Know when to fold ’em

I’ve always considered myself a tough, even ruthless editor when it comes to evaluating what needs to be removed from my own writing. Even so, it can be really tough when you’ve worked on a story for over a year, written at least fifteen drafts, and already begun sending it around to magazines, only to finally realize you need to scrap big chunks of the thing.

One of my stories, very possibly the story of which I’m most proud overall, has problems. The last three editors who have sent it back have included fairly positive notes, along the lines of “interesting stuff you’re doing here, but it’s not quite completely successful.” Normally a handful of rejections wouldn’t cause me to re-think a story and throw lots of it out, but the editors’ notes just confirmed what I think I already knew.

And when I mentioned to my wife (who is a major cheerleader for my work, even at the same time she’s a helpful critic) that I was considering pulling this story off the market for a major rework to include a new beginning and a completely new ending, she agreed it was a good idea.

Sometimes it’s tempting to avoid such a major overhaul simply because of the work involved. Also, there’s the writer’s attachment to the words they’ve created, a reflexive resistance to cutting away some of those beautiful sentences. Another factor is that I’ve set myself certain goals for how many stories I’d like to complete and send out this year, and taking a story from the “finished” category and moving it back to the “working” category seems like a step back. It is a step back. Nevertheless it’s important to when the story needs a different approach, and to be willing to do that work.

That’s why this week I’ve taken a story I thought was final and cut it into little chunks, shuffled them around and removed some, and made a new outline including synopsis of two entirely new scenes. It will be better when I’m done but right now this feels like difficult work.

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