Diving back into a manuscript that hasn’t felt the sun for over a year is an unnerving and surprising endeavour. I had written and re-written a manuscript of my experiences in Afghanistan in 2004 and 2008. It was much liked but needed work and so it went back into the proverbial drawer (in my case, a taped up cardboard box) while I focused on other projects.
This year, though, I pulled it out and decided to work on a few chapters to get them into ‘stand alone’ state. I set myself deadlines for competitions and submissions and after working through a few of the stories, I decided to send out to two. Both are going to be published this month.
The first one ‘In the Kabul Bubble’ appears in Kill Your Darlings, a journal of contemporary writing in Australia and the second, ‘Then and Now’ in the 2013 Fish Anthology, published in Ireland. The Kill Your Darlings issue is online and in the shops from tomorrow and the Fish Anthology is launched on July 10 at the West Cork Literary Festival in Bantry in Ireland and will be available to buy online after that.
The process of re-reading and re-thinking and then re-working has taught me much about tone, time and structure. The shifting of gears from approaching the manuscript as a ‘book’ to looking for indicative stories, excerpts or amalgamations that convey a similar feel but reveal different aspects of my time in Kabul, has been intriguing and a genuine freeing of my ideas about writing in general.
It has also been rewarding for both pieces to have found homes on their first outing. The Fish Memoir Competition is highly contested and my piece was judged to be in the top 10 from 810 entries from around the world. That is a great boost to the confidence. Kill Your Darlings is also a highly sought after publication by writers and the journals are always well-reviewed across the nation. Another confidence surge.
I don’t often talk about what I am doing or working away at – I don’t know why and I’m sure it hasn’t helped my ‘career’ over the years. This year I have decided to do things differently. I send work out. I say I have sent it out. I talk about what happens to that work. I am trying to make it obvious that I am ‘writing’. This is, of course, easier today because there is publication involved – an obvious marker of success. But I haven’t received two grants I have applied for this year. I did receive half another grant – ie. half the money – I asked for and because of my tight financial situation I had to turn it down. The project would have cost me more than double what I ‘didn’t get’ from the funding agency and I couldn’t justify that kind of debt. Such is the life of a writer and a student on a scholarship.
This process though, of opening up my world of writing to the outside, is a good and productive one. It has brought comment and discussion and support. Things I am often short on, or at least feel I am. It has also made me more critical of my work, more able to see the patterns, the repetitions, the glossed over sections of pain, than I have been before. It is also significantly about defeating the fear of rejection, of not being good enough. I now know, quite deeply, that sometimes what I write will be good enough, perhaps even really good and sometimes it won’t be. This month happens to be a ‘good’ month. Enjoy if you can afford the cost of the journals.