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Wanton slaughter of darlings

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Sometime in February, I was talking about my workshop with someone, and about the fact that I haven't submitted a story to workshop in probably six months, and haven't revised and sent out any of the last several stories I've shown to my workshop (going back a couple of years, actually). The workshoppers give me all sorts of good suggestions for how to improve the stories, and I put the stories on my to-revise stack and never get around to revising them.

And yet I keep going to workshop meetings even though I'm not writing. It's a good workshop, and I think everyone in it gives pretty solid critiques by this point, and I like hanging out with them and chatting about speculative fiction 'n' stuff, and I hope that my critiques help improve the other members' stories.

So even though I can't seem to find the time to do any actual writing or revising, I seem to find enough time to read and critique workshoppers' stories and drive to and from workshop once a month. And it occurred to me (or perhaps it was suggested to me, I forget) that since I have that time slot set aside, in my head, for writing-related stuff, I could skip a workshop meeting and work on fiction instead. It would make more sense to work on fiction the other three weekends a month, of course, but I didn't seem to be doing that.

So today was the big experiment, and it seems to have worked pretty well. I stayed home, and a little before the workshop start time I unplugged my phone and quit out of my email app and hid all the browser windows and settled into revising a story.

I ended up cutting about a thousand words from it, so there was more unwriting than writing per se, but I'm reasonably pleased with the result. I was mostly just following the "Kill your darlings" dictum: I cut out two or three entire scenes that I was rather fond of as character-illustrating moments but that really didn't do anything to advance the story, and one description of a technological artwork that I was rather fond of but had been informed wasn't important enough to take up the word count it was taking up. Alas, poor darlings.

It's fairly likely that there's more I should cut; every time I trim the scenes in which the characters argue about technology, and then I show the story to someone new, they say "Not bad, but there's too much arguing about technology." And each time, I go back and trim those bits some more. But this time I'm cleverly avoiding further feedback-and-delay-before-revising cycles by not showing the story to anyone else before sending it out.

It was a little demoralizing to print the thing in standard manuscript format. It's still about 10K words, and I'm not at all sure it shouldn't be more like 7K for the amount of story it contains. In particular, the part that I tend to think of as the lead-in buildup part takes up almost half the page count (eep!). But I don't see any way to cut those scenes much further while still retaining what I want the story to do, and I know that I could keep poking at it indefinitely, so it's time to just send the thing out and see what happens.

Meanwhile, spent some of the drive to the East Bay yesterday evening thinking about one of the three stories sitting in my head waiting to be written, and developed a much clearer idea of some thematic elements. Still need to work out some big pieces of the plot, though. And I hesitate to even try to write anything new until I get some of these older stories revised and in the mail.

At any rate, I'll tentatively call today's experiment a success. I'm not sure how best to proceed; I'm not quite ready to drop out of workshop entirely yet, but even one afternoon a month of writing is more than I've done in a while, and if I can't make that time any other way, I should probably do it this way.

But I'll try to do it other ways. Am hoping to get together with a friend for a writing date some evening this coming week; that's been very effective for me in the past. Chat for an hour, then write for an hour. We'll see.

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