Perseverance and Praise

How do you climb a mountain? Smile…?

I’ve strictly been ignoring the practice of blogging because I survived my LiveJournal phase and part of me shudders and the idea of returning to that era (lots of emo poetry about girls with names starting with the letter J). But, I am a writer — despite what the IRS claims.

This is about a story I wrote recently.

It started with a contest for spooky-themed flash fiction. I’d been a reader and fan of this particular site and my friend had recently gotten published there, making the idea of selling a piece to them all the more shiny. I want my story to be among good company.

So, I flip through a horror prompt book, find one that tickles my spooky bone (my left knee cap) and get to work. After a couple of days, I’ve finished a draft and sent it off to my writer friends for critique. A couple of days later, email notifications start popping up in my inbox. So-and-so has commented on your story.

When I open the first email, the stab of fear and shame that normally pierces my gut when reading feedback wasn’t there. I’d been through this process enough that this time it didn’t gut me. That was huge. But I still was days away from the detachment necessary to read all the comments. I was still too close to the material, too invested. So, I waited.

A couple of days later, I sit down at my desk, tea at the ready, and jump into the weeds.

Here’s the thing about my writing. I usually get feedback that’ll say “this part was funny” or “this scene was so cool,” but when it comes to the actual structure of the story… [TIRE SCREECHING SFX]. That’s my weakness as a writer. My overall handling of story. Not so bad, right?

What salts my wounds, however, is that I’ve worked as a developmental editor. I’m always reading stories and offering feedback, studying some new writing book, attending workshops, classes, even teaching some. When I’m reading someone else’s work, I can see the cracks like CT scan. But when it comes to my own, I’m sitting there with a propeller hat and an oversized lollipop, grinning from ear to ear. Innocent and clueless.

My writing teacher says that’s how it goes, that that’s why we have other people read out work.

So, I do.

But when I get that feedback and I start revising and editing and cutting and connecting, I get discouraged. And that’s what happened with this story. I sat there, combing through comments highlighting my weak characters, my flabby opening, my random middle, my decent ending, and I threw my hands up.

“It’s too broken,” I said to myself. “I’ll just write something else.”

But I didn’t close the Chrome tab with my story. I sat there, staring at my screen. It came to me pretty quickly. I was afraid to try. The idea of scrapping the core of my story, rewriting it based on reader feedback felt like a mountain, and I had to climb with these weak little nerd arms. But what if I just focused on one of the comments? The one about an erroneous scene? What would happen then?

By the time I finished gutting that scene and rewriting it with theme and tone in mind, using a character that would come up later in a reveal instead of a random one, I realized something. I was clinging to the structure of my original story because staying the same was easier than changing. I wasn’t seeing what the story could be.

I worked on it for seven hours that day. Wrapping up by 2 AM, I collapsed into bed where I read A Crown of Swords (shout out to the WoT fans) for another hour before going to sleep. The next morning I had new comment notifications in my inbox. One of my friends had only gotten to reading my story that morning. The new version.

They loved it.

Aside from a few minor details, they gave me the thumbs up for final polish and submission. So, I did.

I’ve heard many authors and books on writing say that the thing that makes a writer a writer is pushing through the doubt to finish the work. Intellectually, I understood. But situations like this remind me how it feels facing down a mountain and climbing it step by step, word by word.

[If the story gets picked up, I’ll link it here]

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