Panning for Gold

This weekend, I’m going to finish up a first draft of a story that I apparently started in January of 2014. I did abandon for a while as I took on other projects, but came back to it a few months ago and kept plugging away. So far this year, I’ve actually finished first drafts of 4 new short stories, and 3 of them took months if not years to finish that initial step in the process (the other was written for a live lit event, so it was a) short and b) had a strict deadline attached, which helps tremendously). While I’m not the fastest writer, this is kind of uncommon for me.

Of course, a first draft of a story that was written over the course of months or years is going to read like a disjointed pastiche of themes and moods and ideas. I’ve intentionally let these first drafts sit for a while because I feel like I’ve been in first draft mode lately. But I’m very much looking forward to the revision process for these new stories. Because while I’m not thrilled with the first drafts I have, I am cautiously optimistic that there are good stories at their core.

One of the few hazards of a writing workshop is that you can get into a mindset where you are writing to appease the people who will critique your work. You start second-guessing things: Is this POV the right choice to convey the narrator’s bleak worldview? Have I clearly articulated what my protagonist wants? Does this secondary character actually serve the function I’ve created for her? But these are not first draft questions. The purpose of a first draft is to get the story on the page. Because until it’s on the page, you sometimes don’t even know the story you’re trying to tell. Revision is where “the craft” (as we writers like to say) comes in.

To me, revision is like prospecting for gold. We sift away at the dirt to find the color. Sometimes we hit a motherlode, other times, we have to content ourselves with flakes. And like a prospector driven to the point of insanity, we have to believe with all our hearts that we’re working a rich claim.

(Man, I need to watch Deadwood again)

So I’ve got 4 stories to mine. Fortunately, this comes at a time where I’ll be teaching a class on the revision process at StoryStudio. It starts on Oct. 6 and runs for 8 weeks on Tuesday evenings. I’m really excited for this class, because I’ll be going through the same struggles with my own work as my students will face. And while I always learn while I teach, I think this class in particular will be eye-opening for me, and hopefully for the writers who join me there.

Then, hopefully, they’ll shine like gold and be ready to be unleashed upon the lit mag world and it’ll be back to refreshing the duotrope recent responses page fifty times a day. It’s the only thing I can think of that’s even worse than slogging through a first draft.

p.s. I’ll be reading one of those aforementioned new stories at Fictlicious this Sunday night at the Hideout. 7pm, $10 cover. The theme this time around is Easy, and my story contains the word “peckerhead.” This is a gem of a live lit show, and features amazing writers and top-notch musical talent. Come check it out.


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