I was really nervous about getting my latest short story back from my creative writing instructor.
Not because I adored it and hoped he’d like it too, which is usually why I’m nervous. But because this short story dealt with a serious topic I didn’t think I’d handled well, it felt like it was somehow both bloated and too short, and I honestly would have rewritten the entire thing from scratch if I’d had the time. If I’d kept working on it at all. To be honest, I’d spent so many hours on the thing, getting it to work felt like a losing proposition.
So there I went, stomach twisting and palms sweating, to see my instructor today.
And he loved it.
He spent the entire critique raving about how much he loved it: how it was the best thing I’d written in a year, how while reading he kept thinking, “Now this is Julia writing”–and sure enough, at the end of the last page was the holy grail of grades, an “Excellent.” Something I’ve only ever seen twice before in my four semesters of creative writing courses.
So, how is it that this short story that I hated, that I thought was a lost cause, turned out to be the best one I’ve written in a year? The only explanation I can come up with is subjectivity. Or, more precisely: the fact that as writers, it’s basically impossible to see our writing for what it is.
This is one of the reasons it’s so incredibly important to have other people read our stuff. Whether we’re preparing a short story collection for competition or prepping a novel to send to agents (both things I’m doing right now, whoo), we need others’ help in order to see our work clearly.
Sometimes it’ll be that we have a phrase or paragraph we’re in love with, but that ultimately weakens the story because it slows it down or hits the reader over the head with information or, like, honestly just doesn’t make any sense whatsoever. (It happens.) (Okay, it happens to me.) (A lot.) (Shhh.)
Sometimes a plot twist is too obvious or too out of nowhere. Sometimes a character’s motivation isn’t laid out well enough for the reader.
And, sometimes, what we’ve written is–objectively–actually kind of not terrible.
A story we love might, in its current state, suck. A story we’ve grown to hate might be wonderful.
This is why we need our critique partners and betas (and, if you’re lucky, a great creative writing instructor like mine). They let us know both when something isn’t working and when it is.
It’s difficult to take a step back from your writing, but it’s easier when you’ve got someone there to grab your hand and pull you away and say, “Look at this thing you have done. You might not realize it yourself, but it is excellent.”
Thanks for reading!
PS. Big Ch1Con news coming soon. Biiig news. I AM SO EXCITED.