Early this year I spent about four months of my (writing) time reworking a short story for submission to an anthology. I edited, rewrote, shared the story with my critique group, and rewrote again. The week the story was due I was in New York City with my family. I stayed up late tweaking the manuscript and got up early to do it again (and again, and again.)
When I finally mailed the manuscript, I knew I couldn’t have done any more–I also knew the story wouldn’t be accepted.
It wasn’t until the story was out of my hands and on it’s way to the editors of the anthology that I saw the “fatal flaw” in my story. I realized, in that moment, that the story didn’t work on a fundamental level. I saw that it was a good story, and I also saw how I could have made it better.
A part of me was disappointed, but another part of me realized I had to go through the process of preparing the story for submission and sending it off in order to get to that epiphany.
The clarity gained from the experience of writing the best story I possibly could and actually submitting it was priceless.
In my coaching work, I often talk about “eagle vision” vs. “mouse vision” with my clients. Eagle vision is the big picture view, seeing everything from a great height and distance, as the majestic eagle does. Mouse vision is seeing just what’s in front of you, the very next task, as the busy mouse does. I believe that every aspect of our lives benefits when we are able to use both these types of vision–and, if you asked me, I would have said that I used both routinely.
However, I jumped right into mouse vision with my short story and didn’t take the time to stop and use my eagle vision to view my work as a whole, at least not until after I sent it off. If I had switched my focus from “zoom” to “panoramic,” I think I could have made my story even better.
But I don’t feel that I wasted my time because I learned a valuable lesson: In writing, as in life, eagle vision and mouse vision work best when they are used alternately.
Diving into the work of rewriting (mouse vision) works best only after a look at the big picture (eagle vision) to make sure each task gets me further toward my goal of creating the best story I can. Also, pulling back from the work periodically throughout the editing process to make sure I’m still on the right track is important.
And, finally, no writing is really wasted. It’s all part of the journey toward becoming a more skilled writer. After submitting that short story, I know I’m a better writer than I was before I wrote it.
What lessons have you learned from your writing life?
Diane MacKinnon, MD, is a wife, mother, stepmother, writer, life coach, and family physician. I’m slowly but steadily putting in the hours in hopes of becoming a published author. In the process, I’m having a great time!