Friday, January 4, 2013

The Journey of a Story

This year has an exciting beginning to it for me: my short story, For George, was published and is appearing now at PIF MAGAZINE.  I love Pif, and the good people who make it the beautiful work of art that it is, and I really, really, REALLY wanted this story to get published, so it is deeply satisfying to see it out in the world.

Especially because it took nine years.

For George--originally and generically just called The Basement--and I have been together a while.  So long in fact, that I feel compelled to tell the story of its journey, to celebrate its leap out of the desk drawer.

In 2003, having just finished seminary, I started taking my writing seriously.  For the first time in my life I felt the first stirrings of what I actually wanted to do, rather than carrying around an idea of what I thought I should be doing.  The fact that at the time I didn't know any writers, didn't know a single soul with an MFA, helped me trust that the image forming in my mind of what I wanted to do was actually authentic to me.  So I began writing a novel.  I can now look back and lovingly say that it was terrible.  I had very little idea of how to write a novel, and as much as I still wish I was simply a genius and didn't have to work so hard at it, it suffered from every form of beginner novel-itis.  But it had the most awesome title;

Loneliness: The Musical

I won't give up on that title; I will find a way to make something out of it yet.  A short story, a haiku, or simply a tee-shirt slogan: someday I will find that title a home.  The rest of the manuscript though, is embarrassing.  But that's okay!  I learned a lot, just as I'm still learning.  Anyway, sometime in 2004 I started getting a clue about publishing and realized it would be helpful to have a few short stories in circulation prior to trying to get a novel published.  So I set the wonderfully-titled novel down and started writing four different short stories, so that eventually I'd have something to send out.

I am so glad no one tells you how long something will take while you're blissfully daydreaming about the New Yorker, Tin House and the Paris Review.  I am actually really glad that at the time, I didn't know any writers.  So no one told me how silly I was after they read my first drafts.

I revised my stories, and sent them to my brother for revision as well.  I might have made an ex-boyfriend also give me feedback (which is when I learned that you should always tell the important people in your life with whom you'd like to remain speaking to exactly HOW you'd like the feedback to be, if they don't happen to also be a writer.  Now I'm very forthcoming about it: I want you to tell me what works, what else is great about it, the one or two things that possibly could use some improvement, but how great everything else about it is, and then wrap it up by telling me you think I'm pretty).

It went through a lot of revisions, and then I began sending it out.  I've kept a log of every story I've ever submitted, so I know exactly how many times this puppy was passed over.   Thirty-four times.  That's thirty-four customized cover letters, time spent researching where I should submit, some printed and mailed, others emailed, and thirty-four "Thanks, but no thanks," letters.  Persistence for the win.

Along the way, For George went through several different incarnations as about every year that it wasn't published, I'd pull it back out and revise again, trying to further realize the story.  This most current iteration is something I'm proud of, and it wasn't until this version that I think I realized what I was really trying to say.  Nine years ago I had the words, they just weren't the right ones yet.

Not all my early attempts at short stories were worth fighting for.  I learned something through them, but they were for me only.  Only after several years of writing new ones was I able to accept that not all first attempts merit an advocate, and thank goodness you can't find those anywhere on the internet now because I cringe, CRINGE, thinking about how bad a lot of the writing was.  Is still.  But learning how to sit with something long enough to really become the thing it should become feels a lot like life.  Which is probably why I became a writer in the first place.          

2 comments:

  1. Fantastic, Christin! A well-deserved victory.

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    1. Thank you! And thank you for being a careful reader of one of its final revisions, your feedback helped strengthen the story!

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