Writing In the Discomfort Zone

There’s something to be said for writing in one’s comfort zone. For one thing, writing into the dark is much easier because the brain already knows the way. I write better as well. But learning new skills requires some push and that’s what the last few weeks have been. I promise you, it normally doesn’t take me this long to write a short story.

Steve looked at my short story last night and said what one member of my group said about the first part, before I improved it: “This is not your best work.”

That’s just devastating to hear about something that has taken this long and this much effort to write. Steve went on to say that it looked as if I were thinking on the page and that if I eliminated those portions, I would have a good story.

I’ve cut about 1,600 words from the story, about twenty percent of the prose. It is a better story with the cuts. Steve asked to look at it again today before I send it to Mia. Of course, I agreed. He is normally too busy with his own writing and teaching to look at my stories, so I keep my requests for his reading limited to things I really need his help with. Like this story. Steve asking to see something a second time is just unprecedented and I am beyond grateful.

Before Steve looked at it, I thought it was a good story with some of my better lyrical prose. Now it is unquestionably better. He identified places where I had the naval combat wrong, where I had Caedmon thinking or saying things a commander wouldn’t, and pointed out how to be more concrete in my descriptions of naval combat.

I could probably work on this for another week and make it even better. But there is a point where I have to stop and move on to the next thing. Or I never will.

The question for me now is whether I am going to write another story featuring a naval battle. The skills I developed writing this story are hard-won and I will lose them if I don’t attempt this again. So the question is really, did I write this story primarily as a beautiful end to the Lightning Scarred and Other Stories collection? Or are the skills the key value? And would I enjoy doing it again?

At this point developing skills matters most in everything I write. It is why I take classes. It is why I take on new challenges with every story.

Still, I’m tired of people trying to kill each other. What I may do is write a naval combat scene to be used in the next Thule book, Journey to the Bears. It will give me a scene for the book, which I intend to start in late October anyway. And it will help reinforce the skills I’ve learned.

When I gave the story to Steve to look at, I thought it was the best I could produce. He found things to improve. When I send it to Mia today it will be the very best I can produce. I think it’s pretty good. But she will find ways to improve it.

I’m grateful for all the help I’ve had with this story, from the strategy discussion at the beginning to the friendly encouragement and brainstorming from one of my groups to the critiques from the other group to the editing Steve and Mia are doing. It’s all a process of open-hearted learning from so many people. Thanks!

Hope you are also learning, though perhaps with less discomfort. Be well, friends!

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