Finally I’ve reached near the finish line of my short story! 51 days, 5 drafts and who knows how many backspaces later, I’m on the final draft.
Since this blog is a place for all the thoughts I’m having as I start this writing thing, I thought now would be a good time to pause and reflect on it. This is the longest piece of writing/editing that I’ve done, and man, it’s hard to stick to word counts. Even the idea from concept to now has changed completely.
Writing this piece was hard. 5000 words seemed like very little, until I sat down to write. I found myself starting with one idea, getting stuck, then changing the idea slightly so I could move forward. Needless to say, I had very little direction when writing beyond a vague idea of plot. I used the 5 elements of plot to plan the story, but I think I had too many sub-plots that may have been better off in a novel. I had too many ideas for the number of words.
Even so, I ended up at 4815 words, which I thought was pretty decently close to the maximum. This whole process took about 3 weeks continuous writing.
Draft 1: Just tidying it up. Since I changed the premise half-way through, I cancelled the whole premise and rewrote it to remove the original inciting incident.
Draft 2: I sent it out so that I could ask my family to read it and give me thoughts. They didn’t really like it. Feedback included – choppy, abrupt, doesn’t make sense… It was really harsh to hear when I thought it was pretty decent. The second edit included adding some details and characterization, plus an additional sub-plot to make the main character’s actions more justified.
Draft 3: I sent it out again, and the feedback came back slightly better. Still choppy, and the added characterization helped, but didn’t translate the way I meant it to. Back to the drawing board. This one I was able to be more ruthless. I cut out one of the original sub-plots, added more detail on the new sub-plot, and change an entire secondary character from grumpy but talks a lot to kind-hearted but doesn’t talk much.
By this point I was sure I was a failure and I hated everything to do with the story. Still, I persevered.
Draft 4: The comments came back positive-ish. The new additions helped, but my this point I was about 400 words over the limit. Feedback was still saying that some of the plot felt shoehorned in, and the characters were doing things that didn’t make sense. Cue massive failure feelings. I took about 5 days off to do other things, like work on my novel and not think about this, and came back feeling refreshed. I could read through the story with clearer eyes and it helped me with the last edits. I decided to remove the last two original subplots, so now the only one that remained was the new one from draft 2. The plot also underwent some rewrites, and I changed the ending completely.
Draft 5: The final draft! Draft 4 was approved by the family, saying that there were still minor errors, but overall the flow was improved. My mum said that the new ending was much better, and I could finally breathe easy when it came to edits. This last edit was mostly tidying up again and making sure everything made sense.
What I would do differently next time:
For one thing, I would not let my family read it right after I finished an edit, but give it a few days before I hand it over. I made sure to take 2 days in between the original edits, but hearing feedback right after I was done made it hard to hear. Next time, I’ll wait the two days and pass it to them when I’m ready to edit again.
Next would be to keep the plot simple. For a short story, there’s no room for convoluted sub-plots and a thousand side characters that show up once and never again. I think I was too focused on making the background rich in detail that I forgot the main story was the one that needed the detail. I kept alluding to things, but never letting them get discovered (eg, the secondary characters wife died, but only in the 3rd draft that appeared in text).
Finally, I would be more realistic about cutting things. The final draft is barely the same as the first draft, because I had to “kill my darlings”. I loved this subplot where the main character got a job offer from some secondary characters, but it just didn’t work. It didn’t fit in the story and it felt shoehorned in, even to me. But I didn’t want to let it go. So it took until the last edit that I cut it, and once it was gone, the story made more sense and I was able to give the elements that needed attention stand out.
Writing is hard! Surprisingly so. I’m still feeling very nervous about submitting it to the competition, but I think it’ll be a good experience. I won’t be getting feedback from the judges, but I think it’s an exercise in letting go of the perfectionist in me. Who knows, I may get lucky. If not that will at least give me an indication that my story wasn’t good enough/ready for the competition.
At least that’s what I tell myself.