When Is It Time to Let Go Of a Story

Wednesday, June 29, 2022

The past few months have led me down the road of revisions again. It's not too uncommon for me to continue revising, even after I've begun to submit. Somehow, it eases the sting of rejection to know I'm in an ongoing state of improvement. In fact, I've recently re-revised two short stories of mine and they have been sent out to the world with renewed hope of acceptance. 

At the moment, I'm looking at another short story of mine this hot afternoon in June and recognize that vague feeling that it's "missing something." I read it freshly, only to realize that around page three, I was beginning to skim it. 

It's one of the few short stories I've written that feels purely fiction without any realm of weirdness in it. I was inspired to write it when I was let go of my day job a few years ago. Then I combined that moment with another time I had wished I could have given someone a pair of shoes who had none on their feet. I've often imagined it being published and me, finally, being able to describe the origins of its inspiration. 

Instead, it's been rejected many times (although once was a more positive rejection). I've grown tired of looking at my own stories before but even in those moments, at the bare minimum, I'm intrigued by something in it despite my familiarity. 

This time was different. 

I recalled someone's feedback to me once that the real story didn't start until after my character left the office once she lost her job. At the time, I dismissed it. Instead, I tightened up the story in other parts, certain the core of the story began when my character walked into work, realizing they were laying people off.  

Now, I wonder if that feedback had been right all along. 

As much as I hate to admit it, this may be one of those stories that get the back burner treatment. It's the first time I've recognized that about this story, actually. In fact, I didn't even recognize it until I started writing this blog post. Ever since attempting to polish this piece, I have begun to realize there may be aspects of this story that I need to take out, like the first half. Or I need to leave it behind completely. 

I won't regret writing it, though. I think it was more therapeutic to write it than I realized at first. It likely was part of me processing losing a job I had been at six years. It also maybe even eased guilt that I didn't help a man who didn't have footwear (even though at the time I really didn't have anything to give, but still...) 

What will happen now to it? I'm not sure. I'm not saying there's nothing there, but I need to find what is missing to move forward. Or maybe accept that it served a purpose beyond publication.

Nicole Pyles is a writer living in Portland, Oregon. When she's not hunting down the right word, she's talking to God, reviewing books on her writing blog, watching movies, hanging out with family, and daydreaming. Her work has been featured in Ripley's Believe it or Not, WOW! Women on Writing, The Voices Project, Sky Island Journal, and Best Colleges. Read her musings at WorldofMyImagination.com.


Sioux Roslawski said...

Nicole--You've teased out a detail that's so important for writers to understand. Sometimes the "purpose" of a story is not to get published. Sometimes it's to work through a new format, so next time, your piece begins on strong footing. Sometimes it's to heal.

There have been several pieces that I beat on way past the horse was dead... I now realize when the passion is not there, it's time to set aside the piece--either permanently or just temporarily.

Good luck deciding...

Nicole Pyles said...

Thanks Sioux! It's so hard to accept when it's the case of me having to set it aside, permanently. I feel like though, unless something hits me, that I may have to do that. But truly, many stories do offer a greater purpose, even when it's hard to accept that is what it's purpose was

Sue Bradford Edwards said...

Therapeutic writing is so important.

And, who knows? One day it may become something else. But if it doesn't it still served a purpose. Good luck on the two pieces you've revised and sent out into the world!

Nicole Pyles said...

Thanks! I was thinking maybe I could take out that smaller second portion after my character loses her job and turn it into a flash piece. Who knows, maybe I can find some kind of use for it. But...if I don't, that's okay...

Cathy C. Hall said...

I have LOTS of stories that languish but the writing of them--I see now--was important, Nicole. And I've used bits and pieces from unpublished stories in several novels so you never know. Keep the faith, nothing is ever wasted!

Nicole Pyles said...

So true! You never know how it can be used again!

Angela Mackintosh said...

Nicole ~ It sounds like an interesting premise! I like your idea of taking part of it and turning it into a flash. I've done that with several of my longer pieces and they've been picked up. Many journals are more interested in shorter, tighter work, so that may be the key. I think the beginning, the part someone told you to cut out, where your character walks into work and finds out the company is laying people off, could be a highly sensory experience and a sparkling little flash! End it with a twist - maybe the layoffs are actually a red herring, or maybe when the narrator feels safe from firing an unforeseen turn of events introduces the real conflict to overcome, or maybe a new piece of information reveals an unreliable narrator, or maybe a cutaway scene reveals info to the reader that the narrator doesn't know, or maybe a new character appears to upend the existing narrative. There are so many things you can do with a piece of your story and make it completely new. It sounds like you have an awesome setup! :)

Nicole Pyles said...

You gave me great ideas! I love that! I definitely want to break it up a bit and see what I can do with the pieces :)

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