Draining the Mental Swamp

It’s taken me an absolute age, but I’ve finally submitted ‘Ham, Egg and Chips’ and I feel mentally drained. Its a 4,600 odd word piece set in a post-apocalyptic Thanet with, I think, quite a good twist at the end.


It started as an exercise at the Creative Inspirations group in Westgate. Write a 250 word scene or story using the following three things: a quill pen; late autumn and ham, egg and chips. OK, I know. Arguably, thats five things.

My first draft was 500 odd words (I don’t tend to keep to the rules on these exercises if it constrains me too much) and I got all those things in, although the quill felt forced.

It also felt like a story that had longer legs. So, I dumped the quill and wrote a new piece. Draft 2.0 was 1,200 words. I read it…lots to change. Draft 2.1 was 1,500 odd. Better.

Unfortunately, first feedback was not overwhelmingly positive. Way too much exposition for a short piece. I was disappointed, but couldn’t escape the grim fact that my genial critics were right. It was like the research notes for a real story. It felt like a bit of a knock back, and I as I’d read along with the group, I knew it was true.

But, I loved the concept, and didn’t want to abandon it. Back to the keyboard I went, to build more of a story and not just a future history piece.

Draft 3.0 felt good and got a much better reception. Just over 5,000 words at this point, there was much more dialogue and action. But I was a wee bit worried about the reception of the strong female protagonist. Was she credible? How would a female audience view her actions given the context I’d put her in?

This is where I went out for some expert help. I managed to secure the help of five fabulous volunteers to read it, all of whom have great writing credentials and were qualified (from a gender perspective) to pick over the faults of my lead character. They know who they are. Thanks to all of you! Feedback was, happily, pretty good on the whole with some room for improvement.

Time for another editing session. Hey-ho.

I thought I’d nailed it with draft 4.0. I just needed one more review. I put it in front of my regular sounding posts. I know you aren’t supposed to use family, but how could anything go wrong here? I just wanted to know there were no howlers in the spelling / grammar stakes. I’d already passed three self-imposed deadlines to get this one finished.

Oh, dear.

Tammy (Mrs. S) and Ciarán (son and prodigious reader of SF / fantasy, etc) hated some of the changes I’d made. Big edits needed this morning. Draft 5.0.

Now it’s done. Finished. It’s taken me, I would guess, at least 50 hours to produce 4,600 words. I’m not sure I could face another session with THAT DOCUMENT open on my desktop, at least for some time.

I THINK its the best piece I’ve written. I am pleased with it. I’ve had some really good feedback from people I respect. I still enjoy reading it: I like the characters and the setting, it feels reasonably paced, the story arc feels strong and I love the twist at the end.

Now, it’s time to see if it can convince a publisher. I HOPE it can. It is, after all, a business of opinions.

I’m sure this is a very familiar story to anyone who writes. I’m not suggesting I’m unique. But, I wonder how many readers are aware of the effort that goes in to even a short story? I don’t think it ever really crossed my mind before I started writing, but this one has really driven it home. Even now, I don’t know if it’s good enough, but I feel a release as I file it away, not to be looked at again until I get a response. The mental swamp is drained. At least until the next time.

It’s finished. I can move on. Submit and be damned.

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