Peeling Back The Onion

I was feeling pretty good about myself going into the holidays, good enough to take several weeks off from writing and just be for a little while. As my wife and I packed for our visit to the coast, I even considered leaving behind my trusty laptop: all I was going to be doing for several weeks straight was reading anyway.

On the plane flight to San Francisco I finished Let The Great World Spin, by Colum McCann, as well as the most recent issue of Glimmertrain Stories. Then I dove into The Best American Short Stories, 2009. Boy was that a mistake.

Don’t get me wrong: the stories are fan-tas-tic. I especially enjoyed Ethan Rutherford’s The Peripatetic Coffin, even going so far as to email the author after Googling him and stumbling upon his web site.

After all of the reading done over the holiday break, I realized that in the last year or so, I’ve taken the first few steps in what will undoubtedly be a marathon of writing, rewriting, editing, hair-pulling, rewriting, throwing away, and writing even more. The rejection slips are piling up, tangible evidence that I can stick to a routine, draft stories that are engaging to at least one reader (namely … me), and not get too discouraged.

But the sheer volume of short stories I read over the holidays has shown me that there are so many more ways to think about moving through something: an action, an emotion, a series of events, a premonition. I need to stretch myself even further than I’ve been doing.

The story I’ve been working on lately is about a United States Marine recruiter, and by the time I’m finished with it I will have spent more than twice the amount of time I typically spend on a story. One evening in particular, I spent three hours furiously rewriting what I’d already drafted, then wrote one more paragraph to move things along before calling it quits. My word count had actually decreased after three hours of writing.

Writing is like peeling back the layers of an onion: there’s always another layer to explore, always something new to learn. Sometimes, it can be so frustrating you just want to cry. And I’m okay with that – another layer of the onion peeled, digested, assimilated into the daily grind of it all.

This year, I’ve resolved to read more than last year, and to spend just as much time writing as last year. And to slow down, savor the words a little more, and dig deeper into each sentence, paragraph, and story.