Friday, 19 July 2013

Keep Your Words

Today, we have an excellent post from Trish Nicholson who advises us to:

Keep Your Words
I don’t mean you can skip the editing and avoid cutting out words you spent hours wrestling onto the page. On the contrary, as a lover of flash fiction I am by nature a slasher, but I do not advocate ‘slash and burn’. Don’t ‘kill’ your darlings – transplant them.

Remove your finger from that delete button. Get your file management system in order and save every golden phrase and magnificent metaphor for another day, another story. And this applies not only to the cuttings from your manuscripts. One of my closest writing friends once confided to me: “I keep everything – notes, feedback, comments, correspondence – you never know when you might make creative use of any written material.” Thank goodness for digital storage.

But much of my research data, images, and past scribbles go back thirty years and are only on paper. I’ve had to turn the box room into exactly that – a room full of storage boxes – fondly, and euphemistically, referred to as ‘the archive’. The main attraction is an extremely comfortable lounger along the only empty wall.

I was reclining there one day, having completed a long non-fiction manuscript and skived off to the archive to get away from the keyboard, when I spotted on a bottom shelf a tatty but more recent file of my short stories. I retrieved it and returned to the horizontal to browse at leisure. Some of these stories I hadn’t looked at for two or three years, and I realised I was reading them as if they were someone else’s. In a couple, I saw different meanings to what had been intended – as if a slightly different reading self was reviewing my writing self.

And then I noticed that in the same file were notes of successes and failures in competitions, critiques, judges’ cryptic comments and feedback from writing group members. The file even contained early versions of stories and scraps of outlines – I could trace where a story had improved my writing and why I had abandoned others to oblivion.

Short stories can teach us so much, not only about writing but about reading, too. Writers must use apparent simplicity to create depth in a small space; make every word count, and still find a resolution. Some understanding of the writer’s task enriches a reader’s experience, shows the value of ‘close reading’. I was having so much fun I missed lunch, but it sparked an intriguing idea.

Instead of producing a short story collection – a vague notion that had long inhabited the back of my mind – I would share the lounger experience: write a book about writing and reading short stories; share the critiques; discuss the elements of story we have to weave together, and use my own stories as illustrations because I knew where they came from and what they had been through.

So I explored seven key issues: inspiration; character; theme; structure; voice – the most challenging and rewarding – critiquing, and maintaining momentum, choosing 14 stories to analyse, and another one to end with – a not-too-serious account of my writing journey. I added some previous articles of mine on writing, and wrote some new ones for readers, keeping in mind that I wanted readers to share this as well as writers. It may seem these days that everyone is a writer, but there are still a few readers who are not – yet – so I had to take special care that they felt included.

It is not a ‘how to’ book; more a buddy to join you on the lounger for a ‘show and share’ session over a glass of wine. You can decide for yourself what you think of my efforts, because it is now published in digital and print formats by Collca: Inside Stories for Writers and Readers. I would love to have your feedback – and rest assured, it will be filed in the archive.

[By the way, the print edition (available soon) also includes the complete text of From Apes to Apps: how humans evolved as storytellers and why it matters. The e-book contains an extract.]

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Trish Nicholson is a writer of stories and non-fiction, and a keen photographer. She lives in New Zealand, beside a lake in the ‘winterless north’, where she balances writing time with raising native trees, and providing relaxation therapy.

Critique Service for Writers
Flash 500 Flash Fiction Competition
Flash 500 Humour Verse Competition

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