The Ghost of Awful Writing Past

So, Write to Done is running a flash fiction contest until December 15. The full details are here, and the first prize is $500. Just in time for last minute Christmas shopping.

When the notice popped up in my inbox, I was excited. I missed the first one, which ended on October 15, so I was happy to have another chance.

I had a short story in mind, one I wrote in college for a Creative Writing class. From what I remembered, it was pretty good. I got a lot of positive feedback from my classmates. The teacher didn’t really have much critique for it, either. Back then, I was buoyant. Exhilarated, even. I was so nervous about reading it to the class, and what do you know? They loved it! You couldn’t tell me I wasn’t the next Toni Morrison.

So, I decided I would take these last few days before NaNoWriMo to brush it up. It wouldn’t take much work and it would be a welcome trip down memory lane. I could just relax and bask in the glow of my talent.

I opened it last night, feeling pretty good about myself. This story, though written six years ago, was a reminder that I was cut out for this writing thing. I started reading, expectant.

After the first few lines, I could have sworn I heard a record scratch.

It was bad. Like, pretty awful. I’m talking about overwrought metaphors (which I thought was poetic and lyrical back then), similes that didn’t make a lick of sense and adverbs in almost every sentence.  I felt like I just did the Ice Bucket Challenge during one of these autumn nights.

I was discouraged. People told me it was good when, well, it wasn’t. But as I thought back, I realized that my Creative Writing class was just that–a class. We didn’t know much about what separates lazy writing from tight, yet beautiful prose. Yeah, the teacher didn’t have much critique for it, but come to think of it, she didn’t say much good about it either. I think she was trying to spare my feelings. I went to bed feeling bummed. And very humbled.

But a good night’s sleep (well, as good as it gets with a teething baby) brings clarity. I realized that being able to identify the faults in this short story means that I’ve grown as a writer. I looked at it again and saw some good among the bad. The bones, the premise and the progression of the story, were alright. But the execution itself was…painful. There’s no getting around it.

I’m still going to work on it and get it ready for the contest. I’ve cut it down from about 1300 words down to 800. Over the next few days, I’m going to get it down to the 500 word limit. Then those two weeks between the end of NaNoWriMo and the contest deadline, I’m work on it some more. I gotta make sure it’s glowing before I submit it.

So the moral of this story is this: growing as a writer hurts. It’s embarrassing to look at a previous piece of work, work that you thought was sublime, and realize that it’s very amateurish at best. But the real challenge comes in not getting discouraged, moving past that harsh truth and keep working to improve.

Ok, loves, I have mucho editing to take care of. Talk to you soon 🙂

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