“I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter.”
- James Michener
This week I’m preparing a submission for a manuscript competition. It’s a first for me, and it’s a big deal.
For some time now I’ve been submitting stories one at a time to literary journals, steadily collecting rejection letters, and a few acceptances. Over the past four years I’ve been writing my story collection in the same manner: one at a time, and revising as such, each story falling under careful scrutiny as I pick it apart and put it back together in a slightly, or sometimes vastly, different way.
Toward the end of my recent mentorship at the Humber School for Writers, I suspected I had a solid first draft of the story collection. My mentor confirmed my suspicion, and he gave me advice and encouragement about the revising job I had ahead of me. Soon after, I printed all twelve stories and put them in a blue binder. It was a big moment for me to see them as a whole; I went about the rest of the morning with a daft grin on my face, hugging the blue binder. Then I came to my senses and got to work editing. I’ve been at it ever since.
Rewriting is an exercise fraught with choices. As I prepare the collection for submission, I am making decisions left and right about what to keep, what to omit, and what to develop. For example, late last week I decided I hated one of the stories’ guts, and would have been happy to run it through the shredder and line the kitty box with it. Alas, the story is crucial to the collection, so I’ll have to find another way of telling it, and use something else to line the kitty box, necessity being the mother of invention in both cases.
Deciding on the order is a whole other matter, as one story links to the next and causes a ripple effect on how the larger picture unfolds. It’s a big responsibility, and an even bigger thrill. This submission is the culmination of four years of writing and rewriting, and further rewriting on top of more rewriting. You get the idea. It’s a big deal.
(Incidentally, The Oxford English Dictionary gives several definitions of “Submission”. Here are two of my favourites:
1. humility, meekness, obedience, submissiveness.
2. (in wrestling) the surrender of the participant yielding to the pain of a hold.