Junot Diaz recently wrote this powerful, moving essay about his childhood experience of sexual assault. Although many writers tend to shy away from this subject, some heroes like Roxane Gay delve into it. Male stories of sexual trauma, though, are pretty rare. That Junot Diaz, a writer I admire, and a man, was willing to come out in this essay seems pretty important to me.
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.
Writers cut their teeth on local open mics and slam competitions. Because writing is such a solitary activity, and because opportunities to share one’s work publicly are few and far between, these local platforms are invaluable to writers. The New Hampshire Writer’s Project sponsors an annual Three Minute Fiction Slam. The slam is “a fast paced literary competition that challenges writers to perform original pieces of fiction in three minutes or less in front of a panel of judges.” It’s open to writers of all ages and experience-levels, which generates a diverse array of pieces. Several semi-final Slams are held all across New Hampshire. The winner of each semi-final competes at the finals in March.
In 2015, I won the Slam with my short story “Street Names.” The experience was terrifying and exhilarating. I spent several weeks reading and revising my story obsessively. I pained over each word and sentence. Ultimately, I took a mediocre 1,500 word piece, and turned it into a sleek 532 word story that I was really proud of. The best part of the whole experience was being able to share my work with a live audience that reacted audibly to my piece (as you’ll hear in the video.) I published my story at Hobart, a pretty excellent online literary journal.
This year, I collaborated with the English department at my institution, and we held a Three Minute Fiction Slam semi-final. I am looking forward to watching the winner of the slam, one of our creative writing majors, compete at the finals next week.
I suppose every blogger has an obligatory, “It’s been so long since I’ve blogged” post. Here’s mine. Except instead of six months or even a year, it has been over three. Why? Lots of reasons, the most significant of which is the birth of my daughter. She is now a little over two, though, so it’s time to get back into writerly things in earnest.
So, what have I been up to besides working and being a mom? I did have a bit of an existential crisis. I did wonder if my writing was any good at all. I did contemplate putting down the (figurative) pen forever. But, alas, I pushed through. I came out of it a better writer, too.
I’ve been working on some new/old pieces, pieces that I wrote fifteen years ago and am currently refurbishing, hoping to get them ready for public consumption. I also have a couple of new projects in the works. In the meantime, I am writing every day, and checking my Submittable account obsessively to see if any “Received” statuses have changed to “In Progress.”
I am also reading like crazy. I’ve given up Facebook scrolling in pursuit of more useful and pleasant activities. I’ve discovered a couple of new (to me) lit mags, like Literary Juice, and Moonglasses Magazine.
I’m taking a different approach to this blog, too. Part of what kept me away was this feeling of pressure, this feeling that I had to write something really interesting or clever in order to post it to my blog. Maybe it’s the effect of two years of being a mom, or the fact that I’m turning 40 in less than a week, but these days I have a much more “come as you are” attitude. So you’ll be seeing more posts like this, just me doing my thing.
Stay tuned for more metawriting! I promise.