The short story that I’m working on right now has beginnings that date back to 2005. It has alternately sat in drawers, completely forgotten, or been dusted off, workshopped and reworked. It’s been cut up, put back together, and has changed directions several times until it’s not even recognizable as the story I wanted to tell.
I just read the original opening that I wrote back in 2005. I cut it and discarded it years ago at someone’s suggestion, I don’t even remember whose, and I cannot for the life of me understand why I did that. I like that opening. It says what I wanted it to say. Not having it there changes the whole story. Can it be tightened up and made better? Of course. But I don’t think it had to totally go.
I suspect that I did it because someone else told me to. I think it’s as simple as that. In the process of learning the craft of writing I have eagerly accepted critique, and I have assumed that the people critiquing me know better than I do. Back when I was first working on this one that would have been especially true, because I was just starting to get involved in writers groups and workshops. I believe that it is still true to a great extent — who knows whether a story works better than a reader? And a skilled writer can of course explain why something does or does not work. Input is absolutely invaluable.
But I took that feedback to the point that the story I wanted to tell isn’t even there anymore.
How do we choose what to listen to and what to discard? When we’re told from day one to kill our darlings, and when someone says — with or without a plausible reason — to do this instead of that, how do we know when to trust them and when to trust ourselves instead? I think learning that is a skill just like any other, and it will take practice.
I’m putting this story back together. Fortunately I keep every iteration of every draft, so it’s all in this folder, I just have to find it. There will be some word-whacking needed after it’s reassembled, because it is a very long story, but in the end it has to be my story, not someone else’s.