Your Story: Love It or Leave It?

by Sharleen Jonsson

A friend who writes short fiction—call her “Wanda”—was bemoaning how quickly her enthusiasm wanes. “I love starting a new story,” she said, over a glass of wine. “I’m really excited with the idea and all the things I can do with it, but then there’s a problem with the setting. Then I realize I don’t like one of the characters. In fact, I’m not that crazy about any of the characters. I start to think the whole premise is stupid. And it hits me: I hate this story!” Wham: writer’s block.

“Wanda,” I told her, “you’re like those people who have trouble committing to a relationship. You know, those women who fall in love with the idea of a new love as opposed to the living, wheezing guy across the table who suddenly has nose hairs.”

There’s no such thing as a Perfect Man, and there is no Perfect Story. The man/woman/idea for a novel you thought was the best you’ve ever run into turns out to be a dud. Sometimes you roll up your sleeves and work at it and eventually realize it was worth it, that you have something worthwhile here, something that is—yes!—beautiful!

Other times, you plug away at your project until your friends finally take you out and buy you lots of wine and tell you you’re  barking up the wrong tree and you aren’t getting any younger.

If a tale just doesn’t seem to work, maybe it is better to cut your losses and spend your valuable time on something new.

But if this disillusionment with your writing projects is happening a lot, it could be the problem isn’t the story you’ve just torn up in frustration. Could be it’s you.

Just as the woman who realizes her new guy isn’t Mister Perfect but works at the relationship anyway can find herself in something truly meaningful, if you keep at your fledging story—if you realize that, yeah, okay, it’s not going to be the brilliant satire you’d  imagined but, hey, it has a important point and an engaging protagonist and you’re going to stick with it to The End, dammit!—you could have something you’re proud to put your name on. And the experience you gain from completing it will enrich your next
relationship. Er, story.

Wishy-Washy-Wanda (who, by the way, doesn’t have a problem committing to a man; she’s been happily married for 15 years) told me the other day she’s completed the draft of a novel. It’s going to need a lot of work to get it to the point where she can submit it to publishers, but she did it, she worked at it, and now she and her novel have potential for a lasting future.

Of course, any of the other 97 story ideas she abandoned over the past year might also have made a publishable novel; we’ll never know.

It’s tough to decide whether to stick with your once-perfect story idea after it’s begun to grow warts, but here’s something you might ask yourself: Are things so bad I couldn’t possibly explain to anyone what it was I ever saw in it? Is all the magic gone?

If the answer isn’t an emphatic yes, I say you should work at it.

(Hey, Wanda, Full disclosure: I have 11 abandoned ideas in my 2010 mental drawer.)

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{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Colleen October 19, 2010 at 5:00 pm

Very inspirational post, Sharleen! Wanda is
lucky to have a supportive friend like you to take her out for wine and tell
her that the novel draft she’s been grappling with over the last few years
is not, in fact, a dud, even without laying eyes on the project. (And even
if you do call her the slightly derogatory, Wishy-Washy-Wanda)

There are no shortage of critics out there telling writers to just give up.
It’s refreshing and vital that we have friends who tell us to keep running
the marathon, who hold the water bottle to our dry lips and tell us we can
finish this.

Perhaps those other love affairs (or sprints) (or writing projects), that
have been set aside in pursuit of the one long and (sometimes) tedious one,
will still be there when Wanda moves forward.

What Wanda might wonder now, is when that will be? When will she thrust
herself forward and take that final stride, triumphant in knowing at least
she was able to finish? When will she know that the time she has invested
has paid off? When does one know that the wrinkled, slightly plumper, prince
or princess she/he met years ago is the one they were meant to be with?
Methinks it never comes down to just one moment but rather a series of them
that can only be accumulated via the time invested.

Reply

sharleenjonsson October 19, 2010 at 5:35 pm

Thanks for your comment, Colleen. Your last
“Shakespearean” line rings true: It probably doesn’t take one moment to
realize sticking with it has been worthwhile, but a series of them.

And yes, sometimes those ideas you set aside in order to continue the big
project can seem even brighter once you’re “available”
again.

Reply

Sue October 19, 2010 at 5:49 pm

Wine helps. So do good friends. Thanks,
Sharleen. Great post.

Reply

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