Heard the one about leaving something new aside, so you can come back to it with fresh eyes? Sounds sensible. Do I do it? Of course not. But I've learned my lesson.
A little background: the shock of Salt offering to publish my story collection was so great that for two years I hadn't written anything longer than 500 words. I wrote 100 flash stories, which isn't terrible since quite a few were published. But the book came out a year ago and, after being focussed on selling, selling, selling, I missed working on something longer. I write flash stories in one sitting, the process is as “flash” as the product.
Finally, I wrote a 1000-word story. I was excited to have something “long” (yes, you may snicker). I was so in love with the voice and the language, I thought it was great. I gave it to my writing group for critique, they spotted places where more information was needed but didn't give any “big picture” comments. So I thought, wow, that was quick: a finished story, and swiftly dispatched it to several competitions.
Then I wrote another “long” story, a whopping 1400 words, and it felt different. It upset me to write it, and the group were extremely enthusiastic. I knew this one expressed something that had been inside me for a long time. The voice in my head said, “That other one needs work.” I ignored it. I'd sent it out, hadn't I? It was done.
Well, the first story got nowhere in two competitions. The voice said, “Told you. It's missing something.” But I didn't know what. Suddenly I saw that I'd tied the ending in neatly with the beginning, but, actually, there was no middle. And I began to realise that I had set it up to be a certain kind of story and just hadn't delivered. This is something I learned from Robert McKee's excellent guide to screenplay writing, Story. He says: Take Jaws. The setup promises that the shark and the policeman will meet. If they didn't the viewer would feel cheated. He says: Know what kind of story you are telling. If you set something up as a comedy and then it becomes a bloody crime thriller, the viewer will feel disappointed.
I'd set up my story, without knowing it, as a ghost story. But then I hadn't followed through. I'd missed the part with the ghost! I couldn't see this when I wrote it. I thought it was about families. I could only coo over it, rather than stand back and say, Hang on, wait...?
So, I deleted 500 words. I killed my baby. Then I breathed a sigh of relief because I could see clearly that half way through is where I'd let go, where I'd cheated. This week, I started writing again from the half-way point, and it went in an entirely different direction. It's now 1200 words, and not finished. Who knows where it will end up?
I'm embarassed I sent it out, not to mention annoyed about the competition fees. It won't get anywhere. It shouldn't get anywhere. It's not my writing group's fault. It's my fault for being too hasty. Time, ladies and gentlemen. Nothing beats it. Leave it in that proverbial drawer, if only for a few weeks or months, and you – and your bank account - will be very glad you did.
Tania Hershman (www.taniahershman.com) is a former science journalist now living in Bristol after spending 15 years in Jerusalem, Israel. Commended by the judges of the 2009 Orange Award for New Writers, her short story collection, The White Road and Other Stories (www.thewhiteroadandotherstories.com), is published by Salt. Her short stories have been published in print and online and broadcast on BBC Radio 4. Tania is Grand Prize winner of the Binnacle's 2009 Ultra Short Competition and European regional winner of the 2008 Commonwealth Broadcasting Association's short story competition. She is the founder and editor of The Short Review, (www.theshortreview.com), a site dedicated to reviewing short story collections. Tania blogs at TaniaWrites (www.titaniawrites.blogspot.com).
Salt Publishing would like to offer Strictly Writing readers a special 30% discount off Tania's book. If interested, go to this page: http://www.saltpublishing.com/books/smf/9781844714759.htm. Then just enter in the discount code GM18py7n.