At the most recent Milford workshop in September 2021, I brought a (heavily, wildly) reworked version of a story that I’d first brought to Milford in 2011. The core of the story is an idea that I’ve been struggling with, trying to find the best story home for, and I was nervous.
I was nervous in part because some of the 2021 attendees had also been attendees in 2011, and the commentary back in 2011 had largely been that while the idea might be an interesting idea, the 2011 story was not a good story. Not at all. Even though I’ve been struggling overall with my writing over the past few years, I didn’t know what comments the assembled company would make.
In the end, the 2021 commentary was extremely positive. Yes, there is some revision work to be done, that I’m working my way through, but what I found interesting is that a couple of the 2021 attendees went to the trouble of digging through old emails to find the 2011 version of the story, because they were curious whether they’d misremembered that old version. (And they hadn’t; the 2011 version was not a good story.)
This got me thinking about the craft of writing and how we can improve in our craft. Yes, the basic practice of writing is to write, and I know that for me, I need to get a bit more regular in my writing.
But I’ve also spent some time working through the process of commentary. I attend Milford every few years, and the week is a great week of focus, talking with writers at various stages of their writing lives and also watching how other people read and comment on stories. I find it fascinating how we each have our own points of interest, the things that catch our eye and attract our attention, and with each person I see another way of looking into a story.
Being in regular writing groups, in person and on-line (the BSFA Orbit groups in this case), and slush reading also provide practice in examining how a story works.
And all of this experience of examining the inner working of stories came together for me with this crazy idea of mine, which I hope you’ll all be able to read in the not too distant future. All of this came together in my quest to find the right home for this crazy idea, taking it on the journey from bad vehicle (an inside joke, for those few who read the original version) to a story that might well actually work. All of this came together in working through the various manifold ideas I’d had for this story, until I found a shape that works.
Jim Anderson is a Professor of Mathematics at the University of Southampton, and is also the Associate Dean (Education and Student Experience) for the Faculty of Social, Human and Mathematical Sciences. Beyond mathematics, he practices the traditional Japanese martial art of aikido and writes science fiction and fantasy.
Jim is on-line at http://www.multijimbo.com