The Anatomy of Writing

The latest submission call I’ve responded to is a little different. It consists of stages. Round one of three: sub the final edit of your story’s first two hundred words. If it’s approved, you’re through to round two. Round two: sub the final edit of the first fifteen hundred words. So, I cheated. Well, not really: it’s just that the story is already written. Yet it still took me eleven hours of mouth chewing and beard stroking to get those two hundred damn words worthy. I don’t know if this is a comparatively short or long amount of time to dedicate to editing so few words, but it felt like it exceeded many rational limits. It also inspired this post.

Honestly? I wasn’t enamoured with this unusual way of submitting. All of my opening two hundred words have changed, many dramatically, by the final edit. Maybe the start sometimes reveals itself a thousand words in, or the first few lines are utter tiddlydoodle and only penned to get my brain shifting up a gear. Round one’s deadline is fast approaching, and having a day job, there is no way I could get a story written in two to three weeks. The theme grabbed me though, and maybe I did have an unpublished story, The Red Spot Murders, that would fit it well. This could be done after all, I thought

Tip – If you think your latest piece is the dog’s bollocks, don’t send it off to a publisher. Put it aside for a month, then reread.

Two years ago, I finished TRSM, leant back in my chair and thought, that’s damn good! And it was … back then. Not so now. If writers write and they read good writing they should improve with time and see errors in their work. And I saw a shedload.

Tip – Ask yourself, what am I trying to say?

Over the years I’ve realised that it’s very easy to slip into lazy-editing mode without noticing. You think the story works and you go through it restructuring sentences and proofing, and that’s it. Recently, I’ve been taking a step back, reading the story as a reader, and once finished, asking the above question. I’ve only done this after the first draft (at least) has been completed and each time I’ve managed to get an angle, helping hugely with the overall effect.

Committing to this submission call – whether I am to be included in the proposed anthology or not – was the correct decision. It has helped me sharpen the plot of a story of which I am quite fond, and it has pushed me, something which artists should be looking to do constantly.

One last piece of advice – Trust yourself.

 If you have spent ten hours editing two hundred words and it still isn’t quite right, don’t stop, thinking that it will do. It will not do. Keep going until you smile.

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