For the Long Haul

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Lately I’ve been writing. But it’s different this time. In the midst of the six-page papers and the frequent (or not-so-frequent) blog posts, I have finally started a novel. The story’s almost complete, though I still need several tens of thousands of words more to make it long enough. That’s okay though. Writing stories takes time.

The story started out as a brief image–the final scene. Then it became a short story. The original final scene was retained in spirit, but its form was less blatant. After that, some friends work-shopped it in class and gave me some helpful suggestions. They didn’t really care for the ending as it stood, so I changed it again, making it more subdued. But the story wasn’t right yet. Too short. Not enough detail. My main character begged for more time, more pages to make his case and tell his story. So I prepared to make a long project of his story.

Fortunately for me, my school allows literature majors to get credit for things like this. All I needed to do was put together a proposal and find myself a published author who was willing to read my story and help me improve it. Sounds simple enough. But after weeks of stress and dead ends, I thought I’d never finish the paperwork and actually start my story. I mean, I was coming up with ideas for my story off and on during the paperwork phase, but I couldn’t devote the proper time to it.

When I finally had time to write the story itself, I thought I was going to basically copy and paste the short story into a new Word document and augment what I already had. Imagine my surprise when that didn’t work! In fact, at this point I have stopped looking at my short story entirely and am simply trying to write the longer version. Only one or two paragraphs from my original document have made it into my new version–and those paragraphs have had some alterations. What I’ve discovered is that writing a short story is very different from expanding to the next level–not quite a novella, but long enough to be entirely unpublishable as a short story. The style of writing is much more like a novel. My characters and my narration are more introspective and less action driven. They wonder. They plod. But since I haven’t reached novel length yet, I suspect the language of my story will change even more.

Maybe you’re wondering if that’s frustrating–to have poured hours into creating, sharing, and editing a short story only to reject it almost in its entirety. Oh–and I wrote the final scene for my longer story (though I don’t have all the middling parts yet). It’s completely different in spirit from any ending I’ve written so far, though it does occur in roughly the same location with the same main idea. Even so, I am enjoying this process. I have created two unique stories so far–stories that interact with one another, that draw out different aspects of my characters, that create a fuller world for those characters to live in. I only hope that one day, when I finally coax this story to unburden its whole weight into a complete novel–I only hope that these shorter stories will be incorporated, not necessarily in their language, but in their insights. Because that is the purpose of writing, I think: to expose the light and the darkness of the world and to find the truth waiting there.

So, as I continue writing this story, I hope it will grow into a garden instead of a monstrosity. For that reason, I am grateful to my mentor, who is gracious but firm in her critiques. She gives me room to disagree and grow as a writer, but she also brings in the heritage of years of writing her successfully published novels. Writing this story has been a struggle–a greater burden than I imagined. Sometimes I reread my ending and find myself surprised at where my story finished–even though I knew where it was headed from the moment I started typing. But I am surrounded by friends and guided by a mentor who will not let me fail. This may not be the best story I’ve ever written (yet), but I’m on my way. I’m in it for the long haul.

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