This was one of two stories I submitted together, and it wasn’t the one I’d rallied myself behind. I’d been working on the other story for months; it had been workshopped by my writers’ group, I’d pored over the language, and I genuinely preferred that piece. I had approached it how I typically approach writing any story: I write a draft, let it sit for a while, rework it again, have it read/workshopped, rework it, maybe have it read again, and then rework it for as many months (or years) as it takes for me to be remotely happy with it.
My process for writing “How to Return Your Child” didn’t follow my typical pattern at all. This is, I’m sure, why I didn’t believe it could truly be up to par. The idea for this piece had been content to percolate in my mind for a few months, occasionally popping up in my head before receding as I worked on other things. It was only when I decided to submit my other story to a couple of contests, including this one, and I saw I was allowed two submissions, that I thought back to the idea behind “How to Return Your Child.” I realized how it needed to be written, and I thought, why not go for it now, and then I kind of just sprang into action. I think I had two days or something until the deadline for this contest, so I used both evenings I had to write this and then I submitted it along with the other story, not feeling very hopeful for its chances and certain my other story would be better received.
But when I went back to this piece a few weeks later, with the thought that now I would have time to make it something I was proud of, I realized I didn’t want to change it that much. This was a bizarre, abnormal feeling for me to have. Usually I want to change everything in a work in progress, especially one that’s only been through a couple of hurriedly composed drafts. But this piece resisted that. I found myself largely content with what was there on the page.
I’m not sure what the lesson here is. I’m still figuring out where I want my writing to go, so it feels odd for me to try to give others advice when I still feel like I’m flailing around. I still believe in multiple drafts and having people read your work and giving a piece the time it needs to breathe and be sharpened. But I guess this particular story has been a reminder that I don’t always have to obsess over something for months for me to be happy with it, which is a mildly relieving thing to realize, to be honest. I think what this boils down to is, no matter what your typical process is as a writer, each story will be different. Each story will have its own needs, questions, inclinations. And I think you just have to listen.
HILLARY SMITH is a native of Washington State, where her fiction has been published in regional and online magazines, including Poplorish, The Corner Club Press, and Soundings Review. She now lives across the country in the other Washington, working in communications at an environmental nonprofit. In the spare time she doesn’t spend writing, Hillary enjoys noodling around on her saxophone and keyboard, cooking with too many vegetables, and watching corgis.