Wednesday 29 September 2010

The Honeymoon Comes to an End...

Okay, I've pretty much got my feet back on the ground again after my story "Hotel Subterraneana" was printed in the November issue (available now from newsagents and online, here). The euphoria has worn off, mostly, although I do sometimes catch myself wondering what the people who aren't family and friends of mine (i.e. the ones who buy the magazine of their own free will rather than having me thrust it under their noses) think of it.

In the writing class I go to, last night, the tutor talked about editing and proof-reading and how it is, for some reason, virtually impossible to spot all the errors in a piece of your own writing. I guess the story is so familiar to you that your brain fills in any gaps, or skips over parts of it without actually taking full notice of what is physically there.

I employed all the tricks I know to try to make sure my story was as close to flawless as possible when I submitted it. I read it through on-screen, I printed out several copies, changed the font so it looked different to how it looked in Word, I read it out loud, I got other people to read it. I was pretty confident (if a little bored of the story) by the time I sent it in.

As Jonathan Pinnock described in his recent blog post about hearing one of his stories read out on Radio 4, there's nothing like a professional version of your work to make the flaws shine just as brightly as the good bits. Most of my story is fine, but when I read the final printed version, several niggles leap out at me. The first paragraph doesn't end the way I thought it did - the last line seems tacked-on, and I was sure there was a better bridge between the ideas in the last couple of sentences. The sentence, "He will be the library," is missing its "in". And I've got the word "straightened" at the start, which isn't a problem, but it then crops up again, twice in the same sentence later on. Jeez... how the hell did I miss that?

My first reaction was horror and shame, and wondering why the magazine editors hadn't asked me to sort it out, but I think I've reached a healthier point of view since then. I have to bear in mind that I'm still a developing writer, I'm not claiming to be anywhere near perfect. A judge or an editor can still decide a story is worth telling even if it does put an occasional foot wrong. Most importantly of all, readers are possibly more forgiving than your typical obsessive, over-critical writer.

Let's face it, if you waited for a story to be utterly perfect, with not a single word that couldn't be improved, or a comma that couldn't be left out / put in for better effect, you'd never submit anything.


Teresa Stenson said...

Seems you and Jonathan Franzen had a similar week!

Anonymous said...

Hi Dan,
Just wanted to leave a quick message to say that I really enjoyed your short story in the Writers' forum.

Good luck with finishing the novel and look forward to reading some more of your work!

All the best,


Dan Purdue said...

I guess I ought to make the most of that, Teresa - it isn't likely Jonathan Franzen and I are going to be compared on a regular basis, methinks.

Hi, Calum, many thanks for taking the trouble to visit. I'm glad to hear you liked the story - my WF debut turned out to be a more nerve-wracking experience than I was expecting, but it's had a good reception so far so I'm really pleased.

Hopefully there'll be more stories along in the not-too-distant future. Watch this space.

Thanks again,