Friday, October 19, 2018

The Vivid, Continuous Dream

© by Gerald So | 3:00 AM

The late writer and teacher John C. Gardner called the best fiction a vivid, continuous dream. Yesterday I submitted a story to its third market two years, arguably the toughest of the three to crack.

Leading up to submission, out of respect for the market, I revised the story all hours for twenty-three straight days. It truly filled my consciousness. The dream of this story, though, began in a workshop with Sam Topperoff at Hofstra University in 1995. At the time, I thought it would be a novel.

College was a heady time for me, as I'm sure it is for everyone. I felt it had the most potential to shape my life of any time in my life. I felt it was the right time to meet someone and fall in love. It so happened, and that raw emotion fueled the novel for sixty pages, the workshop minimum. I then put the idea away as too personal, until November 2016. Surprising myself, I was able to rekindle my enthusiasm to work with the characters and world.

(An aside: "Personal" here doesn't mean very autobiographical. It means I'm rooting for this story's success less objectively than I have most of my other work.)

Friends with whom I've shared the various drafts said I should blog about the story's journey. Ideally I'd blog about it upon acceptance, when its journey ended, but among many things I've learned working on it is ultimate acceptance doesn't matter to me as a working writer. What matters as I work is communicating what I imagine and feel, so well that someone with no prior personal connection—who simply reads the words—will imagine and feel very much the same. Self-publishing is not an option. I want to know I've made the connection with an impartial editor.

One of the quirks I work with is I'm very open to revision. I believe it can, and sometimes should, reshape stories entirely. That's certainly been true in this case. Versions have gone from however long the novel would have been, to 1,100 words, to 2,500 words, to 1,500 words, to 1,300 words. As such, I can lose the sense of whether a story would be as compelling for someone else as it is for me. I guess the sign of that is whether it's published. I say acceptance doesn't matter because I know until it's accepted—until it lives as vividly for someone else as it does for me—I'll keep working on it.

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