“His beak is focussed; he is preoccupied,
looking for something, something, something.”
- Elizabeth Bishop (from the poem “Sandpiper”)
It’s been a good summer for writing around here: I’ve managed to complete three short stories.
Lest Dear Reader be too impressed, I’ll be up-front and admit that two of the three were at various stages of draft when summer began. #2 had been in the works since last November, and it wasn’t until July that I finally realized what the story wasreally about. #1 had been bubbling away in various arrangements for a couple of years.
(Message: Sometimes a story needs time to percolate.)
It was my four-day retreat at the Elizabeth Bishop House that allowed me the time and space to spread out my thoughts on the stories and narrow my focus on them. Twelve, thirteen hours a day I spent writing, editing, thinking, and reading with no interruptions, no schedule, nothing required of me. That patch time spent writing deeply gave me the impetus to continue writing at home with focus and a clear sense of purpose.
(Message: time and space are essential to the creative process.)
Around this time I began working on Story #3. This one fell into place much more quickly than the first two. I have no idea why; I simply wrote it. Who am I to look a gift horse in the mouth?
(Message: Don’t look a gift horse in the mouth.)
Recently I told a friend about Story #2, titled “Messages.” I told her about how I struggled with the first draft; how I was sure the story was about one thing, but that as I went along I realized it was about something else; and how, finally, eight months after starting it, I discovered that it was actually about something entirely different. My friend was amazed by the circuitous route I’d taken. Well, I think “Messages” is finished now, and I’ve begun to send it around to various literary journals.
I wrote to my friend the following:
“The trouble with literary journals is that, while they’re a big feather in any author’s cap, really no-one much reads them and they inevitably gather dust on an obscure shelf in the occasional independent bookstore, which accounts for the demise of so many fine journals. It’s terribly sad to see the erosion of such an important element of literary culture, and I fear it’s an irreversible trend (unless Oprah starts up a book club for literary journals, which is… not likely.). All of which is to say that, even if “Messages” were to be published by a journal somewhere, the likelihood of it being available at a bookstore near YOU!!! (terrible commercial voice) is slim-to-none.”
So I sent my friend the story to read.
Which is to say that, while I hope one of the journals will take an interest in “Messages,” the main thing is for someone to read it. And that’s why I sent it to my friend.
(Message: If a story falls in the woods and no-one is there to read it… You know the rest.