The Joy of Self-Revision

Hellllooooooo from Lawton, Oklahoma everybody!

Since nothing of much interest has happened this week, I decided not to bore anyone with an update post (though, if you’re dying of curiosity to know allll about Derrida, deconstruction and other post-structuralist literary theory—hint, you’re not, I promise you—please let me know). Instead, I’m going to write about the seemingly endless journey that is writing, and bore someone with that instead.

For anyone who missed the memo, I entered the Mogford Short Story Prize back in December, and I couldn’t help myself (I never really can) from getting my hopes up about it. C’est la vie, honestly: I’m always simultaneously despairing at the fact that I definitely won’t win, and painfully hopeful that this one will be The One. I realistically knew that winning wasn’t likely—though a prize of £10,000 will make you very, very hopeful—but I thought that maybe I could reach the 10 person long list. That’s still a big call, from a contest pool of over a thousand entries, but I hoped it anyway.

The long list was released while we were away, earlier than I had anticipated: having decided on a whim to look it up over breakfast one morning, I found out that it had been published. I didn’t even need to look to know that I hadn’t made it: there were no emails in my inbox congratulating me, so that was self-evident. Rejection is never easy, but is an accepted constant in a writer’s life, and it is something you have to battle, over and over and over again, if you choose to write and submit those pieces (be it to competitions or magazines). I’ve become far more well-acquainted with that feeling over the last 12 months and I’d say I’m getting better at it. But this one was a little harder.

I thought this particular piece was the best story I’d ever written. Obviously the judges didn’t—to be fair, they haven’t read any of my other work, so they really had no way of knowing if it was my best—but it certainly wasn’t the best. It didn’t even rate in their top 10% of entries. And that was really hard for me to accept, because if I had written, in my opinion, the best story I’d ever written, and that wasn’t even good enough to make the long list, where the hell did that leave me? Afterwards, all I could think was that maybe it wasn’t actually any good. Maybe I had written this story and thought it was great and I had completely missed the mark. Maybe it was crap.

This, friends and fellow humans, is what we call the grief stage.

Luckily, my super down in the dumps phase is becoming a bit shorter (possibly the fact that this was so pie in the sky made it a little easier) as I become more used to the feeling, and continue to put myself through the whole process anyway. But I didn’t realise that the remnants hung around. I recently read an article by Kathy Stevenson, in which the author spoke about the challenges of releasing (and publishing an article) and subsequently regretting the way in which it was written. She spoke about the challenges of not being able to edit something once it’s already been published—interesting to consider that poets constantly visit and revise their work throughout their lifetimes. A poem is never finished, only living in a different iteration—and it got me to thinking about something that had already crossed my mind multiple times. My story wasn’t finished, and it wasn’t right: if it had made the shortlist and been published, I might have always regretted the fact that I had put something less than ready out into the world.

So, with that in mind, I’m revising my story. We’re sitting down together over dinner—or more accurately, empty-stomached in the still-dark hours of the morning and any other time the mood takes me—to try and figure it out. It’s exciting, a little bit terrifying but mostly a labour of love, because like all artists, what I want is to create the best possible piece I can… And maybe hopefully win a competition in the future at some point.


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