I was twenty-one years old, still wearing a lot of black and listening to angsty post-punk and industrial bands like Ministry and Skinny Puppy when I made one of my first attempts at novel writing. The story took place primarily in a nightclub called the Crimson Dungeon, which was inhabited by a cast of velvet-clad, liquid eyeliner-wearing malfeasants who alternately screwed with each others minds and bodies. Two chapters into my masterpiece, I accidentally deleted the file. There was no getting it back. I tried to rewrite it and move on, but it just didn’t feel the same. I had lost my momentum. I had lost my story.
In this case, it was probably a good thing. My characters were shallow and cartoonish, and the plot was both thin and overdramatic. At the time, though, giving up on the story felt like a failure. I couldn’t fathom the notion of writing for practice, couldn’t comprehend that although I didn’t move forward with this particular story, the whole experience had not been in vain. Chalk it up to equal parts naïveté, a false sense of creative grandeur, and youthful impatience, but I believed that “real” writers could craft the perfect story or novel the first time around, and that revisions were generally limited to minor spelling or grammar errors. It was inconceivable that a “real” writer would fail to complete any story he or she began.
Now I understand that all writers experience false starts. Some stories are simply not meant to be, while others are just not yet ready to be told. For instance, I’ve had a certain character clanging around in the back of my mind for nearly six years now: a thirty-something undiagnosed narcoleptic trying to form meaningful relationships while coping with an affliction that promises some truly awkward social situations. I have attempted to tell her story twice now – my most recent effort made it to the 50,000-word mark in NaNoWriMo 2011 – but it’s never felt quite right. Both times, I walked away from it. The story is in there somewhere, and I have to believe it will reveal itself when the time is right.
For NaNoWriMo 2013, I revisited another stalled storyline. Initially, I’d set out to write a grown-up story about an eleven-year-old girl, but struggled to find a balance between accurately portraying childlike behavior and keeping an adult reader’s interest. Nearly three years later, I realized why it hadn’t worked: this story about a latchkey kid exploring the burnt remains of a neighboring home was actually meant to be for kids, not adults. I’d tried to force the wrong story a la square peg and round hole. Then I found the right path.
As I write this post, I am oh-so-close to finishing the second draft of a story that plagued me for nearly a decade. I am happy to report that it has found its home at last.
Patience. Perseverance. Exploration. Be willing to walk away, but don’t throw anything away. You just might want it someday.