One of the best ways to edit a story is simply to give it time, much as wine tastes better when it’s allowed to breathe. But there will be times when there’s not a minute to lose and you’ve got to produce something out of necessity, and sometimes that leads to some excellent work.
I was once given a homework exercise from a writing class that was a fragment of a poem. Nothing was immediately coming to mind and I wanted to complete the exercise as I’d paid for the class. After sitting in the library then writing and writing for an afternoon, I eventually produced a rather short piece called A Big Leap but one I was fairly pleased with.
Some time later, the tutor alerted me to a flash fiction competition just three hours before it was due to close. I collated what were my best flash pieces at the time, gave them a quick edit, then sent them in. A Big Leap became my first published piece.
I’ve done this a number of times with my work. A looming obligation or a lack of time has a way of forcing you down an unusual path, or to come up with ideas that are unconventional.
This happened most recently in November when I was asked to write an original piece for performance later that month. After a slow start, it ended up being based upon someone I knew many years ago, but I probably wouldn’t have used him if I’d had more time to think about it.
On another occasion, I was all set to read out a particular piece at Hotchpotch, when I was inspired to write another one by a topical event on the news. If I’d left it until the following month, the impetus would be lost, and that gave me just three or four days to concoct the new piece. I’ve subsequently edited it and it now stands alone without the audience needing to know the topical references, and it’s one of my favourites.
But necessity, however superior a result it might produce, isn’t always to a self-imposed goal. When Anthony Burgess found out he had an inoperable brain tumour, he wrote several novels to provide an income for his widow after his death.