OMG you guys. It’s happening. I don’t want to get your hopes up or anything, but I’ve just had the BEST idea for a story. Or maybe not an idea for a story exactly, but like, an awesome piece of dialogue:
Two guys standing on a hill overlooking LA.
Guy 1: “See that buddy? The whole city just waiting for us to make the most of it. In those buildings, our dreams are waiting to be realized.” Bounds off enthusiastically.
Guy 2, grumbling: “The city doesn’t give a shit.”
LOL isn’t that hilarious? That is so hilarious! I think this could be my first screenplay; you know, that super unique story by a young(ish) writer trying to make it, all about youngish writers trying to make it. I think that will be my ticket for making it!
Okay, here’s what I’m going to do next. I’m going to copy and paste this idea into my ideas.doc file, which is 55,217 words long and 97 pages of story ideas, images, dialogue, and observations I’m planning on writing someday, though please don’t quote me on a date. And then I’m not going to look at it again until several months from now, when I’ll scroll through the first three pages of this list and pine for the ability to ever complete something I’ve started. Sound good? Great!
[More from this author: "Post MFA: Yours Wants and Needs"]
Here’s the thing. I’m the kind of writer who is great at beginnings. I rush in with aplomb, a manic energy. This is it! This is THE story! I get through one page (going great!), two pages (so awesome!), three pages (I hope I can keep this going), four pages (not sure where this is headed but LOL), five pages (look, it can’t all be perfect, just keep the plot going and we’ll fix up these sentences later), six pages (uh…), seven pages (aaaand I’m going to just go ahead and close this document and start eating pizza).
The problem is, I’m not really one of those writers who is compelled to write a story because I’ve thought of a gripping a plot. It’s characters that grab me, an image, a feeling, the cadence of a phrase. I do have to rush into a story, play with what I’ve got, and let the story reveal itself to me. In fact, the surest way to stall myself is to let the taskmaster side of my brain step onto the pulpit with a horsewhip and demand we set a plan for the rest of the story.
But the problem with not having a map is that sometimes you wander into the wilderness and get eaten by a bear. (It’s true, I saw it on a nature show once).
[More from this author: "Shave My Head, or Blackmailed Productivity"]
Over the years, I’ve had to come to terms with the fact that, despite my ability to write a good 8,000 words per week for my freelance writing jobs, my fiction writing process is slower than an old person with a walker crossing the street; yes, even when they forget where they are and just stand there staring into space while the cars honk. I’ve had to learn to recognize that moment where driving forward despite having lost my inspiration will only produce miserable, clichéd prose – to understand when it’s time to let go, trusting that if the story is meant to happen, I’ll come back to it, and that “coming back to it” might mean anything from lifting a single phrase for a new story to reworking what I’ve already got from a different perspective.
But there’s always that one story I can’t stop thinking about. That one with the hilarious beginning I take with me wherever I go; that one whose middle and end I rework and rework over one year, two years, three; that one I can’t let go, but for which not letting go becomes more painful with every attempt at a rewrite, because I just want the thing to be born.
What do I do with this beginning? How can I find my end?
WBNers, am I alone, or do you have trouble finishing what you started as well? What form does it take for you, why do you think it happens, and what tips do you have for overcoming a stalled beginning? Tales of woe, commiseration and advice welcomed!
Leah Kaminsky is a short story and freelance writer originally from Ithaca, NY. She received her MFA in Fiction Writing from the University of Washington in 2009. She has placed three times in Glimmer Train top 25 lists and was nominated for inclusion in Best New American Voices, 2008. Her work has appeared on the Rumpus, Pindeldyboz, The Yellow Ham and her mother’s fridge right next to that picture of bath time circa 1987. She is a big fan and producer of short-shorts and comics, which she posts semi-regularly on her website, leahkaminsky.