“Brother's Keeper”: Writing, Editing, and Blood in the Sink

2015 Lamar York Prize Winner Joel Wayne on revision and the writing process.

When I was younger, I didn’t like revisions. You hear it enough times from older writers – the ones who’ve had a dozen books published, or simply a story or two – and it begins to feel like your dentist flipping you shit about not flossing. “We can’t all be Dorothy GD Parker,” you think, “get over it.” But you get a little older and you want to reduce the blood you see in the sink.

I wrote the first draft of “Brother’s Keeper” in a day or two. Over the next four days, I wrote three revisions. At that point, in a workshop, I had one of those rare, rare moments where a number of other writers said, “you need to submit this,” and you feel like Alice Munro or John Cheever. But I sat on it. I revised it another six times before turning it in to a respectable journal and receiving a soft pass. I felt very confident about it…but you learn that doesn’t account for much when it comes to what gets published. After a while, I submitted it to The Chattahoochee Review because a few writers I know and respect had been published over there. And, somehow, it resonated with the judges and I won this incredible award (and subsequently worked with “The Hooch” editors on another three minor revisions).

Nowadays, I greet revisions like a fresh drink. I rewrite each of my stories – with the previous version on the left and a blank document on the right – anywhere from 4-6 times before going back through and doing the minor copyediting work another four or six or fifteen times. Revision doesn’t mean publication; it only means the cleanest, tightest, most readable version of a story that maybe no one will ever read. That might sound depressing but I like to think of it, instead, as a permission slip for being more audacious. Years ago, I was lamenting my inability to focus on a single project or story to a very accomplished writer friend. “Write the thing you can’t get out of your head,” he said. “Finish the story that’s keeping you up at night.” If you’re like me, you’ll perpetually need those reminders to divorce yourself from the question of where and when and if a story will be read. It does you no good. Spend your time and your energy writing, and fall more deeply for your own stories. Hopefully, that care will be contagious to a reader.

Joel Wayne is a writer living in Boise, Idaho. His articles, fiction, nonfiction, and other works have appeared in AdPulp, apt, Glassworks, The Moth, Salon, Story Story Night and the Sun Valley Film Festival. He also received the 2015 Lamar York Prize for Fiction from The Chattahoochee Review(for a story which was subsequently nominated for a Pushcart Prize). He occasionally teaches fiction at The Cabin and has served as an assistant editor at The Idaho Review. You can find and talk to him at JoelWayne.com.

The Lamar York Prizes for Fiction and Nonfiction

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Prizes award $1,000 each.

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