Click here to read “And Then the Sky Was Full of Fire” by Jared Leonard.
- Germ that Shit up: Go and have stuff happen to you. Seriously, get a job that sucks, work that job, then quit to find another equally sucky job. Fall in love, fall out of it, eat chips afterwards. Buy a dog, realize that you weren’t ready for a dog, try to train your shitty, misbehaved dog. Not only do these things give material to write a story (a boy gets a dog and the dog sucks) but you also have a better grasp of what that story feels and looks like (dog’s nails go click-clackety on the floor as it hunts for your shoes, its nose is black and shiny like a piece of polished coal, etc.)
- Write, and Revel in it: Just write. Write whatever half-thought, malformed, anomalous draft that’s been incubating in your brain, and enjoy it. The first draft is the sandbox, where every idea can come and live in harmony together, no matter how strange. The first draft is the paradise where all your pretty peacocks can strut around and show their plumage and not have to worry about the tigers (edits) lurking in the undergrowth. Don’t worry too much about plot and character consistency, you can fix those things later. For now, just have some fun.
- Put the draft away: Lock that shit up the second you’ve written your ending out. Put it away. Don’t look at it. Don’t. Go and enjoy the feeling that what you’ve written is the best thing that’s ever been written ever, but don’t even think about looking at that story. Stop thinking about it. Go do some other stuff. Go write another first draft, go get some exercise, or better yet, train that damn dog.
- Read like an editor: Read this thing, but gonna read it as if someone else wrote it. Make notes of typos, of where the plot slackens for even a moment, and paint every goddamn one of those pretty peacocks with so much red that the tigers can’t help but chase them down, but don’t actually change anything, not yet. Just read, make notes, repeat.
- Other eyes see better than you do: Have other people read your story. They could be your friends, other writers you know, strangers if you’re bold. You need these people, though. You need their feedback, you need to see if the notes you’ve made yourself correlate with what they tell you. It’s through consensus that you can find your most heinous mistakes and save yourself agony in the future.
- Edit, and make sure it hurts: Don’t hold back. If even a sentence seems out of place in your story, cut it. If you’ve got some achingly beautiful description that does nothing to move things forward, cut it. If something just doesn’t feel right with some part of the story, either in word choice, plot progression, or character development, cut it. Remember, you’re not the writer anymore, you’re the editor, and editors do the work of tigers, making sure only the strongest, most functional peacocks survive.
- Repeat as Necessary: Do this as many times as you need. Re-read, edit, send to your friends, and make changes. Word by word, you’ll realize that what you wrote is not the best thing ever written ever; it might actually be terrible. From this realization, you might want to give up on the story, but don’t. If there’s one thing you should be as a writer, it’s persistent, so keep on editing through the pain and shame of having crafted a bad story, you owe it to yourself to see this thing through.
- Strive for something great, but settle for something good: At the end of the day, you could edit a story forever, send it out, and still have someone tell you there’s something you can fix. At some point, make the decision and quit changing shit around. Determining when something is good enough to send out is a skill in itself, and you’ll never develop it if the piece never leaves you. So send it off and see what happens. At worst, you get a response telling you no, and at best, you get published. Seems like an easy choice to me.