Winning a writing competition is scary. And if the winning story happens to be the first short story you have ever written (apart from a rather dubious effort in year nine), then it will is much worse. The first thing you think after, oh, gee, wow, I can’t believe it, that’s marvellous, is: now I have to write another story – and keep winning.
The trouble is stories (short or long) don’t start out as winners. They come out as crappy half-baked words all written around the pin prick of an idea. Infact, they are so elusive that when you workshop them for the first time your writing group sit, eyes round, faces slack, until someone finally has the courage to mouth the fatal words: But … I don’t get it?
At this point you seriously consider changing writing groups. I mean, all that subtlety wasted. All those metaphors unappreciated. The times you have said nice things about their rather ordinary efforts … But you don’t got to a workshop for praise. As masochistic as it may sound, you go there to pull the story apart. Layer by layer, like an onion; to analyse what is working, and what is not. To be grilled, questioned and challenged, until you know exactly what the narrative is about.
If you are a clear sighted sort of person, clarity will come early in the process. If you are me, you will fumble about as if in a fog. You will sit up late drawing mind-maps. Jiggle things about and make minor changes. Treat favourite parts as if they were indelible. Foist the narrative on another, more discerning, writing group (yes, it is necesarry to have two). Worry it over and over. Test it out on your long-suffering family until, at last, you give up and shove the whole damned thing in a drawer.
The word drawer in this context, is a metaphor. Not a wooden box slides on runners into a dark space. It means stepping back. Getting on with something else for a while. Letting your subconscious do the work. This is called Drawer Therapy, by the way. It is an essential part of the writing process.
But does this therapy actually work? Or is it merely a soft option? A way of giving up by degrees? Well, I don’t know (not truly, deeply irrevocably). But at Easter, I wrote a short story. I re-drafted it a number of times. I sensed it needed to start differently. But I couldn’t see how to make the changes. After a few months in the drawer, I began to get an inkling. It was time to re-visit the story.
I spent a day faffing about with the start. Then it dawned on me, my character motivations were all wrong. Scrambled infact. They were diluting the story’s final impact. Yes, of course. Why didn’t I see that before? Once, I had the motivations worked out, I started re-arranging the time sequence. I then added a whole new scene. Finally, it was starting to make sense.
So, is the story finished now? Is it stronger? A winning story? When will I send it off? I don’t know the answer to those questions. Writing is a complex, mysterious process. But I certainly didn’t have solutions before I put the story in the drawer. So the therapy must have worked.