I recently found a piece of paper with my 2017 writing goals listed on them. It was depressing because on the list were stories that three years later I still haven’t finished. A closer look at the list made me feel a little less of a failure when I realized my writing goals in 2017 were quite ambitious, but still, I need to do better.
One of the stories I was to finish in 2017 started out as a novella, but now is over three hundred pages. I’d write a little. Stop. Work on something else. Then go back to it. But for the last year and half I have given the piece all of my attention, stopping only to write two short stories. Twice, I’ve changed the course of the plot and have deleted over a hundred pages–months of work–but the plot change was necessary for the story.
I’m sure I can not be the only writer who wonders if she should have written more with the time at hand, but sometimes the words do not flow easily. I write, forcing out words I know will eventually be deleted, but I write them anyway, because a writer writes. Maybe not always well. Maybe with words she knows will be replaced, but she writes.
Keep writing. Write through blocks. Write through distraction. Write through internal doubt.
I’m working on a story based in the 1950’s about a teenage girl living with an abusive alcoholic father. While struggling to endure the dysfunction that is her home life, the girl yearns to defy the conformity that is expected of her life. She resents her mother’s docile and submissive role in their home. The girl, Annabel, wants to be more than wife and mother, she wants the freedom to be anything she wants.
I wrote this story in college some twenty years ago. The words sat in a binder collecting dust for some time until I decided to give it new life. Many changes have been made and so far that “short” story has been revised to a three-hundred page novel, but the journey has not come without frustrating days when I had no idea where the story was heading and was tempted to dump it.
Don’t do that, writers. Keep writing. Don’t dump your stories no matter how lost you may be in navigating its direction. Keep writing. A new day brings a new, clearer mind.
Although I’m not yet finished with the story, and don’t know exactly how the story will end, I’m confident I’m heading in the right direction. Each day brings me one scene closer to the writing that final sentence.
I was at a bar one night and ran into a woman I used to date over fifteen years ago. In our exchange of pleasantries, my being a writer came up and immediately my ex grabbed my arm and exclaimed to me with vigor how she is planning on writing her autobiography because she’s led a very interesting life, and all of her friends tell her she just has to write a book.
I told her I was sure she had many great stories to tell, and I wouldn’t be surprised if they could fill a book, but I asked if she’d had any training in writing. The uncertain look on her face answered my question. She hadn’t studied writing in any way past a classroom in high school, but figured since she had a story to tell (most people who are alive have a story to tell. It’s called life.) and knew how to write in complete sentences, she could write a book.
I didn’t roll my eyes in front of her. I’m not that rude. But I did suggest to her that if she was serious about writing her book, she should enroll in a writing course at her local college. Three months before I contracted my first book, Her Name, I had taken a writing course at my local college and it helped me more than I imagined one class would. I was lucky to have had some terrific writers in my class who gave me incredible notes on my story, which I still possess over five years later.
After I published my second book, Loving Again, I enrolled in another writing course at the same college. It was during that course that my third book, A Penny on the Tracks, was contracted. I value all of the critiques of my work by my peers and instructors because they have helped me become a better writer.
But as a writer, I have to put in the work, and it bothers me to no end when people think they can just pick up a pen and start writing the masterpiece that is their life without studying the craft.
I’m writing my current book in a point-of-view I’ve never attempted — subjective omniscient. My former books were written in first-person and third-person limited. This is completely new to me. I feel like I’m starting all over again as a writer, and that isn’t such a bad feeling. I may enroll in another writing course. I need the guidance my fellow writers have given me on my previous works for the story I am writing now.
The writing community is tremendously supportive.
I thank all the writers who share their time and their knowledge to inspire and encourage those aspiring to write.
Last November, I published my book, A Penny on the Tracks. It is a YA book based loosely on my childhood friendship with my best friend. I wrote this story in college. At the time, it was written as a short story and was titled The Hideout. The finished product hardly resembles anything of the original.
In fact, the college version of A Penny on the Tracks was so bad that when I reread it nearly fifteen years ago, my first instinct was to throw it away, but the writer in me remembered the agonizing hours I put into the piece, so I stuffed it in an overfilled drawer of mostly unfinished old works and left it there.
About three years ago, for whatever reason, I searched that overfilled drawer for that story and this time when I reread the piece I didn’t want to toss it into a fire. This time I saw potential. Although I ended up rewriting almost the entire thing, the core of the story has stayed the same — two friends sharing their childhood together while dealing with personal tragedy.
The importance of friendship is prevalent in this story, and I’m proud of the way A Penny on the Tracks has turned out. I’m proud that I not only finished the story, but a publisher liked it enough to contract it. I’m hoping the same thing will happen with the story I am currently writing tentatively called Annabel.
This is another awfully-written college short story and was titled The Attic. This piece was also stuffed in that same overfilled drawer and for some reason I also fished this story out and decided to salvage it with a rewrite. I’m over two hundred pages in and am still unsure about an ending, but I have some ideas. With A Penny I always knew how the story was going to end, and of course knowing the direction you’re writing to makes writing a story so much easier, but I do have a knack of making life harder for myself. Why should writing be any different?
The story of A Penny on the Tracks deals with friendship, coming out, and tragedy. A girl names Lyssa and her best friend Abbey discover a hideout near the train tracks and spend the summer before sixth grade hanging out and finding freedom from issues at home. Their childhood innocence shatters when the hideout becomes the scene of a tragic death.
Here is an excerpt from A Penny on the Tracks:
I JERKED FROM my sleep while the phone was still buzzing its first high-piercing ring. I glanced at the clock on the nightstand. It read 4:17 a.m. I knew something was wrong.
The second ring was abruptly broken up, and my mother’s muffled voice carried into my room. I was already sitting upright in my bed when my bedroom door squeaked open, and my mother’s slight figure appeared as a shadow near my door.
“Lyssa? You up?” she asked.
“What’s wrong?” My voice was no louder than a whisper.
My mother made her way into the dark room. I couldn’t make out the expression on her face, but her movement was stiff and hesitant.
She turned on the lamp and sat down beside me. Her face was pale and she let out short, shallow breaths. It seemed difficult for her to look me in the eyes.
“What is it?” I asked. “What’s happened?”
My mother looked at me with pain in her eyes. “Lyssa . . .” She smoothed her hand gently across my arm. “Abbey’s dead.”
I took in her words without an ounce of denial. The reality of what my mother had told me was instant.
I have a book coming out in October called A Penny on the Tracks. When I finished and edited that story, I was satisfied with what I had. I felt my writing had evolved from my first two books. I submitted the MS and was lucky to have my first choice of publishers accept the story and offer me a contract. I was on a terrific high for days, until I started writing my next book.
If I felt I had grown as a writer while writing my third book, I feel I am regressing as a writer as I write my fourth. Every line I write reads like bullet points. Lacking is the eloquent prose that draws a reader into the story, compelling them to feel they are the character I depict and everything happening in the story is happening to them.
I’m a little more than halfway into my book and last night I deleted over three thousand words (and God only knows how many wasted hours). They were crap. Absolutely horrible, and they had to go. So off they went.
I know I’m supposed to write the first draft without editing. Shut the internal editor inside me down. Just get it out. Only when I have my first draft completed, am I to push myself on every word. That’s what I was told to do, but I’ve been working on this particular story for over five months and I don’t even have a finished first draft yet.
I have an edited and reedited first 134 pages, but I don’t have an ending. I know how I want the story to end, just not sure how to get there. I’m too preoccupied with the first half of the story being perfect.
I need to get the first daft out and write words no matter how bad I think they are because I can’t edit words that aren’t on the page.
Write. Write. Write.
But last night, instead of writing I was deleting. I know the more I do this, the longer I am prolonging the completion of a first draft, but the desperate rationalization inside me figures those words were going to go at some point, because they were terrible, so I saved myself the time later.
I know if I am going to finish this book sometime this year, I need to change my mindset and just…fucking…write.
A few years back, I enrolled in a writing course at my local community college. I’d been away from writing for many years at that point and knew I needed to brush up on my skills. We were instructed to bring in five pages of a piece we were working on to each class.
I chose a short story I’d written in college, eighteen years ago. In the weeks leading up to the class, I did a lot of revising. In fact, I was horrified after my first read through of this piece I’d written so long ago. The story was utter crap filled with the most cookie-cutter, senseless dialogue that would have been rejected by The Brady Bunch for being too hokey.Not sure how I passed that class. Maybe you just had to show up.
That story, originally titled The Attic but changed to Annabel, was actually well-liked by the class at my community college. Of course, this came after heavy revisions. After my first read-through, I was surprised that I’d held onto a story as lacking as this one was. Most of the stories written during my early college years were horrible, but I was only starting out. Surely, a masterpiece couldn’t have been expected.
Hanging onto a binder from a Creative Writing class stuffed with forgettable and badly-written stories for almost eighteen years? Who does that?
I imagine tossing out anything I had written, even the crap, seemed unfathomable to me. So I kept my old stories. For eighteen years. And good thing I did because after a third, fourth, and fifth reread I found that maybe I was on to a little something, all those years ago.
I recently signed a contract for a different short story I had written while I was a student in that small class of about eight classmates almost two decades ago. We’d huddle around one large table and share with each other our creative works.
I don’t think at twenty-two years old I envisioned my future forty-year old self someday revising the stories I was writing and getting them published. But I did and I am. I have more stories to dig up from my past, and though they’ll be far from masterpieces, I’m sure I will find something in those stories worth breathing new life into.
Most people deserve a second chance. Shouldn’t old, tucked-away, not-so-great, stories get one, too?
In the writing course I took at my community college, a woman let it be known that she throws away old work. The class reacted as though she confessed to storing human heads in her refrigerator.
Apparently, I’m not the only writer who believes imperfect, old stories should be kept and given a second chance.