hi! i'm: an old dog

It took me many years to realize that my writing talent wasn't going to miraculously produce a writing career, if baked at the right temperature in the oven of time.

So I started writing, for real.

I quickly realized that the work I was producing was in most cases good, but not quite good enough.

So I started editing, for real.

I published a short book of stories, and some stories and poems in magazines. I did a lot of readings and even a few signings. I got reviewed, favorably.

But I'm still learning the second lesson. Still learning it, like TODAY I'm still learning it.

I edit my work, usually between 3 and 5 drafts before I send it out. But at times I feel the piece could be better, could be stronger.

I send it out anyway.

Why? The answers aren't pretty.

This week I tore through The First Five Pages, a book about staying out of the rejection pile. It's unusual for me to read a writer's guide of any kind, but it was recommended by a friend, and I was curious. Much of it was dismayingly basic (don't send a soiled manuscript) but other parts hit home: the book goes into tone, into characterization, into focus.

With every section, I thought of my work. Mainly, I thought of the novel I'm writing, and I felt good. Then I thought of some of the stories I have sent out, and I felt...something further away from good.

Here's the biscuit: even with thorough editing, it is difficult to see the weaknesses in my own work, and this book's examples of how writing can be made stronger have resonated with my own sense of what's not working in some stories. It made me want to rush home and edit those stories, or at least review them with the book's points in mind.

I've had successes in this game, and many rejections, and I'm still learning. I don't quite qualify as an OD, so I should have no trouble learning NTs.


mary said...

Yup. I think the book is basic, too...but sometimes...that's what we need. I re-worked some of my stuff based on the book, and it helped. A lot. Try it--you might be able to tweak just one little thing in a story and suddenly...magic.

kf gallagher said...

I guess part of my reluctance is to become one of those writers for whom nothing is ever done. A (now) famous writer once told me that finishing anything is the biggest hurdle for a writer, and maybe I took that TOO much to heart. I have a 6th grade student who has a habit of tossing down his pencil with a triumphant "Done!" after each sentence he writes. I suppose I'm a bit like him, and should be more patient with the process.

caveblogem said...


I'm glad you posted a comment on my blog yesterday, since it reminded me that I was going to let you know about something.

A literary journal in my town, Lowell, MA, the birthplace of Jack Karouac, is putting out a special issue this summer to commemorate the fact that the scroll on which he wrote On the Road will be on display here. They are looking for reflections on Karouac and his writings, by May. More information is here in this link: http://www.renovationonline.com/submissions/kerouac.php

You should send 'em something.

caveblogem said...

I'm sending a story out today that is not quite right yet, even after six drafts. I can't stand looking at it any more, but it is a lot better than, say, draft three or four.

I'm also ordering this book. Thanks for the advice.

kf gallagher said...

Thanks Caveblogem for thinking of me. My reflections on Kerouac have improved exponentially since leaving the House Of Jack, since when there I needed to rebel against the idea of him...much LIKE he did against the canon of his day. Hmm. The scroll came through SF, too--tres cool.