Conscientious Writing

Don’t miss Bud Sparkhawk’s meta story “The Fading Pages of a Short Story”—on sale in our current issue now!


by Bud Sparhawk

I’ll be the first to admit that I am not a conscientious writer. In fact my writing efforts occur occasionally in spasmodic bursts of creativity but more often in damn, slogging drudgework. I am also easily distracted (ADD) and not very good on details, a combination that definitely curtails my efforts. Too often I’m distracted by something bright and shiny and lose my often-tattered thread of plot. As I’ve mentioned in my weekly blog (, elements of my drafts such as names, places, and descriptions seem to remain liquid, never resolving until the penultimate draft is unknowingly submitted. I too often have regrets immediately after submission because of my PSS (premature-submission-syndrome).

All of my stories begin with far more words than ever reach the reader. Most of my short stories were almost three times as long in their original draft. As the sculptor said modestly about his works, “It’s easy to a produce a statue once you see the part of marble you need to remove.”

Editing provides both the bane and pleasure of writing. The bane is realizing that the piece I just completed is in fact an atrocious piece of poorly worded, rambling, disorganized crap. The pleasure comes from the continual polishing of successive drafts to make each word matter until the pearl steps from the oyster as it were.

To begin with, editing a first draft is easier than the writing of a story. At that nescient stage, errors of haste become glaringly obvious, as does any material irrelevant to the story. Most misspelled words and grammar mistakes are hopefully taken care of automatically so are of no concern (except when you’re writing SF of course). Editing becomes increasingly harder with each succeeding draft as I struggle to clarify and improve the action while honing descriptive and expository sentences into razor-sharp clarity. This last effort (reaching for the perfect word/sequence) often becomes as tedious as picking fly scats from the pepper line and would appear being overly compulsive to any rational observer.

I always carry a burden of guilt about my lack of discipline and fret that, should I not write for a while, the gift of creativity will depart, never to return. Occasionally I can become extremely focused, so much so that I ignore not only outside distractions but, occasionally, the physical cries of bladder and stomach. These periods come when my inner demons use their spurs to ride me to exhaustion. A similar narrow focus descends when I become captivated by a compelling story, so much so that my copyediting persona stops mentally correcting words, sentences, or sometimes entire scenes to the point that I actually understand the author’s intent. I wish I could be as critical of my own drafts instead of having these damnable teflon eyes that too frequently slide over outrageous errors of speliing and grammer.

Yet, there is a time, a brief moment when clarity prevails, when I am graced with a scene, a line of dialogue, or a plot detail that is suffused with such brilliance that it takes my breath away. When I attempt to capture it, the resulting effort captures only a pale shadow of that revelation and no amount of editing ever restores the luster of the original insight.

So I continue plodding along my punctuated path, stumbling too often, and missing many of the more clever possibilities as I strain to craft stories well beyond my skill level. My tortuous struggle to achieve something meaningful seems to be both a curse and a blessing.

But it doesn’t stop me from writing.

Bud Sparhawk was born in Baltimore and now resides in Midlothian, Virginia. He has a BS degree in mathematics from the University of Maryland and an MBA in finance from Oklahoma City University. After 15 years in the Air Force Bud worked for a variety of private companies before retiring from the role of vice president at Macfadden, a federal government contractor. Bud is a member of SIGMA, a think tank of speculative writers that advises the government on issues of national interest. For the past 10 years since his retirement he was Board member and Chief Financial Officer for SFWA.

His work is most associated with his short fiction in Analog but has been published elsewhere in various magazines. He was a three-time finalist for the Nebula Award for Best Novella in 1997, 2002, and 2005. His work has appeared in several Year’s Best SF anthologies. His first professionally published novel, titled Vixen, was released in 2008 from Cosmos Books. Since then he has professionally published two collections, and five novels, the most recent of which Scattered Dreams will appear in early 2019.

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