On the Value of Waiting

Last week, I published the short story “Vocations” in the Fredericksburg Literary Review. I’m proud of that story for a number of reasons (reasons I won’t delve into here), but after hearing some feedback from friends on the piece, I wanted to examine the history of the story. First a digression (of sorts).

One of my undergraduate professors suggested that writers should wait at least 6 or 7 years (if my memory serves me correctly) before sending out a piece. As a young wanna-be writer with visions of my name in print, I had trouble believing that guideline, or more than that, I couldn’t understand why someone would submit to such a seemingly arcane guideline.

Yet, as I examine my own publication history, I find that some of the pieces that I’ve had published in the last few years are pieces that took 6-10 years from the first draft to the time of publication.

For instance, this summer I was delighted to have a poem appear in a beautiful anthology, Prairie Gold: An Anthology of the American Heartland. My four-line poem, “Northwest Minnesota in January,” was a part of my MFA thesis from 2004. The first draft was written in early 2004, and then was published ten years later. And the poem still holds up. In fact, I like it more now than I did then.

As for “Vocations,” I wrote the first draft in September 2008, as part of my first assignment in the fiction-writing seminar in my PhD program. The first draft had a much more light-hearted ending, and I wrote two more drafts that semester, trying to make the piece a little more sophisticated.

I didn’t work on the story again until I was assembling my dissertation 2011, making revisions to the story that tied it more directly to other stories in the short-story collection.

Then this summer, as a part of the summer-research grant project, I made further revisions, even going so far as to shift the story from past to present tense. I began sending it out at the end of summer, and then it found its home in an online literary journal.

This morning, when I read the very first draft, I was both amused and amazed. Amused because the first draft was so awful (really awful), and amazed because I’m baffled at how that awful first draft eventually (over six years) became one of the favorites pieces that I’ve written.

All this is a reminder of the role of patience in the writing life. It is a reminder that if I trust the process and allow myself time (even years), good work will form.

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