I had a great story idea. Working full time, I wrote on breaks and a few minutes before the cafeteria filled with bossy men who insisted to know what I was doing and whether I had a new joke. Those were my friends, my cherished lunch bunch. So I staked out the cafeteria and skulked in there early, when no one was looking, just to steal a few minutes when I had a great story idea. My favorite idea remained stuck in my mind. I knew the story, beginning to end. I knew everything but the name of the characters. Yet it wouldn’t come out. The ink would have dried up in the pen before getting one decent word one paper.
Three torn and mangled sheets of paper later, my friends arrived for lunch. One torn and shredded sheet later, break was over. Three write-fast attempts later my husband was home and I deleted the document contents without even looking at it.
Some stories peel out in layers of scribbles – all rough and scratchy in the beginning, then smooth sentence after smooth sentence by the time the end is reached, even if it was begun one lunch break and completed at afternoon break a week later. Some live in my head for weeks then fall onto the paper in chunks. Some, often my favorite ideas, just don’t come until some outside inspiration seeps into it and recasts it completely.
In this case, I read a short story Gabriel Garcia Marques, Eyes of a Blue Dog, grabbed my notebook and wrote the entire story in one break. It was nothing like the version in my head. I lost three characters, two scenes, and the main conflict became a detail that made one of the characters so interesting to me. Clearly it’s not a long story, but it remains one of my favorites. I’m proud of that story.
That was pre-child. My greatest difficulty writing then was figuring out where the story really started. Post-child, I can’t maintain a relationship with a character (or situation) in my head long enough to complete a conversation. Funny thing is that the way through both challenges is similar:
Three things I’ve learned from writing difficulties:
1. Carve out a writing space
The short version is that a dedicated space is a physical way to move our minds from whatever we were doing to our creativity. It’s not instant, of course, but it works. And a truly dedicated space to write can change everything. That space is different for everyone, but it must be yours. Two takes on writing space if you want more: My February posttalks about where I write and why. Jodi blogged about changing writing spaces.
2. Dedicate time for yourself
This is so spa-ad-ish, isn’t it? I just read a discussion forum of moms wishing for a regular mani/pedi night. Me? Stuff the mani/pedi. Unfettered access to tea, blank pages in my notebook, and repeated, regular time all to myself. As a ful-ltime employee that was break and lunch. As a part-time teacher and mom, it seems to be 5 am (and coffee instead of tea). If I spend it contemplating my navel, that’s time well spent. I’ll probably have a story shaped out at the end of an hour, if I get an hour. Or I’ll have a WA post and a kernel of an idea for poem. For you, I know it looks and works differently. Maybe you have an office with a go-away sign. Maybe you sneak into the bathroom with a notebook. Let us know your way of getting that time–particularly if you sneak into the bathroom. How do you keep the rest of the family (kids) from pounding on the door every 30 seconds?
3. Dedicated, not entrenched.
Ever written and written and written and realized you’re writing what you are, the way you are, for no better reason than because you said you would? Yeah, fun. I’m stubborn, and a perfectionist (can’t tell that from my house though), so I entrench pretty easily. I recommend figuring out if your entrenched as quickly and painlessly as possible, and stopping. The best things have come when I realized it and shook loose. I found a great change of perspective, and, in the case of stories, those are the ones my beta-readers have liked the best. For me, shaking out of it usually involves reading something, sighing, moping over what I can’t do (because I’m a lousy writer, because I have no time, blah, blah.) It involves obsessing a little. Then an “ah!” moment, an inspiration. Then it’s easy to let go of the stubborn stuff and find something better. There’s a better way. Simple, clean, easy. Walk away. Literally or figuratively. Then come back to it later, with a new perspective.