By Anita Gill —
For the last three to four years, I have taken stories to writing workshops. My printer would whir as I collected and stapled my drafts to pass out, and I was eager to share my work. For me, the workshop was a way to answer my question: is it ready? In other words, is it strong enough for me to send out?
In my workshops, there were some students who read aloud their one-page weekly submission and the instructor would say, “Nice work! You should send it out!”
Oh, how I wanted that response, that kind of validation. I felt that if my writing instructor, who had read and heard my work for several sessions felt compelled to say it, I’d have more of a chance of being published.
I never got that remark from my instructor. Instead, I’d get a lot of comments of things I should change. I would drive home feeling deflated and disappointed. “They don’t get my stuff!” I thought. “They want me to change it and make it something I don’t want it to be!” I’d take the copies of my story, all marked by each workshop member, and keep them in a pile in the corner.
So when is a piece ready to be sent out? At a craft talk, memoirist Debra Gwartney discussed her process. She said that she was finished when she knew in her bones that she couldn’t make the work any better.
I took this thought and rolled it around in my hand like a marble. “To know in my bones.” It means that I would know. It means that the onus is on me to be ready to submit.
I realized that I had been using the workshop experience ineffectively as a writer. Workshops are meant to help you see how readers interpret your work and what they find as important. Are you getting the ideas across that you had intended? Does the reader want to follow you through your story? You have to make them invested. They have to care about the narrative. Your workshop is your first audience to your story. If they all have similar questions with the story, it’s likely that there are some places that need revision.
I then had some personal revelations about being ready to submit. There are days where I am writing or revising something, and it feels really good. I get a surge of endorphins and I think I’ve just crafted something worthy of being published. While I love this feeling, it’s fleeting. When I am excited, I’m not able to be as critical of my work.
So I leave the piece for a few days. Let it cool like a pie on the windowsill. Then, I come back to it. Many times, this is when I see things differently. There are some changes I can make that will make the piece stronger. It’s when I feel content about every word and sentence that I send it out.
Sometimes, I wish writing was like baking. I wish I could read and follow instructions, put the item in the oven, and take out a perfectly cooked pie. Unlike with baking a pie, we don’t know the time limit required on a piece. Some essays take a few months. Other stories, great stories, can take years. But once it’s out there, it should be the best you could do. And the time and care you put into that piece, from drafting to revisions, will show.
Anita Gill was given this name when she was born so that her grandparents could pronounce it, but they called her “Annie” instead. She claims to be from Washington, D.C. because people don’t know where Maryland is. Since then, she has also collected New York, Silver Spring, and Los Angeles as homes in addition to Madrid, Spain. She has taught in Montgomery College, Santa Monica College, and UCLA Extension while writing during every break possible. Her work has been published in Eastlit, FortyOunceBachelors, and the Swirlblog. She writes about books in her blog, Book Hunger. You can also find her on Pinterest.