Wednesday, January 23, 2013

The Story Behind the Story

Writing stories can take a whole lot out of a guy.

So, my pals over at Linguistic Erosion published my short story, Dry Harvest today. This is quite a thrill for me, even though the story is only five paragraphs long. See, although it's brief, Dry Harvest took me over a full year to write. Why? Because it wasn't coming the way I wanted it to.

Many writing instructors tell you to plow through your uncertainty. If you find yourself stuck on a particular piece of creative writing, just get the damn thing done! Although I'm not here to refute such an assertion, I'm here to say I'm glad I waited until the time was right to be finished with this particular piece.

My writing process, after all, has a lot to do with letting the story tell itself. Sure, we all have ideas of how we like our work to be, but sometimes those ideas are all wrong. Dry Harvest came from my fascination with ambition. We're all ambitious to some extent and, by a certain age, we begin to question whether or not our individual ambitions have been satisfied. We may even begin to wonder if those ambitions can be satisfied anymore.

This theme of ambition was the foundation from which I attempted to build my story. By placing the tale in a unique venue, that of the cranberry harvest, I felt I could make it somewhat fascinating to the curious reader. Now, all I had to do was come up with a narrative. Problem was, nothing seemed to work.

At first I wanted the nameless main character to bump into an old girlfriend and her husband at a yearly cranberry festival. Then I believe I had the poor guy on a date, trying to make himself seem as respectful as possible to the girl he wanted to impress. Neither of these ideas; nor any other idea, for that matter, seemed the least bit effective.

In the end, I simply put the story away and went about writing other material. Dry Harvest stayed in my mind, though. It haunted me. It remained a project that was dormant, but not dead, a nagging reminder of what creative failure looked and felt like.

Then, one day this past autumn, I picked it up again. I had some free time while I was substitute teaching for a music instructor (how I qualified for that position when I can barely whistle is beyond me) and I found myself working the narrative once more.

This time, though, I kept it simple. I stuck to the theme, the limited action, the setting and the interior workings of the character. After a painful, protracted period of getting the words just so (we writers really do torture ourselves over such matters), Dry Harvest was finally completed to my satisfaction.

And now it's published. My stories rarely have conventional happy endings - but sometimes the stories behind those stories somehow manage to.

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