Menu

Abandoning the Frankenstory

Photo from 777thAngel on flickr

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?

Show Comments

60 Comments

Comments are closed.

Close Comments

Comments

  1. I say never give up…but, I have found…I just have to have that right state of mind to do my artistic stuff…painting…writing…drawing…but, when that time comes…and you just know it…you can hardly stop…~mkg

    Like

  2. I don’t like to force an idea. I will set it aside and write down my ideas in a notebook. Later when I look it over, I often see it differently – simply because life has happened since then – and it will just flow, perhaps taking a different path than I had originally thought.

    Like

  3. Maybe the hard work is continuing to go through all the writing you think is terrible to find that story that writes itself! I find that when writing music that 49 of the 50 riffs I’ll write are awful or nondescript. However, eventually you chance upon something good it just flows ๐Ÿ˜€ Then again, maybe that’s just my perception. That’s the beauty of art I suppose!

    Like

  4. Sometimes the best thing for me to do is to stop thinking about it for awhile. Then I’ll end up watching a movie, reading an article or listening to a good song and all of a sudden the floodgate opens.

    Like

  5. For the most part I plow ahead even when a scene or story isn’t happening. With a bit of bullheaded effort, I can normally get back on track. Eventually a scene clicks and I’m off on a tanget. When that happens, I go back and rewrite the piece-of-crap scene that had me stuck to begin with (by that time normally 3-4 back in the story). I find the more I write, the more disciplined I’ve become about completing something once I’ve started. It did, however, take me a long time to form that habit!

    Like

  6. This is a great topic. I was just talking to a friend about this last night.
    Sometimes I think that writing or art can’t flow together because you haven’t lived through enough experiences to finish it yet. For example we have an idea in our head of how something should be – we try to put it together but it becomes awkward.
    Once we give it time, coming back to it later brings new clarity to take the piece down a different path than we were originally.

    At least, those have been my experiences.
    Good luck with your final writing.
    I hope you get inspired soon.

    Like

  7. I’m with you. The things they flow through me and from me are my best pieces. When I see I’m struggling with something, I set it aside and go for a walk or take a short break. If it’s still not working when I go back to it I put it away.

    Like

  8. I think that you may be onto something. If the writing comes easily for some pieces, maybe it’s because you’ve created a darn good story and the characters practically write it for you. You know, the whole flow thing. When my characters make me do all the work, it’s usually because, as you’ve said, maybe I haven’t thought it out well enough and I need to do more thinking or brainstorming or outlining before I put a serious pen to paper. Your post made me think about my writing, too. Thanks.

    Like

  9. Daryl~
    This is the first DailyPost I’ve come to comment on ๐Ÿ™‚ Your title caught my attention, then as I read more I found myself nodding and saying “yup” to myself over and over. I am a writer by birth, and I, too, struggle with certain things that I feel like I “should” write. See though, I write intensely personal stuff most of the time and use journaling as a sort of spiritual practice… sometimes those things I have the hardest time writing are the very things that I NEED to write for healing. But- it’s also hard to find the line between my personal writing & my blog writing sometimes; for those… I’ll say I probably go for the “easier” one to write 50% of the time.

    More than the resistance in the writing itself, I find it insanely difficult to keep track of my ideas in the first place… they are always getting away from me before I can capture them for later use. Sure, I’ve got a notebook of ideas, but they usually are not as straightforward as they are when they are flashing through my mind. Maybe (likely, lol) I have a Frankenstory or two of my own that tell me that I can’t remember anything, I am not creative enough, blah blah blah. More writing to do, I guess. Thanks for sharing. I think ALL artists encounter this… choosing between the piece that feels heavy and the piece that feels light. I’m betting the most “successful” ones measure them against their goals/vision and choose from there. But, that’s my guess ๐Ÿ™‚
    Love & Light
    Brandi H

    Like

    1. Oh my gosh, I am right there with you. I probably have several Frankenstories just because of all of the ideas I have that I sometimes try to combine, but most of the time I don’t because, dang it, they are great ideas. I just have to find the power and time to actually write them…
      ~M

      Like

  10. Currently? I put them to one side (in my own manner of speaking) and come back – let me explain ..somewhere in the 90s I realized I could have a “money saved” type of project by not having a journal AND a story book going at the same time -since, especially when I looked back later (months … years) at the story book, my ‘fictional’ writing -my real life was bleeding all over the pages! …When I come across a story I’m struggling with (OR I think should be first pick of any editor, I mean -c’mon now ๐Ÿ˜‰ ) I make sure I can identify the page – often I taped a bookmark that juts out, like so …sometimes when I go back, I find out it was bugging me, bugging me, and not working out, because it was like some jobs I wanted to have: yeahhh, I wanted that job — but I needed more life experience to make it work!

    Like

  11. I can relate! I often struggle with the structure and content of my writing. Sometimes I will fiddle with a sentence or a paragraph for upwards of an hour! Needless to say, this gets frustrating and I find that shifting my attention to something else, such as going outside for a walk, calling a loved one, or simply returning to it later, helps a lot. Giving myself time to think about what I want to say and how I want to say it, even subconsciously, usually allows me to get past barriers much more easily. I tend to be most productive when I start fresh the next morning. This leaves me wondering: how and where do others discover inspiration and productivity?

    Like

  12. Great post with a lot of great comments! I think part of the work of writing is knowing that a lot of what you work on isn’t going to make the cut. Sometimes stories just aren’t meant to happen. Of course sometimes some of my work that I thought incomplete or crappy turns out on future inspection to be that perfect blend of poetical and mysterious, or turns out to belong in a completely different story all together. But a lot of the time stuff is like what complex symmetry said, just riffs that need to come out until you get to the gold.

    I also wonder though if part of why you might be stuck on this story that you feel so attached to is that you’re trying to stitch it together with other drafts. Have you tried just starting completely fresh with it?

    Like

    1. Starting over is something I have trouble making myself do, but as I was writing this post, I thought maybe it’s something I should try with the story in question, whose core idea is something I want to do something with eventually. I think a bit more of a break is in order, followed perhaps by a do-over.

      Like

      1. I recommend it. All the pieces you’ve worked on will come into the new version in one way or another, but you will be much freer to tell the story you want to tell now. ๐Ÿ™‚

        Like

  13. I find setting the content aside and coming back to it helps a lot with working through issues like this.

    I also tend to write up something and even if I like it, ‘stick it in a drawer’ for a day before giving it one last look over before submitting.

    I often find things I missed or sections that can be cleaned up that I didn’t see before.

    Like

  14. I have tried all paths. It’s a tough call but there are times when one needs to make an executive decision and then run with it….

    Like

  15. When I am stuck on something, I usually lay it aside for a time–though at other times I stubborning keep plugging away at it until I strike upon some new idea or a recombination of existing things. A lot of times when I end up re-ordering things my work comes out better than the first idea. I keep a running list of ideas–some more detailed that others. Sometimes I end up combining some, or even separating one idea into a couple. That’s how I work. I don’t know what the experts say because my professional writing classes have been simply the reading of well-composed literature ๐Ÿ™‚

    Like

  16. I write fiction as and when. And I ventured into poetry recently. I do it all as and when the feeling comes. Inspiration truly is a muse. We need to wait for her to arrive and seize the moment.

    We do what we feel happy with. So will you.

    Like

      1. Yes, absolutely! My comment was made with ‘guilt free’ art making at it’s core. I come from a songwriting tradition and there’s no doubt you can crank out an incredible song in a moment or torture yourself for a year. I know which one I prefer. It doesn’t mean the song is worth less. The flow we can achieve is because of our dedication to the craft.

        Like

  17. Dictate it – use the voice record feature on your phone and when you are on a long car trip (no regular long car trip??? Plan one!) Just start. Don’t worry if you go off on a tangent – or the story moves on a path you weren’t expecting – just keep speaking your words. Rather than sitting at a desk forcing the characters, the storyline, the background – your conscious is driving – your subconscious is now just flowing.

    Once you get home – type it out. All of it. Don’t edit it, just type it. See where it goes – once you do that you’ll have flashes of inspiration – you’ll see the path that the character wants to go down – then you can edit, flesh out, cut out, explore a little more.

    If nothing else — this gets me out of my ‘block’.

    Like

  18. Work ethic is all important. A strong controlling idea; a well worked out synopsis and intimate knowledge of craft also help. If you are really stuck on longer fiction, have short stories on the back burner. Write lots of them. Elmore Leonard said, you never know yourself as a writer until you have written a million words. A thousand a day is a good startโ€”two to three thousand betterโ€”Crank it out. Start now. One very successful author I know had written twenty books before he got published. Good luck!

    Like

  19. Once I start a writing project or any other, I have a hard time giving up. I think it takes courage and honesty to give up after investing time and energy into your work. I also think it makes sense that when the rhythm comes easily and it feels right, the product will be sensational.

    Like

  20. If I get stuck on something I am particularly wedded to, I just let go and put it aside (I think stress and too much direct focus stifles creativity). It’s always there in my note books which I keep. Often I find that while working on something else months on down the track, I’ll get a flash of inspiration to that former work – sometimes I finish it, sometimes not. It doesn’t matter – don’t they say it’s all about the journey?
    Marti

    Like

  21. I believe there are times when I have to put a story down and walk away if it’s not coming together. It’s great when all of the pieces fit quickly and well, but stories have their own energy and lives. If a story is not coming together, perhaps it’s just not ready. I work by inspiration. When one story isn’t moving along, another may be.

    Like

  22. I often play with an idea in my head for a while, before putting it to paper. When it comes to the writing of it, it’s about being in “the zone” for me, and when I’m there, the writing comes more easily. Getting there is the hard part (and requires a huge, empty chunck of time). Sometimes I feel as if I’m circling a pool, thinking to myself, “I don’t want to get in!” But once I take the plunge and start splashing around, I get comfortable…and I’m swimming!

    Like

  23. One of my writing professors suggested that if you are having a difficult time getting past a roadblock in your writing, to put it away for a while and the problem would likely solve itself. Then when you pulled your story out again, you would have a good idea how to progress. It probably does help to get away from it and focus on other projects for a bit.

    Like

  24. I have about 30 unfinished stories, so yep, I’m afraid I give up *sighs*

    I start off with a great idea, start it really easily, then after about 600 words I kind of fizzle out lol. I always say to myself that I’ll o back to them, but I never do ๐Ÿ˜‰

    Xx

    Like

  25. Many of my writings are just shelved in the drafts folders because either they don’t shape the way I expect them to be or because I deem to unworthy to be published. In that case, I try to incorporate those ideas into another piece. That way atleast I get some satisfaction..

    Like

  26. Writing is hard work, but it doesn’t mean you have to get too complex, just that you need a certain discipline to keep going. But when a story gets stuck or can’t be put together correctly, I believe it’s simply not the right time for that tale to be written. Something that is easily written, that flows out almost of its own accord, is usually something good, imo. Because you are open, allowing, letting the story tell itself.

    As for the story idea you had that you wanted to fit all those scraps into – lay the scraps aside and just start with the idea and start writing to see what comes. Maybe some of the scraps will fall naturally into the story, but you need to forget them as much as possible – go with the idea, the story itself, and see what comes of that.

    Forcing a story together from scraps seems contra-indicative to me, against the whole process of creativity. The mechanical part, editing, etc, should come after the story is written. If all you have is scraps, you don’t have a story, you just have ideas, and some may fit one story, and some may fit another. I’d suggest you take each scrap on its own and get a feel for it. Some of them may bloom into stories of their own, and if so, let them do that. Some may be able to blend together into another story. And some may belong in the original story idea, but let them find their way in naturally.

    Like

  27. I generally put things aside and when I come back to it later (this can be months, or years), it might suddenly click. I have a story that’s now in its fourth or fifth idea of the same basic idea, haha. Every time I put it away and pick it up again, I will read it and get all these ideas of what would work better. I don’t mean in an editing sentences way, I mean in the way of which turn the story should take or how the world I came up with should work. For me it’s mostly just picking up that pen and writing, following notes if I have them, then put the whole thing aside. Then come back and see what I need to do to make the story work 10 times better.

    Like

  28. I think we all struggle with this. For work, I sometimes have trouble getting the pieces of what I am writing to fliow together, tell a story, or I have complete writer’s block altogether. Then I feel the pressure of the looming deadline, people asking me when it’s going to be done, and I go into complete panic, pull myself together and get it done. For my personal writing, ideas come to me for my blog and I write. I’m trying to write a book. I have most of the pieces, but it’s getting the inspiration to actually put them into a way that makes sense that has been difficult. I am writing about a difficult topic, and using my blog as inspiration. Don’t give up. It may seem like you’ll never get through it, but eventually something comes and the words flow together.

    Like