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The Perfect Short Story

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A few years ago I wrote the perfect short story. I went to bed that night sure I had created a flawless first draft—no revisions needed.

The next morning I re-read the first sentence. Bravado slumped into despair. Had a gremlin changed the words overnight? Had someone broken into the house and altered the perfectly worded manuscript? Even someone with my crazy imagination had to admit those scenarios were unlikely.

My perfect short story needed work.

I grudgingly accepted that good writing will never come out of my brain full-grown, and developed a way to create a finished product.

First, I spit out the terrible, awful, very bad first draft. No one sees this chaos except for me. Sometimes I read the words leaning back in the chair with one eye closed. I repeat to myself, “This story is not the stupidest thing I have ever done,” and keep typing.

Convinced the first draft is not a total waste of time, I attack the mishmash of words wide-eyed and begin the first of many re-writes. I hand the new-born to my husband, hoping for a single word of praise. He often says something like, “A man would never say that.”

I go back to the keyboard.

Then critique partners scour sentences for repetition and faulty logic. They delight in deleting whole paragraphs with bloody red lines. I practice deep breathing exercises before opening their comments, but I know their feedback forces me to stick to the nuts and bolts of writing well.

More changes, and the manuscript goes to Beta readers—family, friends, people on the street—who agree to read the work and give their general impressions. Is it boring? Confusing? Any obvious errors? These readers are generally very kind, the boost I need to keep going.

After tweaking some more I send my piece off to a professional editor who takes what I consider a polished piece and points out the many rough edges. Incessant fine-tuning (and gnashing of teeth) follow, before I say, “Enough,” and write “The End.”

I don’t know if other writers follow the same path, but I’m pretty sure all of us have routines designed to get our stories close to perfection. We keep working, because we all long for the feeling I had when I wrote the perfect short story.

How do you get your story close to perfection? Share your creative routine with Editopia.

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Bradette Michel’s debut novel, For Their Own Good was published in 2015 by Harvard Square Editions. She is the author of the nonfiction, Supervising Young Offenders. Kim Campbell’s extensive experience as a freelance nonfiction writer allows her to bring decades of experience to her fiction writing. She is managing editor at a book publishing firm in Fort Lauderdale. At night and on weekends she writes short stories and works on Whisper Sister, a novel about a woman running a speakeasy in 1929 New Orleans.

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