Winter writing retreat, day 2

Today was a nice, long day of writing. I shut my study door a little after 9 am and didn’t come out again til lunch. Then I was back in the study around noon and I kept at it until my wife invited me on a short walk around the neighborhood at 4 pm. Which was a perfect way to unwind.

You’d think with all that time at the work, I’d have pounded out pages and pages of new material, and I did start the day with the novel, working over some plot decisions and looking at some research that might help with the end of the novel. But I soon realized I was just wasting time — research makes for fantastic procrastination — and really, I’m still trying to clear my head of older work, so I went back to those chapbooks I was trying to figure out yesterday. And I’m glad I did, because one of them had a hole in it — I needed one more story to tie it all together. And today, I found it.

What’s more, that story is one I started writing in 1994.

That’s not a typo. I actually wrote the first draft of that story for a college lit class twenty years ago.

It’s changed dramatically since then: At the time, it was a short, juvenile piece about first-date sex and falling in love in a blue suburban moonlight. I read it at an open mic for my college coffeehouse, and later I ran a revised version of it in the college lit rag. But after college, I realized the story felt too sugary, too upper-middle class. So I moved the whole thing out of the white-washed suburbs and set the sex in a trailer. I also added more of the first-date scene, made conversation (and later the sex) more awkward, made the male protagonist less sure of himself.

It never went anywhere. I kept reworking it and sending it out, but it was a crap story. Except I really wanted this piece to do something. So I kept at it, and kept at it, until I finally chucked it in the proverbial drawer. Then about seven or eight years ago I was between stories and looking for something to needle at, so I dragged that old story out and retooled it, made the protagonist a sexist asshole, added a pregnant waitress.* Then I ditched the waitress and toned down the guy’s sexism.

On and on it went.

I won’t go into too many details here, but a few years ago, the story shifted for me — I added an entirely unexpected element and the whole thing utterly transformed. There’s still the awkward sex, there’s still a trailer, but the rest of the story, including the two main characters, are wholly different. I wish I could tell you how different, but this thing is headed out into the world and I don’t want to prejudice the jury, as it were. Let’s just say, the thing that transformed the story was the influence of medieval hagiographies about married virgin saints.

Of course, given the drastic effects of such a wild departure from those early drafts, the resulting story was such a hot mess that I had to keep revising. And revising. And revising.

But today, I reworked the story, trimmed out another 300 words and added a couple dozen to clarify key moments, and I’ve done it. Twenty years of revision finally wrapped up in about six hours of steady work, and it completes this chapbook I’ve been working on for the past several months.

Now I just need a title. (I hate titles.)


* I was in the middle of drafting another story set in the same restaurant — that waitress, now gone from this dating story, was Florida from “No Milk Would Come.”

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