As you all know, because I keep telling you over and over and over again, the writers' group I'm in is putting out a publication this spring, featuring work done in the group. I submitted four pieces which apparently got passed around among the editorial team. Last week I got an e-mail back from 'my' editor. She informed me that three of the four pieces submitted were selected, made some very brief comments on each, and asked for background statements on the pieces in terms of what inspired me on each piece, what I was trying to accomplish, what I was unhappy with (if anything), etc.
Now, I'm going to admit that my selection process went kind of like this—"Oh, crap, I've got to turn in pieces. Let's see…Oh, this is finished, so that's in. Hmm. That one's finished, so that's in…." You probably get the idea. The problem with my writers' circle pieces is that, by and large, they are just that—pieces. It is rare that I write a complete story in the 40 minutes or so of writing we have each week; it's also rare that I get turn any of those bits into a full story when I get home. Finding something 'complete' is a treat.
The four pieces had the following 'born on' dates (note, I started with this group at the beginning of March, 2011): March 28, 2011, April 3, 2011, July 8, 2012, and October 20, 2013. Which piece was left out of the mix?
Yep, it was the one from March, 2011. It's a short story called 'Five Miles', which is a title I came up with the day I wrote it (What's more unusual than me coming up with a full story in writers' circle? Me coming up with a title for what I've written; titles don't come easy for me). On this particular day I was so fired up about 'Five Miles' that I spent time doing some rewrites at home and even sent it in to a couple of journals. It goes without saying that it was rejected, and disappeared until I was looking for pieces to submit for this anthology.
The other 'old' piece is something called 'Katydid Nights,' whose life cycle I chronicled here and will not delve into again, except to say that it underwent immediate revision (it was supposed to be part of PARALLEL LIVES), and when I cut it from that book, it sat. 'Katydid Nights' ended up spending two long periods in the drawer. It was also heavily rewritten, and viewed by several sets of eyes. 'Five Miles,' by contrast, was read and critiqued only by me, and it did not get a lot of attention at that. As I read it over now, that lack of attention really shows. Lesson Number 1: give it time. And attention.
Something I find especially interesting, though is that the two newest pieces, 'Combat Crawling' and 'One Minute,' received very favorable commentary from my editor, yet they both received even less work than 'Five Miles.' Both of those stories were completely written in the group, neat little pieces that wrapped up nicely. I took them home and typed them up, correcting only spelling—even if I thought, "Hmm, that sentence would work better like this", I didn't make the change. I kind of like to have 'the original' version to look back on, it's a strange habit of mine. Anyway, both of those works, a minimum of a year-and-a-half newer than the other two, were much stronger out of the chute. In fact, I'd say they might even be better unedited than somewhat polished 'Five Miles.'
New writers often wonder if they're getting any better. "How do I know?" they ask. "How can I tell if I'm really getting better?" Well, this is one way: go back and look at your older work. Hopefully, you'll be in for a pleasant surprise.