I’ve been editing a writing friend’s short story. Said story was recently long-listed in a prestigious international writing comp, and I asked if I could read it. (The reason I’d never read it before is that writing friend is newly acquired. We’ve been swapping work for critiquing but said story was written and emailed off to the comp prior to our relationship.)
As you would expect – being long-listed – the story is a cracker. It has a beautiful, relevant title*, which I won't mention, and some lovely images and words. I was engrossed and enthralled …until I reached the last para, which made me sit back. I thought something was missing. The ending was too abrupt, too short, to do justice to the haunting beauty that had come before. (And possibly might explain why the story was never elevated to the short-list.)
Now writing friend did not ask for advice or a critique, so I was in a tough spot. How I approached it was to say (email) the wonderful things I’d admired about it, which were genuine – I told you it was a cracker of a story – and then to slip in that the ending worried me, but I wasn’t going to interfere or enlarge unless writing friend wanted to hear more.
Like any professional, and to my relief, she did. So we’ve worked on this ending together. I gave my reasons why I thought the current ending wasn’t working and then I wrote some lines which I hoped would get her thinking about another version. In turn she emailed back to say that “I’d nailed it” and could she use my ideas. By all means, I said. She then sent me her version of a new ending and this is where it gets complicated…
I had this compulsion to keep wanting to edit it, to take over the ending. How wrong is that!? I had to force myself to pull back. To tell myself it wasn't my story.
My question is: when is enough editing enough? When do you say, let it go?
*The title got me thinking about Roberta Flack's beautiful song, Killing Me Softly. You can go here to listen to a version of the song.
And you can go here to read some interesting music trivia. I had no idea.