Mar 252012

It often seems easier to spot problems and the solutions to those problems in other peoples work. This is one of those annoying truisms that I repeat like a mantra when running fiction workshops. But I’ve been working at this writing thing for a few years now, and I expect to see the ‘big’ issues and know how to respond to them on my own. So when I have spent over a month revising a very short piece, I end up thoroughly frustrated that I should have spotted a major flaw much earlier in the process. To compound my frustration, I ‘like’ the piece as it stands, but can’t be certain of anything at this point.

I just don’t want to be “that guy.”

There are two general ‘types’ of writer that I do not wish to emulate: those who, for whatever reason, walk away from a piece convinced it is a masterpiece when it’s clearly shit, and those who dither polishing a manuscript when their efforts have ceased to accomplish anything significant that will change or improve it.

While I seem to be stuck with endless revisions, what I’m dealing with is different; or at least it seems different, from poking at polished prose. I wrote a piece for a Florida-themed flash contest where submissions were constrained to 305 words. It was loads of fun meeting the challenge. I was forced to compress and distill language, and the result was a piece that is much more lyrical than what I usually produce. After reading an early draft at a function, someone commented that they liked the poem. At odd times, I seem to lack basic social skills, and I replied it was fiction a tad more harshly than I meant to sound. Honestly, I couldn’t tell them it wasn’t a poem with a straight face: I think that got under my skin.

The genre nomenclature game is for suckers. That said, any piece I’m working on needs to succeed on my terms. Generally speaking, my fiction contains narrative tension with clearly evident stakes. In contrast, I’m comfortable with creating poetry that sends up an image that can then interpreted by the reader to be meaningful in X, Y, and Z ways or is just resonant and effective for other reasons.

The piece I’m referring to, this annoying piece, whose shortcut icon mocks me from the desktop even as I compose this entry, has no explicit narrative tension. Last night, I spent several hours trying to add context, back-story, and characterization, but everything I write seems tacked on. The image works for me: it resonates. I think I shall affix a tiny scrap of paper to the piece and scrawl ‘poem’ on it before firing it off to be judged.

At some point in the future, I should say some things about choosing a PoV because this piece was a good lesson in the significance of that choice. But I have a poem to finish…at least I think it’s a damn poem.