I had an interesting experience this week with respect to my writing. So, this week, instead of sharing the results of that writing, I will not be sharing it and instead will be writing about how it all went wrong.
A couple of weeks ago I had a lot of fun writing a short story, which is something I’ve only done a handful of times before. I enjoyed the fact that it had a beginning, middle and end. It was roughly as long as it felt like it needed to be. It could certainly benefit from editing and probably tightening the middle which was more wordy than necessary, perhaps, to introduce the central point of the story, but in the end I was pretty happy with the results.
Last week I just wrote an easy entry on playing role playing games.
As this week started I wasn’t really feeling anything grab me with respect. I had no clue what I was going to write. I’ve tried to mix up stories and some general stuff about what’s going on for me and I wasn’t sure where I wanted to go this week.
By Tuesday it occurred to me that I hadn’t written anything yet and really didn’t have much of an idea. That left me with just a hint of a sense of panic. What would I write? Was it going to suck? What if I couldn’t write? What if I’d written all that I could and was capable of? Stupid stuff, mostly. Self-doubt, but the seed was there.
Tuesday night I went to bed and woke in the middle of the night at the request of my bladder. Having resolved that issue I went back to bed and instead of just rolling over and going back to sleep as I usually do, my brain was just engaged enough to keep me awake. It wandered off the trails putting together random nonsense and things just flitted in to and out of my consciousness. After an hour, which is a very long time for me to be awake in the middle of the night I had an idea wander through for a short story. I played with it, added some things, fleshed out the first part of it to get to what I thought would be the interesting part. In about an hour and a half I was pretty sure I had a short story to write. I was awake enough at this point that I wasn’t overly worried about losing the idea so I went to sleep, knowing I wouldn’t forget the core of the idea.
In the morning, I was sure I was looking at a long day because of the lack of sleep the night before, but I felt like that was okay because I had what felt like a neat story to write.
Early in the morning I opened a text file on my computer and sketched out the arc of the story and put it away to focus on the day. I figured it would just wait for a bit of time to actually just sit down and write it out. That had been my experience for the two prior short stories I’d written recently, so I thought this would be no different.
I was wrong.
I tried two separate times at more than an hour each time and failed to get that story to completion.
The first time it was written in third person (“Jim walked down the trail enjoying the day.”) but as I got past the first third and in to the middle third, it just felt too detached for the story, too impersonal. I got cranky and nuked the file.
That was a lesson which was probably good to learn now after only an hour of so of writing. Rather than just tossing the file, I should hang on to that. There might have been phrases or movement in the story that was salvageable. It probably wasn’t a total loss. But, toss the file away and it’s gone forever.
Yes, I’ve been operating with software long enough I probably should be using something that allows me some version control so I can just nuke a section and know that I can go back and get at it if I need to. As I said, lesson learned.
The second time I started that story I felt like I had a good head of steam. I had a couple of hours that I could spend thinking about and letting the story do its thing and I just started writing. It seemed like it was going well. This time the story was in first person (“I walked down the trail enjoying the feel of the sunshine on my face.”) which seemed both more appropriate for the story and seemed to help through a couple of turns in the first third and in to the middle third.
As I was trying steer things towards the latter third of the story it was as if the story was resisting me. It seemed to be fighting back!
I knew I was in charge and I know it was my fingers on the keyboard but it seemed like, try as I might, I could not wrestle the story back under control.
And it’s not like the story had a better idea where it was going and how to reach a resolution. It was just out of control with no sense of direction and was resistant to what I was trying to do.
After another hour or so of going back and chopping things out, re-writing paragraphs and sections, I was in no better control of this story than I was at any time over the last hour.
I realize it’s a lousy analogy but it really did feel like I was fighting with the story. And losing!
The story and I reached an impasse. I stared at it, unsure and unclear how to proceed. It stared back at me with that cursor just blinking, ready to do whatever I told it but it was clear that I did not know what to tell it to turn this thing around!
The good news is I learned at least a bit and I saved and closed that file. I can go back and try to figure out what the hell happened. I can go back and try and figure out if I can grab this thing by its imaginary horns and wrestle it back under control. Or, as I know happens sometimes, it may just go back in a virtual drawer of Works in Progress (it actually sits now in a folder “in the cloud” called, appropriately WIP). I don’t know, we’ll have to see.
As I think about the story, the story is probably not that clever. It takes a fairly common idea in science fiction and I try to put my own spin on it, my own take. So, nothing that original and probably pretty derivative. But it’s the first time, at least from the writing this year, where I was unable to get the story from idea through to some kind of completion on paper.
Was it a failure? Did I fail?
Of course not. Regardless of whether I completed that particular story and managed to untangle that particular knot, I spent the time and I wrote. I worked those muscles related to storytelling in my brain and had an idea with a start, middle and finish.
It’s only a failure if I walk away, if I quit. It’s only a failure if I fail to learn something useful from it.
Instead, I stepped to the side and took a different path.
I wrote some notes in the story to be sure I don’t forget where I wanted to go from where I was. How it wraps up, what it is I’m trying to play with in the story. Then, it’ll sit in WIP folder waiting for a time when I can take a fresh stab at it.
One of the things I like about my brain (probably true for everyone, but I like it when it happens) is that I’ve now got that story loaded somewhere back in my brain. Like the good problem-solving, three pound mass of neurons that it is, my brain may noodle on the problem for a few days, or weeks or maybe months. But, it seems more often than not, often at inopportune times, it’ll offer up the solution to the problem that it has (I have) been noodling on in the background. At that point I’ll revisit the story and maybe it’ll be time to finish it.
Till then, as I said, I’ll stop hitting my head on this particular tree, take what I can from it, and head out on a different path until I find another tree that will try to stop me.
The goal for this effort wasn’t to write a story every week. Which is a good thing. I don’t think I have the chops for that, yet.
It was to write a certain amount every week and publish it. To produce. To practice. To be open to the feedback and to whatever else I learn in the process.
In that, I was successful. And if I was successful, if there were good thing learned, positive things taken from the effort, it certainly wasn’t a failure.
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