Finding a Stopping Point… and holding on for dear life

I’m one of those people who never feels totally satisfied with a written work. There is always a different idea, or a new line, or a twist to the rhyme scheme that I could have/should have made. That’s why I re-read my own writing as little as possible once it has been “finished” — or posted here.

My writing process tends to be arduous, because if I happen to read a previously “finished” paragraph, chapter, or post, I get caught up in making minute adjustments which probably have little to do with the section I should be working on. Hence, progress on my novel has slowed considerably since November; I just keep re-reading those first 30k words, and then editing them.

Exorcising the Over-Editing Demon

For that reason, posting my short story, Walt’s Garden, a couple of weeks ago was actually an achievement for me — and not because I think the story is awesome (I think it’s alright). No, publishing this short story was an act of rebellion against my perfectionist, over-editing self.

This story actually came out of a galumphing and free writing exercise I had done for a creative writing course about two years ago. Actually, this course is where I adapted my original galumphing chart from.

The original galumphing theme included a gardener, a suit, and a sporting event. The goal of the exercise was to take the galumphing set and practice free writing to brainstorm ideas for a two-paragraph piece which was then shared on the course’s online forum. I received some positive feedback for my submission and decided to expand the two paragraphs I had into a short story.

And then the short story sat untouched… for months. I had written 500 words, but I felt that I needed to add more. I thought that 500 words were clearly too few for a story with any substance. So I tinkered with it. I tried to add more detailed descriptions of the quintessential town in which Walt’s Garden sits. I thought about including at least one side character with whom Walt could interact in his store. I wrote and cut and rewrote extraneous content again and again.

And then I came to a realization: I was not expanding this story because I felt that there was more to tell. I was only trying to beef up to word count.

So, posting this story in its concise, 500-word form was an exercise in restraint for me, because I need to learn when to say that’s enough and move on. Lesson learned. Don’t push the boundaries of a story simply because you feel obligated to. If your telling of a story substantively carries the tone and the style and the emotions you are trying to evoke, leave it be. No story is too short.

Steve D

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