It started in 2004 with a writing prompt to craft a 25-line story featuring a childhood place. I wrote “Queen of the Tobacco Field,” set in the shade tobacco farms of the Connecticut Tobacco Valley, my birthplace.
Are you surprised? Most folks not from here are. They think the south owns all the rights to tobacco. But I grew up watching local and migrant workers tend the plants as they pushed against the ghostly nets that create the just-right environment for some of the world’s best cigar binders and wrappers, and those fields, that netting, the red barns…those are my markers of childhood and home.
I digress. My first MFA workshop saw that 25-line story morph into a proper short story, and as I drafted my dissertation, it grew into a novella. I defended my dissertation in 2008, yet I still couldn’t let go of the story.
Every May, when my teaching gig was over for the summer, I promised myself I’d write a new draft, the one I could shop around. I have at least five half-finished drafts in which I changed huge parts of the story, but they were never right. As September arrived, I would give up.
This year, I didn’t make myself a promise. I gave myself permission.
Permission to try it one more time. Permission not to give up. Permission to do what I had to in order to write a brand new draft with a brand new focus. I made the commitment matter by hiring a terrific writing coach.
Around the same time, I saw a tweet from Rachael in which she used the term Phoenix Draft. And I knew she’d written it just for me (okay, she didn’t, but it flew past my eyes at the moment I needed to see it). See, almost every time I begin a new draft, I open a brand new document and start from scratch. I rarely (except with short stories) get to the point where I’m satisfied enough with the story to revise the existing draft.
This one, I told myself, would be the Phoenix Draft. The last one to rise, new and different, reborn, if you will, from the ashes of ten years of drafts.
Last week, I finished the draft. 81,800 words of a brand new story, the story I was meant to tell, the story that precedes all of the events I crammed into the 25-line “Queen of the Tobacco Field.” I kept the name I gave it in novella form, The Hardest Bent, because it is a true and right name for this novel.
I printed it out, mapped out a revision plan based closely on Rachael’s, and in my last coaching session with dear Charlotte on Friday, firmed up how I’ll spend my next three months of writing time.
I am over the moon about revising this Phoenix Draft. I am terrified about finding a home for the novel, but it deserves that from me. So when this revision is over, when my trusted readers give me one last round of feedback, I plan to once more give myself permission. Permission to write a terrific query letter. Permission to find the agent and editor who will love my story the way I do. Permission to let The Hardest Bent do more than press against the netting…to burst out from under it, into the world.
How about you? What have you given yourself permission to do lately?