The first drafts look like this:
- Handwritten: This was, at the time of writing, the best draft. The story felt new and fresh and exciting and the words spilled easily onto the page.
- Copy typing: This was the draft I typed into my computer. While not really an editing draft, it did give me a chance to see the story as a whole. It was while typing it that I realised how awful it was: duller than ditch water; unbelievably unexciting; and just unbelievable. I began to make notes on screen saying things like “drop this” and “this doesn’t work” and “change this.”
- First edit: Armed with notes and a carefully worked-out sequence of events, I began the first edit. I was barely halfway when I realised that it wasn’t working. It didn’t matter what I did to the story, it was always going to be a non-starter.
You have to wonder how this could happen to someone who has been writing for donkey’s years. You’d think I’d know how to write by now. And yet (I keep reminding myself) some of my best writing has come from painful rewrites, agonising edits, and even major style changes. This is not the first time I’ve decided to change the third person to the first – I did it several chapters into a difficult novel and again in a novelette when I realised I couldn’t find the “voice” of the character. In fact, I struggled so hard to find the “voice” that it eventually became part of the story: the character had no voice. He couldn’t (or wouldn’t) speak. It was a brilliant decision that gave the plot the resonance it needed.
What bothers me more than having this current short story fail on me is that it’s the second time this year. Two* short stories have failed in a row. I’ve left the last one to “rest” and intend going back to it after this one is done. But I no longer feel confident that I can fix it up. It’s been through several edits and each time the plot failures become more apparent.
I hadn’t planned to write short stories this year. I had planned to edit That Difficult Novel. I had planned to write the next novel in my new fantasy series. I had been so sure that I would have found an agent by now for the first novel in the fantasy series. I thought I would have made some progress. Instead, I’ve ground to a halt.
This is about as bad as it gets for a writer. Everything you write feels crap. No one gives a flying fuck about your writing anyway. And it turns out you are Sisyphus at the bottom of the hill again.
*Realised later that I've actually had three stories fail on me this year: I forgot the hugely long and complex Exodus Sequence two-part story I was working on. So traumatic was that failure that it slipped out of memory.....