Another month has passed in this 14-month journey. I finished typing my short stories last month and now I’m taking the past few months of critiques and revising each story. Here’s how I’m doing it:
After compiling handwritten critiques, and opening every digital critique or email I saved that has feedback on a story, I open each story in a separate Word document. At the top of the story’s Word document I start writing instructions and reminders. Essentially it’s a checklist.
As I move through all the critiques that apply to each story, I look for the feedback that I want to keep. (If you’re active with critique groups you know this is a difficult process. Some suggestions need to be ignored, or shelved, while others are essential to revisions.) I look for common themes among the critiques and then consider the reasoning behind everyone’s suggestions. If I agree it will make the story better without compromising my intentions for the story, I add it to the top of the document. I don’t repeat anything.
I spent the early part of this month moving through that process eleven times. (Three of my 14 stories didn’t make it through critiques. I explained more about my overzealous attempt to run three critique groups every month for three months in an earlier post!)
Now I’m halfway through the collection and have a target date set with an editor. I will revise the last half of the collection before mid-June, which is when I send the editor the entire collection. I’m thrilled to have a deadline!
Some of the best feedback I received was at the Looking Glass Rock Writers’ Conference earlier this month. Novelist Craig Johnson traveled to the event with his wife Judith. She offered to provide line editing on our work. Look at how much better the first page of my story “Ribbon” became based on her edits.
Original opening scene:
When my shift is over, I look at the ribbon. All the precious ribbon. The black serpentine ribbon shifts through the machines until it’s wound neat and still in a cartridge. At times, it even looks like it could jump off a belt track and strangle one of the workers.
When I look at the ribbon, I imagine the typewriters across the city. This ribbon could hold the words to novels, love letters, new law, tomorrow’s debt collection, property deeds, birth certificates. It paralyzes me to consider the lives this ribbon will touch, and how much will be wasted. I get high thinking of these strangers’ lives and what I would do with these characters. If only I could hold one end of the ribbon and trace it back to the typewriter where it ends up. Instead, I spend the day spooling ribbon in my hands and spinning stories, just as fast, in my head. By the end of my shift, both hands shake. Not from the factory stress, but in compulsion to get these stories written. I repeat phrases, character traits, character conversations over and over until I recite them like prayers.
I slip a cartridge or two into my pocket before I leave. Their weight comforts me. It feels like I’m already holding my book. In a way, I imagine it’s how a woman feels when her belly swells. She’s the only one to carry that story.
Now I grow impatient with small talk on the factory floor. My co-workers gather their lunch pails and talk about the weekend, cost of bread, train fare. I hear fragments as if I’m walking down the street hearing pieces of strangers’ conversations. I nod and look out at the factory as the next shift takes over. I keep repeating my prayers, fingering the rosary in my mind.
Revised opening scene:
I look at the ribbon. The precious ribbon. Black serpentine ribbon that shifts through the machines until it’s wound neat and still in its cartridge. Even though, moments before, it looked like it would jump off a belt track.
When I look at the ribbon, I imagine the typewriters across the city. This ribbon could hold the words to novels, love letters, new law, tomorrow’s debt collection, property deeds, birth certificates. It paralyzes me to consider how many lives will touch this ribbon, and how much will be wasted. If only I could hold one end and trace it back to its typewriter.
Spending the day spooling ribbon in my hands, I spin stories. By the end of my shift, both of my hands shake to capture the stories. I repeat phrases, character traits, and character conversations until I recite them like prayers.
I slip a cartridge or two into my pocket before I leave. Their weight comforts me and it feels like I’m already holding my book. I imagine it’s how a woman feels when her belly swells.
My shift is over and I grow impatient with the small talk on the factory floor where the others gather their lunch pails and talk about the weekend, cost of bread, train fare. I look out at the ribbon spools as the next shift takes over, repeating my prayers, fingering the rosary in my mind.
So much better, right?
I forgot to announce earlier this month when the results posted, but the flash fiction version of “Ribbon” placed in the Top 10 in the Winter 2018 WOW! Women on Writing Flash Fiction Contest. I bet I could have placed higher if I had the story critiqued before the contest deadline!