Have you ever written something you know is a winner?
I think I am writing at least one, but it is not easy.
On Sunday morning I sat at a Second Cup coffee shop with a writing friend talking and writing. I had a new short story in my bag, and I was struggling with it. I knew some of its content was special. You know what I mean by special? Words that make you laugh or cry. Words that make your heart skip a beat. A story that slaps you upside the head and knocks you into a daze. One of those rare birds.
My story wasn’t there yet, and I was lamenting to myself on how I needed a master reviewer to tell me what was wrong with it. Not how to fix it; just tell me what doesn’t work, and if possible, why. I had uneasy feelings about the story, but I was too close to it. I couldn’t touch it because my fingers were all over it. You know what I mean; you as a writer have been there. Clarity. My kingdom for clarity.
What I needed was a specialist, and I know very few feedback specialists. Or do I? Jim walked into the shop. Jim is a distinguished Toastmaster as is my wife. I know most of the local Toastmasters, but hey, they only speak. They don’t write short stories or novels. But communication is communication, right? Jim knew Neil and I were writing and he sat down next to us; because that is the kind of guy he is. He is interested in what people he knows are doing. I have known Jim for 22 years, and we’ve never failed to at least say hello when our paths cross. Jim is also one of these special people. He is driven. He is actually the President-elect of Toastmasters International, a highly prestigious position in that organization.
I asked Jim to read my story.
“It starts out too slow.”
He didn’t say much more than that. He scattered a few nice comments. It contains good stuff. But it starts too slow and he never gained interest.
Bang! It’s the kind of feedback that kills writing careers. It’s the kind of feedback that can knock you on your ass so hard you never want to get up. This story I felt so good about, even with my nagging doubts, was shit. It was the truth.
I said thank you and let it flow through me and out. I did not let emotions take root. It was a bold chess move I didn’t expect, and I sat back and analyzed deeply before deciding what to do. And changes did need to be made. The more I thought about it, the more I agreed. The more I pondered its slowness, the more ideas for speed crept into my head. I found a glimmer of hope — that my premise was in fact sound — and I clung to it for dear life.
This morning I sat down, opened it, selected the first half of the story, and pressed delete. The action was now at the top. My 1290 words was now back to 600. Then I typed. I wrote. I realized I had opportunity to create imagery revolving around the main topic. I filled in spaces. I fleshed out story. I wrote, and I smiled.
Tonight after at least a half-dozen edits, I am feeling once again like I have a winner. I don’t know if it is there yet. I have passed it on to some other reviewers and have asked them to skin me alive, rake me over the coals, and beat me with large, heavy clubs. I know I have a winner, and I know I cannot do it alone.
Thanks Jim, and Abby, and Elsa, and Max, and Neil, and Megan, and John, and a host of other writers all struggling to make our beginnings, middles, and ends match each other and our own creativity.