Writer’s Craft in the Canyon

@font-face {
font-family: “Cambria”;
}@font-face {
font-family: “Georgia”;
}p.MsoNormal, li.MsoNormal, div.MsoNormal { margin: 0in 0in 0.0001pt; font-size: 12pt; font-family: “Times New Roman”; }div.Section1 { page: Section1; }

Days at the Imnaha Writers’ Retreat have felt balanced and productive. I start each morning with a mug of hot tea and an hour-long session of the 4-15. Depending on my mood, I might also do a chapter from the cheesy book on dating, just to see if it helps me find more ways to stay firm and not compromise myself. I cook breakfast, read a little more, and spend the rest of the morning revising the flash fiction on Part 1 of my manuscript Personae of War.
It’s been an interesting experience to look at the war stories after four months of what I called the “don’t look back” grace period. Critical distance on one’s own work is often a writer’s greatest challenge. Even the most accomplished writers will readily confess that they, too, rely on friends, family, and colleagues for careful criticism of their manuscripts before sending them off to a publisher or agent. These readers are a writer’s friend, but an even better friend to every writer is time.
In the past four months, I stopped watching war movies, stopped reading war books, and stopped interviewing or researching war subjects. I started 17 new flash fiction pieces and none of them related to war. A few of them were in 1st person, but most of them were in limited 3rd person—a challenge I gave myself to get as far away from the war stories as possible. I’d been writing in 1st person voices to the dramatic backdrop of war for too many months. January through April, I sought to write about bland moments of domesticity, minor urban catastrophes, and characters that I—gasp—sometimes didn’t even care about. Relative to the intensity of war stories, these newer stories felt like playing around in a very healthy way.
Turning to Personae of War this month after the grace period, I was pleased to discover that I found room for improvement. In some flash pieces, it was simply a matter of omitting needless words. For example, 80% of the time words like must, just, had, and that can be omitted. In others, an easy fix for clarification of fact or details made a story tidier. For example, was a translator helping with Arabic or Pashtun? Was a soldier wearing battle rattle or dressed down and off duty?
Out of the 23 flash pieces, I discovered that 7 needed deeper revisions and I spent the first week and a half of my retreat doing just that. I added half or full scenes, tinkered with sensory detail and metaphor, and asked myself the hard questions: What is at stake in this story? How can I fix what isn’t working? I put my time in each morning, then at night brought the revised version to group critique and had the satisfaction of smart, specific, helpful feedback from other writers.

Three full-length stories in Personae of War comprise Part 2. How will my revision process be different than revising flash? Has enough time passed since writing the longer stories for me to apply a critical eye?

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.