Friday, July 13, 2012

The Abyss Is Beckoning, Tell It I Said Hello

I abandon more stories than I finish. There, I said it.

I read a post recently that suggested this was a dirty writer secret.  The fact that we often abandon more stories than we finish.  But I don't think it's dirty and I don't think it should be a secret.

When I was little, my mom encouraged me to try new foods.  Things like escargot and frog's legs.  Green veggies and orange veggies and deep fried things that would make Paula Deen cringe.  But she never scolded me for not finishing them. So long as I tried them, that was enough.  Though never explicitly stated, she was instilling in me a sense of adventure.  A life philosophy that I've carried with me to this day.

I'm not afraid to try things.  I love doing things that scare me.  And if I try something and it turns out I don't like it, I don't feel particularly bad about it.  Sometimes, mixed with my own flighty nature, I give up on things too easily, but for the most part, I'm cool with the idea of trying things and failing.

That's especially true with stories.  Often times, my reach exceeds my grasp. But I feel like, if the story I'm writing doesn't challenge me and scare me a little, then I'm not growing as a person or as a writer.  That was never more evident to me than a couple of months ago.  I was thinking about my future as a writer and I decided that I should try to write something more...vanilla.  I blasted out a draft of a book in twenty days and was have to have done it.  It wasn't bad.  But it wasn't great either.  When I read through it, it didn't fill me with that "whoa!" feeling.  It was just there.

Shortly after that, I had an idea for a story that I wasn't sure I was good enough to write.  So, obviously, I started to write it.  I'm about half-way through a draft, and I'm still not sure if I'm good enough.  Every time I open the file to write, I get a tingle in my stomach. A twinge of fear that this might be the morning I write myself into a corner from which I can't escape.  But I still put my fingers to the keys and type.  Because even if this manuscript ends up in a drawer, I'm learning a lot about myself and about writing.  I'm trying new techniques and looking at stories in different ways.  And that's never a bad thing.

I don't think it should be a dirty secret that writers don't finish manuscripts or that we finish them and they sometimes suck.  I think that any writer who's trying to grow is inevitably going to have a drawer full of manuscript corpses.  But we shouldn't hide them.  We should celebrate them.  Learn from them.  Let them make us better at writing the next book. Because, who knows? That might be the book that sells.

We should be adventurous and unafraid of failure.  I feel like failing spectacularly is better than not trying at all.

I may not like eating frog legs, but I'm damn glad I tried them.  Thanks, Mom.


  1. Word up.

    Personally, I've never given up on a MS, but then I've only written 1.75 of them, so I'm not sure I have enough experience for a properly informed opinion.

    1. I should add that I believe that when writers first begin, learning how to finish a manuscript is maybe the most important lesson to learn. It took me almost 20 years to learn it. Once a writer learns how to finish a manuscript, I think the next big lesson is learning when to abandon one.


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