What happened on Wednesday?
For starters, bored with a story that wasn’t coming together, at least not in the way I want, I took an abrupt writerly turn and with little planning or forethought, pulled out of the dusty bins of my laptop a story that I wrote some time ago.
Some time ago? I wrote this particular story years ago.
I’ve always liked it, and have sometimes thought I should go back to it. But I’ve avoided doing so, feeling vaguely that its content was somehow “too young” (and what in the world does that mean?), and that, young or not, the story would need a good deal of work before it would be even close to finished.
I found the story, and was chagrined to see that my latest version of it was from 2010. Yikes! This story had been sitting for some time!
We writers are fond of thinking that we should, from time to time, put a manuscript away, to let it sit, in order to gain a fresh appreciation of it, a sharpened perspective, to hear it with more detachment and discernment.
Wise words, often.
But this story had sat. I took one look at it, read it from top to bottom, and concluded that I like it a great deal. And that it was much closer to being done than I’d been thinking.
I decided, then and there, that I would finish the story. On Wednesday afternoon. Now. It was time; the story had sat for longer than it takes to conceive, birth a baby, and get him into kindergarten!
So, I worked. For five straight hours.
Coming to my aid was my finding an email sent by a friend whom I had asked to read the story–a friend who is a good reader and a writer herself. I clearly recall thinking at the time I received her comments that they, while warm and well-intentioned, didn’t quite fit.
Well, they do fit; they were spot-on.
I took my friend’s advice–a little more than five years later–and applied it to the story, improving it, and moving it closer to completion. I read and re-read it, enjoying myself a good deal, changed this and that, snipped and added, and started asking harder questions of it.
That’s when I stopped–I had to, I was tired, hungry, and spent with writing. I’d been working for hours on something I’d not seen in over five years.
So, is the story done?
No. But, it’s now freshly awakened, rejuvenated, uppermost in my mind, and very close to completion. I am excited about it.
As much, I am excited about the manner in which I went about working with it–no fuss, hand-wringing, or procrastination. Instead, I rolled up my sleeves, and asked, how does this sound, how can I improve this, what does it need, now? I trusted my impulse to work on the story, and to respond to it, as it sounded and looked to me, then.
Story writing is much like dancing. Or doing push hands in t’ai chi. Or gardening, or raising kids, or making love. Even like great conversation, or courtship (remember courtship?).
There is a time to move, a time to hold back, the moment to act, the moment to be still. Patience is paramount (our best stories emerge from our depths), but so too is knowing when it’s time to take action. And when it’s time to move from one manuscript or project to another, breaking with habit and routine, honoring our energy, and following where it takes us.
Required above all is a willingness to be responsive–to the text, as it is now–and trust. Trust in our skill, trust that as we mature as writers, we will know when to move on a manuscript, and when to leave it alone.
Yes, as writers often declare, we should not force our stories.
But sometimes our stories are right in front of us, ripe for our reactions and responses, willing us to nudge them into sharper focus, to move them toward greater depth and clarity.
Inviting us to dance.