|Blending in for 100+ years!|
(Great Basin NP photo)
History buffs were literally all “a-Twitter” recently over a news story released by Great Basin National Park officials. The incredible account of a rusty Winchester rifle found leaning against a juniper tree in remote northern Nevada has sparked the interest of researchers, gun experts and, yes, more than a few fiction writers. The Model 1873 rifle (.44-40 caliber, for those of you who like to know these things) very likely has been resting against that tree for over a hundred years. Oh, the stories we could conjure up!
What I found interesting about the news release was its date: Great Basin’s Facebook page announced it on January 8, 2015, and it later became a national headline. But when was the gun actually found? Last November, staffers on an archaeology outing noticed it…perfectly camouflaged against the gnarled juniper trunk.
Park officials did not rush to the local TV station or blast a social media “Eureka!” I’m sure there was a lot of jumping up and down with glee on their parts, but they took the time to do a little research before revealing the discovery. Remarkably, the serial number was still visible. Park staff members checked it against the Cody West Firearms Museum's records. They learned that it was manufactured and shipped in 1882, although Winchester records don’t indicate the purchaser or shipping destination. Great Basin continues to scour local newspapers and other historical records for more information about “the Gun Frozen in Time.” They are preserving the rifle from further deterioration and plan to display it at the park.
My point is that the story is much more interesting with all of those additional details than it would have been back in November. Sometimes it pays to sit on a story.
Last week, I was handed a challenging writing project with a very short turnaround…as in four days, start to sparkling finished product. In my opinion, it wasn’t quite sparkling or finished, althought the client seemed pleased. I have learned–both from experience and other writers–that stories need a little “steep” time. It’s natural to be excited about a finished book or short story and want to release it as soon as possible. I’m learning that the sequence, for me, is write/edit/write/edit/WAIT. Wait a week, maybe two. Maybe longer, depending on the length and complexity of the project.
I think about it while I go on about other things. Without fail, I discover some nuance or detail that improves the story. Ooh..what if they knew each other back in Kansas? What if they’re brothers? Wait, did I get those dates wrong? Hmmm, that section seemed long/short/boring/etc.
Drop a tea bag in hot water. Just because it immediately looks like tea doesn’t mean it’s drinkable. A cake taken out of the oven has to rest before it can be cut and devoured. An old Winchester’s story comes to life as someone takes the time to track down its history.
Let your work settle after it’s finished. When you go back to it, it will tell you where it needs help. Take time to listen.
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