Summer Story Study

Ice on the bird bath, turning leaves on the trees, students hurrying down the road to school,  the over zealous sun of summer has retreated, autumn has begun.  The time has come to begin on my fall writing goal: a revision of my first book, Steeple in the Distance.  For over a year this work has lain fallow, residing quietly in the files of my computer while I worked fervently on other projects.  With not a little trepidation, I pulled the file forward and the hard copy off the shelf.  What would I find?  What would I see? What new vision would I bring to it?

Having learned the lesson of  unintentionally  deleting chapters  while copying to bring them into one file, I determined to begin slowly and carefully. One chapter at time, saved as a copy before transferring to the main file, might save a few gray hairs. One chapter read first for an overview; one chapter a week  to evaluate, slash, hack, and  restructure as necessary; one chapter a week to rework between all the duties of my day job.

I did not re-read the entire manuscript. I stuttered through the first chapter, trimmed sparingly and began on the next.  My summer of the short story study smoothed the stutters and I was delighted to realize I was beginning to evaluate  my work from a different vantage point. I could see the trees AND the forest. I understood my characters, knew where they were headed and what corrections I wanted to make for them.  During the summer I had taken the challenge of writing a romance with a word limit of 1,000.  The focus of  planning and  scrutinizing  each paragraph, sentence, phrase and finally each word, enabled me to willingly slash, hack and restructure the second chapter.

The third chapter, I discovered, was really two. I found threads I had dangled for further development,  dropped and forgotten in the overall story. Some threads I began to weave more carefully into the fabric of the plot, some I heartlessly cut.  Holes appeared where future sub-plots could be whispered into the reader’s ear.  Inconsistencies mocked me, but through it all I was, and am, heartened and encouraged.  The backbone of the story is sound and the meltdown of summer 2011 has an answer. “What do I do with this?”  “Where do I go next?”  The advice to put your manuscript in the drawer and come back to it later  had little meaning for me at the time.  I was fearful of losing the intensity and passion for this book. I wanted someone to tell me how to proceed, now.  They were, they did, the advice was there, but like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz,    I needed to discover it for myself. Now was the time to let the book ripen.

One chapter a week is my writing goal for the fall and into the winter.   That I should,  “write instinctively and edit by the rules” was advice my son offered. The rules I learned from Poe are my guidelines. (See previous post-P.S. A Study in Short Stories.)  They are not  rules that chafe and bind me,  rather they are rules that challenge and guide me at the same time.

Only four chapters into the fall schedule and my day job this week is side tracking my self-made deadline. Being the wife of a busy professor/pastor and the mother of nine children is not only my day job, but will always remain my primary focus. The fall and winter are proving to be every bit as busy in our home life as our past spring and early summer.  This week it will be sufficient to read and ponder on chapter five and polish away the barnacles on chapter four.  The steps may be only baby steps, but they are forward steps.


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