In Which I Am Self-Indulgent and So Should You

Well, sort of. I can fool myself sometimes that this isn’t what I’m doing when I’m reading an unsold story of mine. Re-reading a story is an activity that at least resembles useful work, and I proceed on the theory that I’m doing a light edit. Yeah, that’s the ticket. A light edit. Making improvements. But the fact of the matter is that I’m simply re-reading a story. Specifically, one of mine. A story that hasn’t found a home yet.

I know writers who have great difficulty re-reading their own work. I understand that. After fifteen or so passes to get everything right, it’s natural that the bloom would be just a tad off the rose by then. Yet even time and perspective don’t seem to change their attitude. I’m a little different there, and it seems more than a bit egotistical, but the only time a re-read of one of my own stories causes psychic pain is when I, to be blunt, screwed up. A failed story is painful to read, always. A failed story that you simply do not know how to fix is even worse. Sometimes I eventually sort out what to do, sometimes not, but the process hurts, whatever the outcome.

This one is different. This one works. I know that because it was once a story that didn’t work, and it didn’t work on such a deep and complete level that it required the most complete rewrite I’ve ever done. Too many bad decisions that I didn’t understand were bad decisions to have any chance of salvaging the text. I kept the situation, the characters, and the basic plot outline, but everything else went into the bit bucket and I started over. Along the way the short story turned into a novelette. It took almost a month to redo a story I had believed was done, but yes, dammit, this time I nailed it. I know I nailed it because I’m not second-guessing myself, despite the fact that the story hasn’t found a home yet. The time for all that was during the rewrite. All the questions, doubts, hesitations, all past. A little tweak here and there, because nothing is ever perfect, but that’s minor. The story works. I know it works. I re-read the story and I LIKE it. It does what I hoped it would do. It follows its premise to its logical conclusion, and it hits the right emotional notes along the way. I think I fell a little bit in love with these characters, which is melancholy-making, because I know their story is done, and I won’t be writing about them again. It was, as they say, a privilege to know them.

Arrogant much? Perhaps, but if you don’t think the work you do is worth doing, if what self-doubt you allow yourself to feel isn’t subservient to making your work better, then is there a point? It’s great when someone else likes what you do, and fine to appreciate that when it happens; I love that and who doesn’t? But first and foremost it’s yours and you have to like it. So this is how I check myself; others I’m sure do it differently. I’ll re-read an old story, and see if I still understand why I wrote it, and if I still think that it works. When I do and it does, I know the story deserves a home and will likely find one eventually. Some take longer than others, and that’s all right. Worst case, it’s pleased an audience of one, and that still matters. It matters a lot.

If it doesn’t, something is seriously wrong.

2 thoughts on “In Which I Am Self-Indulgent and So Should You

  1. You are totally on point here. I still haven’t sold “Fishing the Styx” and I can’t understand that at all.

    It’s not arrogance as much as it’s believing in yourself, and, like you say, coming at it from a perspective of professional knowledgeability and authority. I’m pretty merciless with a story that doesn’t work or has a passage or scene that doesn’t fit. I kill that darling and I never look back.

    But, yeah, it’s perplexing when you have a story that all your instincts say is good, and yet you are unable to sell it. Either I am totally off base about my ability to judge my own work or the story itself is an outlier of monstrous proportions re: finding a home.

    Very perplexing this business at times. Oh well, nobody ever told me writing was easy. Or understandable.

    • I remember that story. The reason it’s not selling may just be that the right market for it doesn’t exist yet. That’s happened to me a few times, and it’s frustrating, but there’s not much you can do about it except wait and keep alert to changes in the field.

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