Friday, February 06, 2009

Everything they say is true

Isn't it the case: everyone says something, and you think, Well, maybe that's true but it doesn't apply to me. And then you find out that it does. What am I waffling about? Revising short stories. Everyone says: let it lie, put it away, and then you'll be able to look at it more critically. And I said, No, let me bash away at this for months and months, rewriting, trying different points of views, different tenses, and just NOT GETTING IT RIGHT.

So, today, when thinking about whether I had anything unpublished to send in for a competition, I went to the Very Old Stories I Have Almost Given Up On file on the computer, and opened the document. I loved the premise of this story. But I didn't know how to tell it. Something always felt wrong. I thought to myself, look, send this in, under a psuedonym, since you don't really like it. That felt very sneaky, deceitful, not deceiving anyone else, deceiving myself. Why send in a story you don't really like to a competition? If it wins, how will I feel? But, whatever the case, it was too long, 2500 words had to be cut to 2000.

I started cutting. And as I started cutting, I saw just how much needed to go. I cut and cut for several hours, and it started to feel as though this had been a sculpture hidden under ten extra layers of cladding and I was hacking away to find the shape underneath. It started feeling really good.

In the end, I cut it from 2500 to 1300 - and everything that was stripped away was totally unecessary, it was me explaining what was already there, adding details where none were needed. And what emerged, I hope, is the essence.

I read it to J and he asked me how long it is. And when I told him he said, Oh, it feels like a long story. And in some ways, it is now a bigger story, despite having been severely pruned. Thinking about it, there is now room for the reader to read much more into it than before, when I was hitting the reader over the head with what I thought it all meant. Now, the story happens, and what it means, more or less, is not spelled out, is left there. And because of that, it feels much more intense, like the distillation of the story. As I read it, I felt it, my heart pounding. Where before I had cringed at certain sections, I felt stirred instead. Finally, this is the story I've been trying to tell.

But this revision would not have been possible in the weeks or months after I first wrote the story. I was far too attached to every word, every image, every hit-you-over-the-head unsubtle paragraph. But now, almost 4 years later, I am much farther removed. It's still my child, but now I can see it needs a better haircut, simpler clothing.

Ok, over-analogy-alert. I will stop now. But I feel refreshed, reinvigorated, to be reminded that the old truths are true for a reason: Let it lie. Give it time. Nothing can replace that.


Nik's Blog said...

What a fantastic thing to hear! Sounds like you had fun too!

TOM J VOWLER said...

Trouble is, I'm scared to even look in my Old Stories I Should Probably Give Up On folder.

annie clarkson said...

How wonderful, sounds like you really enjoyed snip snipping away at this story. I might do this with a few of mine that have been sitting hidden away in a folder for ages. Such a good idea

Gay Degani said...

Amen, Tania, AMEN!!!

Pippa Goldschmidt said...

oh yes, I've had similar experiences. It can take years to write a short story. I've got one that I started five years ago and it's not right yet. It's lurking in a sort of subconscious folder...

Tania Hershman said...

Nik - it felt like the most amazing detox, a cleansing experience!

Tom - maybe you should rename it the Old Stories I am Terrified to Look At Folder. Go with the fear, feel the fear.

Annie, I guess it happens when the time is right, eh? This really was unplanned. Good luck.

Gay, amen to you too!

Pippa, I guess I just don't like thinking that it can take years. It is short, dammit, why can't it just come out? But it's true, and I just need to accept that instant gratification isn't all it is cracked up to be. I wish you luck in dealing with your own subconscious folder, when you're ready.

Sheila Cornelius said...

Fascinating and inspiring post, Tania. This reminded me of reading that 'Brokeback Mountain' went through 60 drafts.