Mediocrity and Other Realities of the Writing Life

If given the choice, would you rather a reader hate your story or feel indifferent about it? Most writers would choose the former, hands down. A hated story, at least, sticks with the reader (whether they want it to or not.) A mediocre story, on the other hand, barely registers as more than a mild annoyance.

In most cases, mediocre stories are those that have not been fully rendered.  Perhaps the author did several rounds of iterative revision, but still couldn’t find the key to unlock the story’s full potential.  Most mediocre stories can be fixed, but some can’t.  So how do you determine whether to toss your mediocre story into the trunk or give it another go?

Asking yourself some tough questions can help you make the decision. First, do you care? Some stories lose resonance as we get older. If that’s the case, stick it in the archive, or maybe, send it to Moonglasses Magazine’s “What We Wrote When We Had Acne” category. Second, what are you going for with the story? Clearly articulating your vision for a story is a good way to troubleshoot mediocrity. Once you’ve done that, go through the story and see which parts conform to that vision, and which don’t. Do a couple of rounds of revision and see where you are. Finally, put the story down for a while–at least a month and more if you can stand it. When you pick it up again and read it with fresh eyes, what do you see? Anything worth salvaging? If not, this would be a good time to retire the piece. Or completely refurbish it. Sometimes a mediocre story can be gutted and reworked into something brilliant.

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