My last post, "In Praise of the Packrat," described a time when I finished a story several years after starting and abandoning it. Today's post is about a story with a much quicker genesis.
Word Riot has published my flash fiction"Casting Off" in their October issue. I wrote this story after I read somewhere about a person knitting stars. The idea caught my imagination. What would someone knit after they knit stars? The rest of the world, I decided.
I wrote "Casting Off" in one sitting, tweaked it, sent it to my writer's group, tweaked it again after their feedback, and sent it to a few journals. The first journal that got back to me accepted it and published it a few months later. From inception to publication, four months, which might be a record for me.
"After Waking," My story about what happens when Sleeping Beauty wakes up, was published in the literary journal The Quotable. At the time it was accepted, they asked me if I would write a blog about my writing process. Well, as it happened, that particular story DID have an interesting genesis. So I wrote a post. They have posted it this week on their blog.
It's called "In Praise of the Packrat," because I seldom throw away any writing.
Writing this blog made me think about origin stories for my other pieces that have been published, so I found myself blogging here in my own blog about that topic more and more. Now, when a piece is published, I often include some words on the blog about how the story began or evolved.
Maybe it's not such a bad thing to be a packrat.
Recently I made two spur-of-the-moment purchases of odd household items. We were dropping something off at the Habitat for Humanity store (like Goodwill, but for home improvement) when I saw an old-fashioned mirror. I instantly loved it, though the paint was peeling and it was a little loose in its frame.
I fell for this mirror, even though it needed work. It was under $20 (it had geological layers of price tags showing how often its price had been lowered). I went with my gut and bought it.
The second purchase was larger. I told my husband I was looking for a bird cage for the yard. The next day he took me to see a birdcage he'd spied in town. When I saw it, I knew it was perfect. It wasn’t a pristine piece that I would feel bad about putting in the yard. It was big, it was freestanding. The shopkeeper told us that it had been the seller’s grandfather’s, handmade for him.
Now, this was not as small of a purchase as the mirror, either physically or financially. And we had just started looking for a birdcage. Maybe when I made the rounds of antique stores in the area, I would find one that I liked better, or was cheaper. I’m usually a careful shopper for items for the home because once I buy furniture or décor, I tend to hold onto it. I’ve been married 19 years and I’m still using some of my Cost Plus furniture from when I was single. But again, I went with my gut. The birdcage was what I wanted, and it was the kind of unique item that’s not easy to find.
I’m always second-guessing myself. But when I made these purchases, I told myself that I could always donate the mirror back to Habitat for Humanity, and then they could sell it twice. And I told myself that if I found a better birdcage later, I could buy it and keep both, or try to sell this one back to the antique store. I should go with my gut more, and stop trying to be so sure about everything. I’ve already wasted more life dragging my feet and checking everything twice than I can spare.
I need to go with the gut in writing, too. When I’m in the zone, ideas just come, words just flow. I take them without questioning them. I can always delete what I’ve written if I don’t like it. When I go with instinct, I write some lousy sentences and paragraphs, and yes, even pages. But instinct also gives me the best writing—the perfect simile that seems to come from nowhere. The detail that clashes with the scene and so speaks the most. The action a character takes that surprises me, but defines her in a way I hadn’t considered.
Go with the gut. Grab what the universe gives you, even if it’s a large wrought-iron birdcage.
Ann Hillesland writes fiction and essays. Her work has appeared in many literary journals, including Fourth Genre, Bayou, The Laurel Review, and Sou’wester.
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