Saturday, September 18, 2010

Literary fermentation

For some while I've been writing stories, given them the spelling, grammar, and plot structure once-over, and then hurling them at editors like sloppily-crafted plasma bolts. This has been great practice: I've got a whole wack of stories on the marketplace at the moment, I am inured against rejection, and it left a lot of time for me to focus on writing, rather than re-writing.

However, Stephen King's musings in "On Writing" got me thinking about establishing a fermentation process. King specifically addresses this to the process of book-writing, and suggests a six-week period to let your mind forget the story so that when you return to it, you'll have a fresh mind able to make new insights.

I fully intend to apply this process to my novel-in-progress, but it's also got me thinking about short stories. Although I've adopted a "never look back" attitude to the stories I've written, sometimes I have to open those files--usually to make some kind of format change for a new submission. And I usually see something that makes me think: "Oooh... bad move, past-Ben."

Hopefully, the new folder in my writing directory--FERMENTATION--will prove fruitful (and won't explode in my face like a homemade still). Although it will slow down my turnover, I think that if I rein myself in to a six-week-later once-over, rather than a six-week-later do-over, the result should be better product all around.

-bn

6 comments:

  1. Alternate interpretation: submit it out, and if it hasn't been accepted in six weeks of resubmission, edit.

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  2. The caveat there is that six weeks is both long enough to be rejected by several major magazines, or short enough to not receive a response from even one. I've put twenty stories and one novel(la) through the churn-machine, so on my next story cycle I'm going to attempt the literary bathtub liquor exercise.

    -bn

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  3. Yeah, I usually wait a while before sending out a story, because I always end up changing a bunch of things to make it lots better (well, not better enough apparently, but still better).

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  4. My first story I wrote with the intention of becoming a Serious, Published Writer was written in October '09 directly after finishing both King's On Writing and his Just After Sunset collection. It hasn't sold, and yet I hold onto a sense of faith/hope/ignorance? in regard to its merit. Maybe I'm just sentimental, but it occured to me a couple days ago that it's probably a salvageable work. All it needs is a little bit more closure and a lot of tightening--it's ridiculously overlong.

    In short, I think you've got the right idea. As long as you continue to write new material alongside the old.

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  5. I've pretty much done a variation of King's fermentation period (an ex-colleague of mine called it "marinating") since I finished college--long before I read On Writing. I thought it was kind of neat to see that King does the same thing. Once I finish a story I set it aside for a month (or longer, depending on how busy I am once the month is up) and then reread it. I'll write it on my calendar so I have a visual reminder of when to go back. When I go back to it, it's very much like I'm reading somebody else's work, and I usually find a LOT of little (or big) problems to clear up. Once I'm done with that rewrite, I'll send it to Critters (or give it to people who owe me favors) and see what the rest of the world thinks. Then after the next rewrite (if necessary--and so far it's always been necessary) I'll either send it out for more opinions if I'm unsure of it, or send it out to markets if I'm confident in it. I don't want to send it to Critters first because I don't see any point in having 20 people tell me the things I can see for myself after taking a breather, and I don't want to send it to markets that are likely to reject it if I know I'll have a much better shot at publication after rewriting. I generally send to SFWA qualified markets first, and I'd rather not lose a shot at them by sending a first draft that I know is sloppy. True, my turnaround is slow, but it's a process I'm comfortable with.

    (I am considering a slight increase in pace when it comes to getting critiques from Critters though. I think the next time I complete a first draft of a story that I want to send to Critters, I'll still let it marinate for a month, but at the two-week mark I'll submit it to the Critters queue. That'll give me two weeks after my month cool-down is up to rewrite it and resubmit it as an updated draft, and then I won't have to wait as long to get critiques from others. Yes, I could always get an mpc, but that's unlikely to ever happen. Besides, having a deadline for the rewrite can only be a good thing.)

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  6. Eileen: those little things that slip by you after you've just written a draft are the things that I want to catch. And I agree that after a few weeks, a story can seem like someone else's writing--after all, your cellular makeup was probably different.

    Critters is useful in a slightly different respect: it allows you to survey a bunch of people to see what they all hate in common. In my last story, it was swearing! Two hoots for tooty-toots.

    -bn

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