This weekend I'm attending a little regional SF/F convention (LibertyCon). As a part of my activities for the weekend, I'm doing a reading on Friday afternoon.
I've only done a couple of readings before, but, despite the nerves about actually reading my stuff out loud in front of strangers, I tend to enjoy them. I like sharing my work with folks (even if I feel like I'm about to swallow my tongue the entire time). However, picking something to read is always a challenge.
Do I select something short so folks can hear it beginning to end? Something already published? Something forthcoming? Part of one of the (as yet) unpublished novels? There are pros and cons with every choice, but this time I settled on reading the first section of a novelette I am putting out as an eBook reprint in another couple of weeks.
Legacy was originally published last fall in Beast Within 4: Gears & Growls, edited by Jennifer Brozek. It's a great little steampunk story about a (fictional) queen of England, the fictionally portrayed but absolutely real life Marie Laveau, and my totally fictional and non-queen protagonist, Willa Arch, who is just trying to survive to see another day. And there are skin-changers (shapeshifters), voodoo zombies, and a large helping of asskicking.
Due to the length constraints of the original publication there were a few narrative beats I had taken out. Since I'm republishing this myself in digital format and no one is likely to say "I would really have liked to read this story but 7k words instead of 5k is just too much" I figured I could add back in some of the partial scenes I had left out.
So far those little revisions are going well, but I find myself walking a fine line between writing the story as I had originally seen it (before I realized it wouldn't all fit under 6k words) and just writing the whole thing from scratch at twice the length. Because it would be easy to do that. Add in more subplots, more back story, put a little more distance between the key plot points. These are all things I tend to do when I revise. It's great when the thing I'm writing is a novel. Not so great when I'm trying to keep it within novelette range.
But I'm also looking at the original story and part of me is a little sad that I was willing to let it go without the additional scenes. The story is stronger now. Why did I think it was so good before?
And here's the thing. The first version is good. It's short and tight and tense. It lacks a little of the finesse the newer version is achieving, but it is still a good story. I'm proud of it and pleased that it was published. Does that mean I can't make it a little better? Of course not. It's been two years since I wrote the first version of Legacy and I've developed a lot as a writer since then. My craft, I like to think, is finer than it was then. It is only natural that I would see areas that could be improved.
Will I continue to publish longer, more polished, more detailed versions after this? Hell, no. Because I know what my original vision was. I also know that at the time, for various reasons, I was not able to achieve all of it. Now I am. And once I'm satisfied with the new version, that will be it.
Writers always lament never being done with a novel or short story. "There's always something left to change." And yes, as a new writer, it often feels that way. As I've grown more confident in my literary abilities, I find myself less dissatisfied with things I wrote six months ago. Less likely to look at something I've had published and think "Damn, I wish I'd changed that."
Don't get me wrong - you can always improve on craft. I will probably never grow out of finding sentences I think are clunky or poor word choices. But I have reached a point where I feel I can trust myself to say "Yes. This is done." And that is a good place to be, because it keeps me moving forward - finding new stories and writing those as best I can.