The author spotlighted in this Ink Splat is Rachel Yeaman. She provided great advice to short story writers about revision and more! This month’s awesome writing challenge is a great exercise in revision. Submit a response to the challenge to firstname.lastname@example.org and you may have a chance to be published online! What are you waiting for?
The Challenge: Food for Thought
February we are focusing on the love/hate relationship with revision. Test your limits with this month’s challenge.
Write a short paragraph about the last thing you ate focusing on taste. Take a break (watch something on Netflix or read a chapter in a book). Now, without re-reading your paragraph write down three new details you didn’t mention in the first paragraph. Re-read your paragraph and choose only one detail to focus on. Write a new paragraph only about that one detail.
Submit your first and second paragraph responses by emailing email@example.com and you might be published on our website!
“A Game of Inches” and Writing Short Stories with Rachel Yeaman!
Rachel Yeaman invites us into her writing journey and shares honest and helpful advice for authors, on revision, perfectionism, and a special look and working with short stories.
An Interview with author Rachel Yeaman
What is your process for revision and editing your stories?
Argh, revision! It feels so good just to finish a story that it’s tempting to call it “done”. But we rarely get it right the first time––I know I don’t. When I submitted the first draft of my short story, “A Game of Inches,” to my MFA advisor she told me to slash the story from 28 pages to ten. Ten pages! All those beautifully chiseled sentences and carefully crafted metaphors…how could I cut them? I decided to give the story some breathing room until I could look at it with new eyes. Then I stripped it down, keeping only the elements that were essential to its beating heart. The second draft was stronger, but the ending wasn’t quite right. I put the story aside again, and, once I’d figured out the ending, asked other writers for feedback. After it was accepted for publication, I worked with the editor to make still more edits. All in all, it took two years for one tiny story! I think the key is to be open to feedback, and to let the work rest until you can see it fresh. Above all, don’t give up!
Tell us a little bit about your new story and what inspired you to write it?
My stories are always a blend of my own experiences and things I observe. “A Game of Inches” explores what happens when a young person measures their worth solely in terms of their achievements. Tanner, the protagonist, seems to have it all: with a pro-athlete dad, he was labeled a baseball phenom at the age of six. As a teen, Tanner is determined to maintain his privileged status, but beneath his swagger lies deep-seated fragility: he fears he’ll be revealed as a fraud. With another kid poised to take his place on the championship team, Tanner’s whole world may just fall apart… Although I don’t play baseball, I know how great––and how perilous––it can be to feel on top of the world. And, from watching my kids play, I’ve seen the passionate emotions that the game can elicit. So it seemed like the perfect backdrop for this story.
Sometimes young writers feel like their work has to be perfect. Did you ever struggle with that feeling? What advice would you give?
Anne Lamott says that “perfectionism is the oppressor,” and I agree! I still struggle with the feeling that the work has to be perfect––in fact, the novel I’ve just finished deals with this very theme. I think many writers, old and young, want their work to come out right the first time, but worrying about perfection really stifles creativity. In order to write you have to turn off the inner critic and accept that your work will be messy and flawed. The best work comes when you really connect with your characters and commit to telling the truth about their journey and their struggles. Write in pursuit of exploration, not in pursuit of perfection. Write what you care about, and, above all, enjoy the ride!
When did you discover you wanted to be writer? What did your journey look like to get here?
I always secretly wanted to be a writer but never dared say it out loud. I studied English lit and worked for many years directing communications for advocacy and nonprofit organizations. I wanted to write fiction but never had the time––or courage! After I shattered my knee (a whole other story) I decided to grab the laptop and just…begin. I took classes, committed to writing every day, and eventually earned an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. I have a wonderful community of writers with whom I share and critique work, which is the greatest asset of all!
Many students are writing short stories for this years “Inklings Book Contest”. What is one quick tip you can give about writing a short story?
Keep it simple! I see many short stories from student writers––of all ages–– that are so gloriously ambitious in scope that the ideas could fill 300 pages of a novel. I think the key to a successful short story is that it leads us to one moment in which we glimpse the true essence of a character or situation. Less is more in terms of plot––you only have a few pages, so don’t try to do too much!
A special thanks to Rachel Yeaman!
You can read “A Game of Inches” in the Hunger Mountain Journal of the Arts, Issue 21, Masked /Unmasked (Feb 2017).
Congrats on completing your new novel and we look forward to seeing it!