There’s a great thing that happens after you’ve spent a morning writing, and you think I haven’t got anything there, not anything, and then you go away and become depressed, and when you come back, you find a good sentence or a good speech buried somewhere in the yards you’ve written. It’s in those hours of writing crap where you find a little thing that’s worth it, that makes you believe in the process of writing. ~Emma Thompson
I was cleaning out my ever-growing pile of notebooks yesterday and found six of them from mid 2010 through late 2011. I tend to keep them at least until I can go through them and pull out any promising story bits. It’s also nice to see how much I’ve grown in some areas and whether I’ve made progress in others. But I digress.
These years were a time of stress. We relocated from Tennessee to Texas, we lost a beloved pet, and my husband spent seven weeks in the hospital. I wrote when I was worried and when things weren’t going well and when hope was ebbing. But in these writings I found three story starts that are actually pretty good (and half a dozen others that will go into my seeds file). The tension is there, the flavor of the back story is there, the attitudes of the characters are hinted at. One is quite developed. One short story was written twice and I like them both.
Most of my story starts are much rougher than these. It’s always interested me that, while writing crap, worries, or just nonsense, how often little gems, golden descriptions, and amazingly clear prose sitting right in the middle of it all.
It’s as if they slip secretly through our pens when we are most distracted. That’s one of the many things I love about this thing called writing.
No matter how many notebooks I fill with complaints about a circumstance or worrying over things I can’t control, reading them later always reveals some treasure that restores my faith and love for writing.
Keeping a journal has given back far more than the effort it took. I’ve transferred these recovered seeds to a binder. I’ll ponder them and hope to take at least one of them to completion. I’m still excited about the short story.
If you don’t keep a journal, I encourage you to do so. Keep them until you can dig out those gems and bits of gold. Destroy them afterward if you like, but keep the best bits that you find. I find them very encouraging when I’m at a creative low.
I hope a journal does the same for you.
What gems have you discovered in old writings?
Perhaps the bits of creative process I’m talking about today are unique to pansters (I doubt it) or so common that no one thinks to mention them (possible), or because everyone’s process is so different, I’m the only one that experiences these (doubtful). There are aspects to the creative process that I find intriguing, frustrating, and necessary.
No one ever told me that I would go on binges of research, sensory input, a process of voracious feeding that encompasses everything from fine art to YouTube. In addition to the main line of research, tangential topics are also pursued with avid interest. No one told me that the longer I neglected to balance the input of life and senses with the output of words, the more single-minded this pursuit would become until it would completely take over my waking hours for weeks on end.
No one ever told me that there would come a time in the creative process when I would put my pen down and not pick it up again for sometimes two or three weeks. I write every day, both on key board and by hand. For it to stop and for there to be an almost secretive sense of hoarding words was a startling experience. It certainly doesn’t fit in with what I believe about producing on a regular basis whether I feel like it or not. This weird little turn out in the road would stump me until it happened three or four times and then just became an acknowledged part of my process. When I start hoarding words and want to clean the whole house, it’s time to clear my schedule. A novel is coming.
No one ever told me that sometimes I would be overly emotional for no reason and, in turning to my journal for relief, would find myself writing a story just a few paragraphs into a normal entry—and that it would not stop until it was finished. These are usually the most poignant bits of flash fiction, essay, and short story I’ve written to date, and complete surprises. I had no idea I would sometimes capture a character’s emotion before the character or their story.
No one told me that my most deep-seated need in life (to write) would be a non-event for those closest to me. Of the 10 or so family members I communicate with most often, only two have read my stories. Only two have any interest in the thing that drives my being and neither of them are under my roof. Writer friends and critique groups are priceless and the close friendships I’ve made through them are sustaining in such necessary ways. They let my family off the hook.
No one told me of the deep contentment I feel in the midst of a writing session. Whether it’s going well or not, the act of putting a story on paper, one word at a time, brings a joy not repeated elsewhere. Though I resist as strongly as any other writer, once I’m putting those words down, my world comes right and life is good.
No one told me that I would flip the “normal” process of struggling through a draft and then enjoy the edits. Drafts are easy and generally take thirty days or less for me. Edits are painful, slow, and agonizing. I am apparently Queen of Opposite Day in the writing world.
No one told me that stories can die. Sometimes it’s because what I thought was a novel is really a short story. Sometimes it’s because there’s a fatal flaw in the premise. Thankfully, I’ve only experienced one major story death in the last few years, but they are painful and unsettling.