I used to believe that with a bit of talent and hard work, I could produce a flawless story in one draft. It didn’t take me long to learn that a perfect story on the first draft doesn’t exist, and in fact, was downright impossible to achieve – so I started editing while I wrote, thinking I could outwit my own fanatical desire for perfection, and during that time, I unwittingly acquired a new writing partner – she has several names but is most commonly known as “your inner editor”. She is a drifter who has worked for countless writers. We started working together, but I soon tired of the relationship. Editing while I wrote slowed the momentum of my story and it eventually burned out. My “inner editor” kerbed the flow of words that might have created a masterpiece (or at least a finished project) had they been allowed to fill the page without restraint.
I realized I had a bad working relationship with my “inner editor.” It was time to break the partnership or I’d run the risk of never finishing a story. Firing my inner editor was not easy. She wouldn’t leave without a fight. I had to learn to write without judgement, continually moving forward, resisting the urge to go back and re-read the last paragraph. It’s free-writing in all its glory – just sit and write and don’t look back until it’s finished. Let the words flow from your brain through your fingertips onto the page free from censure. It took weeks for me to stop listening to my inner editor and part of me will never truly be free. She’s still there, lingering in the shadows, taunting me from the sidelines, but I manage to ignore her unreasonable demands most of the time. Her opinions have become less important as the work prevails.
A year after I freed myself from my inner editor, I published my first story…and then my second…
You’ve just put the final touches on your first draft; you’ve made a list of potential markets for submission; you’re almost ready to dive into the never-ending days of edits and rewrites, but before you take that plunge, your first reader needs to review your work.
The first reader is the first person to read your work in its most crude and vulnerable phase. They haven’t been involved in the world of your story for weeks, or even months, so they can read it without bias, find the incongruities and offer valuable input. The first time I give my piece to my first reader, I am looking for him to tell me about any gaping holes in my story. Does the story flow? Does it make sense? Does it draw the reader in? What does he like? What doesn’t he like? Have I changed tense partway through? Is my protagonist consistent? Is he or she likeable? Should she be a he, or he a she?
I am lucky to have my partner in life as my first reader. I trust him to be candid, to point out the imperfections, to question my character’s motives, actions and behaviour; by answering his queries, I learn what changes need to be made. He reads my work without preconceptions, experiencing my words through a fresh perspective. My first reader will uncover the major flaws of my story I can’t see because I’m too close to the work. I take note of his questions, suggestions and insights, before I start editing and rewrites; after each revision, I give it back to him for another first read.
I believe it’s important for all writers to have a first reader. It helps build our skill and prepares us to accept criticism with grace and style. Who is your first reader?
We write for all sorts of reasons – for the joy of creation, communication, work, reflection, need, desire and healing. I always knew I wanted to write; I dabbled with it over the years writing the occasional story or stringing together bits of poetry, but I didn’t give it the attention it deserved until I was diagnosed with Rheumatoid Arthritis. I began blogging to help me deal with my diagnosis. (The Old Lady in my Bones). Writing about my disease not only helped me cope with the challenge of living with arthritis, it ignited my imagination. The task of creating a new story each week strengthened my storytelling skills, and gave me the courage to share my stories with the world. It helped me connect with others on a personal and professional level; it motivated me and I re-discovered the thrill of composing stories and creating characters. I revisited all my old notebooks, found my beginnings and gave them endings. I completed stories that spent years waiting for a conclusion, and it took the arrival of an unexpected diagnosis to push me into following my dream.
We all have something unexpected that fuels a hidden fire in our hearts and provides the stimulus to follow our passions – what will it take to follow yours?
A few months ago, I stumbled across a competition for a one hundred word story. Excluding the title, the story itself had to be exactly one hundred words. Wow, I thought, what a fabulous writing challenge – a story in one hundred words. I accepted the challenge.
I wrote my one hundred word story – not only did I write it, I fell in love with it. I had never written such a condensed story. When I finished my one hundred word baby, I went back to review the entry details, only to learn that this contest was limited to residents of a certain country – and I was not a resident. I was disheartened. I was so proud of my effort and of the final result of my mini story. My disappointment did not last long; in the process I discovered a clever new writing exercise, and I created the opening for a new story I could extend into a longer piece. It was an enjoyable challenge to create character, setting and action in one hundred words. One hundred words taught me how to open the gateway to a creative flood.
The story below is not the original one, but I had fun creating another example of what I now use as a writing prompt.
The wheels struck the tarmac, rolling over the course surface, jolting eager passengers buckled into their cushioned seats. The ground whipped by in a blurry haze, then came became clear as heads atop camouflaged clothing bubbled over in anticipation. It was all they could do to stop themselves from pushing through the closed door, race down the ramp to the growing cluster of wives, husbands and children holding up their signs. One man and one woman lock eyes, melting into one another, arms clasped, journey over, they leave the recent past behind and walk into a fresh and unknown future.