The Loneliness of the Long Distance Runner
Sometimes, when I sit down and stare at a white blank page, my heart races. I fear the mistakes I’m about to make, at the same time I’m in awe of the creation about to spring forth the tip of my pen. I’ve done it before. I’ll do it again. I am not a fast writer, but I am a sprinter.
Sprinting is this — pen to paper, writing around 500 words/day until a story is done. What you’re holding at the end is a complete story, but is it finished?
I’ve heard conflicting schools of thought from various writers. Some revise as they write and submit when they hit the end. Others write a draft, revise, repeating as necessary, and submit. Everyone’s process is different, and probably varies by story. It does for me, at least.
Right now, my process is a little like this:
- Write draft 0 longhand, offline, ignoring typos and grammatical errors. Use TK for placeholders.
- Type up draft 1.0, correcting for most typos and minor grammatical issues. Most placeholders stay, but this also serves as my first read-through. Make detailed editorial notes in Scrivener.
- Revise draft 1.1, fixing all typos, grammatical errors and replacing placeholders. Address editorial notes.
At this point, if I’m trying to submit to an anthology with a looming submission deadline, I’ve read the story a few times and have a gut feeling as to whether it’s working the way I intended or not. Otherwise, the story is grounded, along with all of the other bad little drafts who live in my basement.
One thing Clarion taught me was to write less shitty first drafts, so in many cases draft 1.1 of stories I’ve written since aren’t embarrassingly bad. I can do better, though.
Sprinting is easy, because at the end of that race I can wave my arms around and say, “Look at me, I finished a story!” The truth, though, is it’s not finished. The real finish line is looming ahead and I’ve just stopped short because that’s a longer, lonely road that seems so futile at times.
The rewards are worth the effort.
I’ve got a story coming out on Thursday, at Goldfish Grimm’s Spicy Fiction Sushi. With “Control”, I was a long distance runner. I wrote the first draft during Clarion 2010. It was revised several times, including after a rewrite request, where I added 1,000 words. It saw three title changes. It took a while for this little story to find the right home, but it did and I knew it would. I didn’t just write that story; I finished it.
I have ADHD-like tendencies. When I’ve finished a draft, I tend to move on to the next shiny idea. That’s why I have so many 1.0 and 1.1’s lounging around, begging to see sunlight. I’ve proven, to myself at least, that I can sprint. Now it’s time to stay the course see these other stories finished.