Sunday, 23 December 2012

Some things about 2012

Between now and the New Year I'm going to write a couple of posts about things about 2012. It's all quite vague at the moment, I'm not planning it out meticulously, I'll just write something every few days.

Today I'll tell you about... a writing lesson what I learned.

There was a story I'd been working on for a while. A good long while actually. Though not continuously, I'd been hacking and hammering away at this story for about 2 years. I'd sent various versions of it away, and it didn't ever get anywhere. The ending was wrong, all the endings I'd tried were either too quick or a bit too sentimental or a bit... mental (main character turned into a spider).

So. When Costa announced their all new really good sounding Short Story Prize, I thought - right, story - you're gonna get finished  - finished in a good way - and I'm gonna get you sent off to win the Costa Prize.

Amazingly, something clicked and I got the pacing and the ending just right and felt good about the whole story at last. A new character had arrived at the last minute, a small one, but she lifted things in the right way. The problem was - she existed in real life, in name at least. But from my long ago past - she was a primary school teacher. As I wrote this character in, I used the name of that real-life teacher because for the time being I couldn't think of another name, and I didn't have loads of time. It wasn't really her - it was a fictionalised version - nothing that she did in the story was true - I just 'saw' her as I wrote it. I knew I'd change her name before I subbed it.

And I did. I used good old 'find and replace' in Microsoft Word. But this name was also a word. Not this word, but a word like 'Right'. So I replaced all the instances of  (Mrs) 'Right' with a new name, 'Barker'. But that replaced all the times I'd used the word 'alright' as a normal word as well - but it was okay because spell check threw them up in red. e.g sentences like, (but not) "it's going to be alBarker". Ho ho ho. So I corrected them all, and with a few minutes to spare I subbed my story - and I felt all good and optimistic.

And then. I thought, 'I'll just have a look over that story again. After all, it is pretty amazing,' (oh you're heading for a fall, Stenson) and within about 8 seconds I saw a typo I'd missed, a product of the 'find and replace', which hadn't shown up in spell-check red because it was spelt okay but just made no sense. It was  in the very first sentence and just looked - well, weird. It read something like (but not) "the opposite of wrong is Barker".

A daft mistake in the first sentence of the story I'd been reaching for for 2 or more bloody years. Gah, aaagh, bleugh, and other noises came from me. I fell back on my bed and slapped my own face several times. YOU IDIOT, STENSON! You left it until the last minute AND you trusted a computer program to do your dirty work, YOU IDIOT! I raged, imagining the 1st reader of my story casting it aside, 'the opposite of wrong is Barker? what is this IDIOCY? rahahaha'.

So - after a few minutes more of slapping my face I let it go and thought - what will be will be. They might get over that weird word and find a story they like. They might think I'm really innovative and avant-garde, making words up or something.

None of these things happened. I didn't get anywhere in the competition but I did learn - or should hopefully have learnt (we'll see) - not to leave it to the very last minute and NEVER EVER to use find and replace so nonchalantly and also possibly to not use real life names of real life people in fiction.

So there we go. Meanwhile, really serious things are happening elsewhere in the world.

But this is a writing blog. Did you learn any writing lessons this year?

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