James Holden: The virtues of a bottom drawer

I wouldn’t describe my writing rate as especially prolific, although this year I have been better disciplined at making sure that I find the time to write, helped by the targets for writing I set myself at the beginning of the year. I normally start a new story every three to four weeks, some of which are written for a particular competition, some in response to a specific call for stories, and some just because I have an idea that I want to take forward.

But after I’ve finished, or what I think is finished (“what is finished?”  is a different debate)there are really two ways a story could go. They may get submitted somewhere specific or kept for the next Clerkenwell Writers Asylum Short Story Collection. But the ones that I struggle to work out what to do with tend to get filed away in my ‘bottom drawer’.

The stories that are in my ‘bottom drawer’ are sometimes ones that I’m unhappy with – a story that I’m not quite sure works, wondering if a particular section needs improving or the ending changed, but uncertain about how to take it forward. It needs a fix but it’s not clear what that should be.

Work goes to the ‘bottom drawer’ because the story is not an easy fit for opportunities currently out there – either because of theme or length.

Now this is not to say that work that ends up in my bottom drawer is unloved. To some extent I tend to see some sort of virtue in everything that I write, if for no other than I liked the idea that I began with even if I didn’t quite pull it off and am holding out that at some point I can put it right. I regard the work in the ‘bottom drawer’ as drafts that can be resurrected at any time.

Last month I came across Silver Apples, a new magazine that will feature short stories, poetry, photography and artwork. Their first issue is on the theme of ‘modern mythologies’, which made me think of a story I had written some time ago (five years ago, to be exact), retelling the tale of Hansel and Gretel from the point of view of the witch. When I pulled it out of the bottom drawer to have a look at it I could see that it needed a couple of tweaks, and also needed some work doing to the ending. But it only needed a little work to be ready to be sent off, and I am delighted that the story has been accepted by the editors of the magazine and will be published soon.

So even if not every story has an immediate home, I think that a good ‘Bottom drawer’ is a are great thing to have – it creates a store of stories that can be used when the right opportunity arises.


About James Holden

Brought up in Yorkshire, James has washed up on the shores of London. He spends his days working as a political geek. His short stories have previously been read by the Liars League.
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