go over, correct your spellings, and send it off into the world.

About a year and a half later, you read your story again, and see all your clumsy sentences and all your mistakes. You realise that there is a way to resolve that nagging plot problem. You suddenly understand why that character does what she does. You see how easy it would be to rewrite that section of prose and make it say exactly what you failed to say the first time around.

Unfortunately, by this point, it’s very likely that you are reading your story in some magazine or book, which you have also encouraged all your friends and family to buy. Cringe-a-rama!

If you’re still holding on to that story – perhaps you couldn’t sell it, or maybe something didn’t feel quite right, and you never tried – you are now the luckiest writing piglet in the world. You get to revise the hell out of it, make it beautiful, and correct all those terrible mistakes you had no idea you were making at the time.

As much as we want to get published NOW and have people reading our stories RIGHT NOW, patience and slowness make stories better. I suspect this goes double or triple for novels, where there are so many more elements to fuck up, and so much more impatience to get the damn thing over and done with.

It’s reassuring to know how much we improve as writers, simply by continuing to turn up and write as often as we can. Even when you feel completely stuck, you are processing all that experience into wisdom, so that one day you can say to yourself, wow that is really a crappy story I wrote. I could write it so much better now.

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2 Responses to “the time it takes”

  1. Gio Clairval says:

    So true. I sold stories I’d been tinkering with for two or more years. The only times my stories come out practically finished are a couple of “literary” thingies where it’s more about the writing itself, and images, than arc and plot. Those, I find easy to write, and, if I send them out at all, I sell them right away, but I prefer to go for pieces that are more complex to write and take ages to “mature.”

    You’re also right about the importance of curbing the urge to send out the story too soon, to get it out of one’s system (unless it’s a short literary thingie, I suppose ;-)

  2. george says:

    Patience is a virtue. It’s not one of mine, unfortunately. Maybe one day…