From start to finish

I’ve been writing for almost all of my life. I can’t actually think of a time when I wasn’t writing in some capacity, but throughout those years of putting pen to paper, there’s been a common theme – not finishing. I’ve written pages upon pages of words; usually the beginnings of stories, but I never continued through to the middle, and naturally the end remained a mystery.

I’ve always been excited by the blank page. If I pull up a new word document, or sit down with a blank pad before me, there’s always been something about it that I just love. It’s the feeling of potential – of putting my hands on the keyboard and taking myself on a journey into my own imagination.

But as much as I love the feeling of setting out somewhere new – of exploring my mind, over the years it’s evolved into something of a frustration, a roadblock, or hurdle. For these days, I can smash out that first page without issue, but when I get to the end of it – bam! I come to a complete stop.

One of the things I have learned with time (and an addiction to studying writing craft), is that I simply have to push on. It’s painful, but I need to go further. I’ve seen the quote, “You cannot edit a blank page,” time and time again, and truer words could not be spoken.

And so it was something of a triumph for me when I finally completed my first short story – a story that I am now trying to sell. I’ve submitted the story 3 times now, and received 3 rejections, but I expected this. I also submitted to markets that I feel were higher than my current skill level as a writer, hoping to at least receive some form of feedback on them.

The first 2 submissions resulted in form replies – basically a thanks but no thanks (albeit politely) – though the 3rd and most recent rejection actually came with feedback. This was an amazing feeling, as it was real, tangible feedback about my story which instantly lit a creative lightbulb in my head.

I’d previously given the story to two people to read and in some cases their feedback was invaluable (and then incorporated into my story), but this most recent feedback highlighted another failing (or probably more accurately – overlooked element) of the story which I found immensely illuminating.

Over the months I have been helping to critique other writers work and have learned a lot about it. Likewise, with feedback on my own pieces, I take it on board and try and learn from it.

I have drafted this first short story like there’s no tomorrow. It’s gone through an unbelievable transformation from its initial concept to the final piece. Characters have come and gone, settings have changed, plot elements altered and adjusted until the point it’s almost unrecognisable from its original draft. But having taken this most recent feedback on board and incorporated changes which I believe address it, I had one of those moments, where suddenly another point clicked.

I suddenly found a change in the character that I hadn’t expected – he turned a corner, he changed. I believe then and there the story went from being just a story, to being a character driven story. I am a great believer in good characters being the most memorable elements of stories – you don’t tend to remember plots, you remember characters, and so set out to write something that was in fact character driven. But I believe now, that I wrote something about a character, not an illustration of a character changing – real progression. And finally I feel that I have achieved this.

Whether I sell the piece or not remains to be seen, and it’s entirely possible I’ll look back on it in a few months and will cringe, but I will persevere. It is my goal this year to take my writing further. I have spent considerable time learning the craft, but now I need to put it into practice. I fully expect mountains of rejection, but feel that I am going in with realistic goals. My goal for this year is to sell at the very least some short stories (even 2 would suffice!) and hopefully make some progress towards the novel idea which has been floating around in my mind for some time now.

IF and only if, I manage to sell this story, then I hope to do a series of posts where I really break down what went into writing it, and how what I learned about the craft of writing went into it. I feel like from a craft point of view, that I have made considerable progress. I am actually quite impressed with my knowledge of it these days – and that is largely thanks to the many wonderful online resources (of which I hope to credit as I go along) – but whether I can put these things into practice, whether I can raise the level of my writing to the point it’s sellable, that’s the challenge. If I make that first sale, it’ll at least prove to me that there is potential there, and I would like nothing more than to open that apart and share it.

Writing and drafting this first short story has been an unbelievable and very satisfying, learning process.

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