Tuesday, September 14, 2010

I Have To Dig Myself Out Of This Self Doubt

So, I know I'm supposed to be gearing up to begin writing my practice novel, right? And I know I just mentioned back in this entry that I was going to take a quick break in order to switch gears and write another short story, right?

Well, here's the reason why:

Although it hasn't been officially announced yet, KGB Fantastic Fiction is once again organizing a raffle to raise funds for keeping the reading series running for another two years. If you may recall, I participated in the raffle back in July, 2008 and won two cool prizes -- one was an autographed copy of Tobias Buckell's debut steampunk-ish novel, "Crystal Rain"; the other, a "Tuckerization" by Lucius Shepard in his novella "Halloween Town." Sweet!

So this year, as with previous KGB:FF raffles, many items and/or services are being offered up for grab once again. I didn't take advantage of it two years ago, but among the many winnings is a chance to have your short story or novel chapter critiqued and/or edited by a professional in the SF field. Several editors and writers offered up this service last time around, and I have it on good authority that this will happen again next month when the raffle opens.

This means, of course, that it is now my sole mission in life to get a story of mine read by one of these esteemed people! Problem is, which one of my many recent WiPs do I submit, right? I thought this most recent story might be the ideal candidate. I had such a nifty, cool idea behind it and I was sure the story would turn out fine. But, alas, it did not. I was able to keep it under control until that hated 3rd act . . . then the prose ran away from me and it ended up being bloated and unrecognizable from the original concept I had envisioned.

Oh well, no biggie. I put that one in a dark corner for a future rewriting. I have some solid ideas on how to salvage the plot and make it a much better piece -- but it's best that I leave it alone for now and put some distance between us in the meantime.

Yeah, back to square one. And here's where the title of this blog piece comes into play.

See, I've written quite a few stories within the last year. And I'm at the point in my SF writing evolution that one year marks a pretty significant difference in the quality of stories I'm writing, even if not many of them are publishable still. So this means I'm only seriously considering submitting something written between August '09 and now, since this is my freshest work and more evident of the type of writer I am at this stage. Problem is, with the exception of the just recently published "Minutemen" short in July's Afterburn SF issue, none of my other stories from the past year are any damn good!

At least, this is what I kept telling myself. Honestly, I wrote them with the best intentions and with the coolest of ideas. But, just as with this latest attempt, I came away feeling like something had been lost in the process of writing them down. I shopped three of them around most arduously, but to no results. Ultimately, I gave up and shelved the lot of 'em.

But now, faced with this upcoming raffle, I thought I might give them another look through. You know, like pulling off scabs from new wounds, I wanted to see just how bad the damage had been done. Last night I picked out one story--a dark thriller set in Papua New Guinea--and intended to only read the first few lines before most likely closing the Word doc in anguish and frustration.

Funny thing, though: I ended up being thoroughly engrossed in the tale. I mean, before I knew it, I was 4,000 words deep in the story as if I had never read it before. It was surreal! I read it without blinking. Sure, it still has issues--something a professional can very easily spot, no doubt--but ultimately it's not a bad little story at all. Whodadunk? I guess I just needed that aforementioned distance to properly survey the fruit of my restless endeavors. Yeah, something like that.

So, even though it was late at night and I seriously needed to hit the sack for an important conference call I had in the morning, I opened up another one of my most recent stories. This one was written 4 months ago, in fact. Now *this* one, I assured myself, had been utter crap. It had the most promise out of all the story premises I had come up with in the last year, yet disappointed me the most when the finished product was before me. However, just like the previous story, this one surprised me. It surprised me GOOD! Holy hells, I actually LIKED what I did here. I read through the entire 7,400 words anticipating the other shoe to drop and the entire story to go to shit. But, nope! It went smooth as butter. At least, to my eyes. Again, I'm sure a pro can and will rip it to shreds. But I think I might have something here. It's never been submitted, this one story. So maybe it's the ideal candidate, assuming I win one of these raffles.

I have around 3 other ideal candidates, too. But only one can be submitted. I desperately need to figure out which one to send in. I would normally ask my friends to help me out deciding, but it's so hard finding anyone in my circle who can devote the time or interest toward reading through a bunch of my stories and telling me point blank which one doesn't suck as hard as all the rest in the pile.

Anyone care to volunteer? All you would need to do is read 3 or 4 short stories in the 6,000 to 8,000 range and offer up just a knee-jerk reaction to each. That's all. Pick out the one that has the most promise but is not quite there yet.

Is that so hard to do?

Anyway, no biggie. I'm only half serious here. I'm sure I'll eventually come to a decision on my own. Gotta trust my own gut instincts and all. Also, as I've learned last night, I have to seriously stop doubting my work. I need to learn to set it aside and allow it to ferment in a dark corner of my drawer for a few weeks or months, even. Wait until I can read it over again with fresh, unbiased eyes.

Seems easy in retrospect, no? Let's see how applicable this theory is in practice.

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