Right now, I’m doing a final edit of my new story collection and am spotting faults.
They’re not spelling mistakes or character names that change half way through the story, which would be bad, because some of these stories have already been published in magazines and anthologies.
They’re not really mistakes, but little bumps in the road that I’m leading my reader down. The odd clumsy phrase. The odd bit of showing off.
My reader may not mind stepping over the really little bumps. But I do mind bumps. I want a perfectly smooth surface for my reader’s feet. If he or she were to trip once, it would feel like a failure to me.
The oldest of the stories in this new collection were written a couple of years ago, and I’ve barely looked at them since then. It’s amazing how a year or two of rest makes all the bumps in a story rise to the surface.
Why could I not see them before, when now, every one feels like hitting a speedbump at 40mph?
I’m always working at improving my game, so maybe my eyes are keener than they were a couple of years ago, but I don’t think it’s just that.
I think stories are like a joint of meat – they are easiest to cut when they’re cold.
Mostly, I don’t get the luxury of letting a story get really cold. I’m often working to a commission deadline, so there is a definite date at which the story has to be finished. This doesn’t mean that I send it out before it’s ready – my personal rule is that no one but my wife, Naomi, reads anything of mine till it’s so polished I can see my face in it (usually about eight drafts in).
But my experience this week of working on stories that have been hung for a year or two has shown me that to really see a story objectively, and to cut it most cleanly, it has to be long dead.
Right, back to the cutting board.
PS. Of course, the other vital people in my carving process are my agent and editor, both of whom have saved me from making big gaffs in the past. But the Sunday roast analogy doesn’t really stretch to my relationship with them, so I’ll write about that another day.
PPS. I’ve finally got my head round WordPress (I think) and have managed to set up a subscribe button. If you want my new blog posts delivered right to your email inbox the second they’re online, rather than having to spot them amongst facebook updates and tweets, pop your email address in the space on the sidebar. Cheers! A