The Slow Burn

I was reading a forum thread the other day where folks were discussing prolific writers and it turned into a discussion of how fast someone could write a novel and some sort of notion of what’s ideal.

To me, it really depends on the story you’re trying to tell and whether the words are there or not.

For example.  I think it was last June, or maybe even May, that I had an initial story idea while hiking.  I stopped and jotted it down and continued to think about it throughout the hike.

(On the W2K trail–I can still visualize exactly where I was when I first thought of it.  About half an hour in coming from the Kinloch side.  Damn, I miss that place.  Anyway.  I digress.)

Even though I had the idea last summer, I didn’t start writing that story until I was on the train to Budapest in February of this year.  In March I added another 3,100 words to it.  In April I added 777.

And there it sat. Until yesterday when I decided to re-write it from third person POV to first person POV and from past tense to present tense. By the time I was done I’d added 3,645 words to the story, too.

And now it’s going to have to sit again.  Because my mind isn’t ready to write the next part.  I tried.  I re-read the 10,000 or so words I have so far (it’s a long one), but I couldn’t see the next step.

That first burst of creativity was introducing my main character.  The next was putting the character through hell until the climactic confrontation scene.  The latest was writing that confrontation (that didn’t turn out like my character thought it would).  And now I kind of know where I need to take things, but I don’t know how to get there.

So, to the back burner it goes to simmer some more.

A part of me wants to finish the story NOW, because I like it and I want to share it with my betas and see if they do too and then I want to get it out there and have some market buy it so you can all see it as well.

But it’s not ready.  It’s one of those stories that requires time to develop.  (One of the reasons I like it is because it’s layered and there’s some complexity there that I need to get right.)

On the other hand, I have another story (that I’m about to jinx by talking about it) that I wrote the first draft of on April 13th and had out to betas by the 16th.  It’s a much shorter story.  And much simpler.  So it didn’t require that fermentation time.

Doesn’t make it a bad story–it could possibly be my first published story.

It’s just not a story that requires the same level of thought or contemplation.  It’s cotton candy.  The other story is a crown roast with all the fixins.

You know there’s also a beverage analogy here, right?  Some stories are like a pitcher of iced tea–that you can make by yourself at home in an hour or so.  No one’s going to talk about them for days on end, but they satisfy your thirst.  And some stories are like a fine wine that need time to mature into their flavor.  Drink them too soon and they taste terrible.  Give them enough time and people will still be talking about them years later.

So, give your story the time it needs to develop properly.  Maybe that’s a day.  Maybe that’s a month.  Maybe it’s a year.  Or ten years.  (It’s happened…)  But don’t force it.  Because should you get that earlier version published, you won’t be able to then go back and publish the true story later.

(Well, I guess you could.  But, do you really want to be accused of being derivative of yourself?  Better to take the time and get it right the first time.)

Obviously, this is different from publishing what is your best at the time and not seeing that it could’ve been so much better than it is.  This is for all those folks who rush a story just to sub it by some deadline or because they just aren’t patient enough to let it sit as long as it needs to.

And, trust me, I’m as guilty of this as the next person.  I have a story I’ve rewritten four different ways now and it’s probably still not there.  I got it to ok quality, so subbed it somewhere.  And got a personal back.  But part of the personal commented on how the story was “uneven”, which is a valid critique.  That story isn’t what I want it to be yet.  But it’s such a cool idea, I want to see it published NOW.  So, I rushed it.  And it isn’t what it could be.

Live and learn.  (And improve based on what you learn…unlike in certain other areas of my life where I’ve technically learned the lesson but refuse to act on what I’ve learned.)



About M. H. Lee

M.H. Lee is a speculative fiction writer currently residing in Colorado whose stories are sometimes dark, sometimes funny, sometimes darkly funny, but hopefully always thought-provoking and entertaining.
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