One piece of writing advice you will hear repeatedly—and with good reason—is to put aside your rough draft for a while before starting edits. This is so you can gain perspective on your work. Usually the problem is that after you write something you think it’s fantastic, maybe the best thing you’ve ever written. But sometimes it’s the opposite—sometimes you think it’s the worst.
I felt that way about my story “We Never Get to Talk Anymore.” I wrote the rough draft nearly three years ago, shelved it for a few months, and then reread it. This is terrible, I thought. No one’s going to like Myrna. No one’s going to understand her. Yet another, smaller voice was cheering for her, saying, No, this is good. Keep working on this.
Unfortunately, some stories are that way: no matter how much time you take away from them you cannot gain perspective. Back then I was still shy about asking friends to look over my work, so I struggled on my own trying to decide whether this story had any merit. After submitting it and receiving a swift rejection I felt strangely validated–I knew this was terrible!
I tweaked the story a bit, set it aside for several weeks, tweaked it some more, resubmitted it, received another rejection, and went through the whole cycle again. At no point did I feel truly confident in this particular piece. The fourth time, however, I submitted it to a magazine called YARN, and they would not only publish “We Never Get to Talk Anymore” but nominate it for a Pushcart Prize.
This story that I once thought was the worst thing I’d ever written.
Remember those competing voices in my head? What if I’d listened to the louder one? The quieter voice—the one that believed in Myrna’s story—was right. But often you won’t listen to that voice. Sometimes you won’t even hear it.
What I want to tell you is don’t be shy about sharing your work. Pick two or three writers you admire, and make them your critique partners. Listen to other voices, because when it comes to judging your work, yours can’t always be trusted.
Yes, once in a while a story will come along that perhaps wasn’t meant to be written. Or, more likely, it is simply not the right time for that story to be written. Maybe it really is a mess, completely unsalvageable. Maybe you’re right that it deserves to be permanently shelved.
But maybe you’re wrong.