Where to begin? Just begin. Yes, I know… But what I mean really is this: Do I start a new story or tackle an old one, one of those half written skeletons hiding in my document box? This is a problem. Those half written stories. Does this happen to anyone else? You become lit, inspired, an idea pops into your mind and you write fast, hard, and effortlessly and then the next day, a week later, or even a month later you come back to the story or the novel and think: Where do I go from here? Does this story have the steam to carry on? Am I being lazy not finishing it or is it just not working? And when you don’t seem to quite know the answers to those questions, you put the story aside. For now.
Well, I’ve put too many stories aside. There must be at least a dozen half written stories waiting for me to take another look at them, waiting for me to decide if they should be continued or put to rest. But how do we know? How do we know when an unfinished story is worth pursuing? Must we finish everything we begin? Just get to the end people say. Revise later. But how much fight should we give one story? Sometimes no matter how hard we try to push towards an ending, the story fights against us refusing to gel, flow, build, grow.
Many times, I’ve recycled old story ideas and folded them into newer stories. In that sense, I guess material can never be truly wasted. It’s always up there, hidden in our mind, ready to be discovered again. So perhaps it’s not about the story, but rather about how it’s written– the way we begin it, structure it, the tense we choose, the voice– that decides whether a story flows or not. I guess I shouldn’t worry too much about those old orphan stories, the ones saved in the “story ideas” file. Hopefully soon they will breathe life in another way, as their inspiration still lives in the unconscious.
Write about your obsessions, we’re always told. When I look at those dozen stories they all hit the same thematic notes: illness, death, addiction, loss. My obsessions it seems. I don’t think I even realized how similar the themes were while writing them. I guess, if anything, those stories now give me a sense of the issues that matter to me, remind me of the ideas and questions that fuel my writing. And now, as I begin, I must simply decide whether to let those stories simply inspire or whether there are one or two left that still have a strong, beating heart.
“I will write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.” -Joan Didion