Abandoning the Frankenstory
I’ve been going through something of a creative dry spell lately, writing instead in a more critical mode about things I’ve been reading. I’ve been dutifully attending meetings of my local writer’s group to offer commentary but have had nothing new of my own to submit.
A couple of weeks ago, I finally declared myself in a position to write something new. For a couple of years now, I’ve been sitting on an idea that I haven’t quite been able to pull together into a coherent story. Occasionally I’ve taken a few notes while thinking about where to go with it, but I’ve always false-started when trying to write the story itself. Finally, when I recently tried to take the pen up again, I thought I had the glue that would bind all the notes and ideas together, and I spent hours and hours trying to write the story. Some of what I wrote was… ok. Some was really bad. None of it hung together in the way I had imagined, and the thing began to feel like a Frankenstein’s monster assembled from various parts of varying quality. But I wanted so badly for this story to work that I kept trying to stitch the pieces together.
At last, I gave up. The next day, I took up another idea I had taken some notes on but not put too much thought into. I spent three or four hours over the course of two days writing a story. It’s seldom effortless, but this one was just about as effortless as these things ever are for me. And I thought it was ok, maybe even showed promise. It was certainly better than the story I had finally put aside. I shipped the thing off to my writing group for critique, and the response turned out to be by and large positive.
It occurred to me, after getting the response to this story, that the ones that come more easily to me tend to be the ones that my peers have a better response to in the end.
Well, this is something of a dangerous conclusion, because it invites laziness and lowered expectations. I also have this notion that making art ought to require some effort in order to be worthwhile, to be worth the attention of whoever’ll consume the art. (I know this is flawed in any number of ways, but I have trouble shaking it.) And you frequently hear from authors that writing is hard work. So then if authors I admire have a hard time assembling their stories, then it’s hard to trust that a thing I put together pretty easily is going to be any good. Still, the limited data I have suggests that when the writing comes more easily to me, it tends to be better writing (it’s all relative, of course).
My experiment for the next little while will be to put aside the stories that are giving me a really hard time. If it’s just not coming together properly, maybe I haven’t thought it through quite enough yet, or maybe I’m just not in the right mindset, or maybe it’s just not a story that’ll ever work.
How do you handle grappling with ideas that you’re having trouble turning into prose that satisfies you? Do you keep struggling, put them aside for a short time, or just give up?