Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Story Heaven

By Martha Reed

Success seems to be largely a matter of hanging on after others have let go. - William Feather

I’m delighted to report that I sat my butt in a chair pretty much the whole weekend and actually finished Chapter 23 of my new novel. This is momentous because Chapter 23 is pivotal to the emotional development of one of my characters and generally I do everything in my power to avoid working on anything in the emotional vein up to and including packing a suitcase and fleeing to the beaches in Florida. However, I also have the fever in my veins that comes from being forty pages away from finishing a 300 page work and I hope those of you out there who have experienced this moment understand why I suddenly wake up in the middle of the night to scribble new insights and plot twists and why I’ve taken to talking to myself during my day job. Thankfully, I have an understanding boss and I’ve successfully trained my family to ignore me.

It seems pretty amazing to me that I’ve accomplished this thing not once but twice and the best lesson I’ve culled from this repeat experience is that I’ve learned to trust my story a whole lot more and in ways I never did the first time. My understanding of the characters is more solid, too, and if I go out on a limb and write something far fetched I now know enough to put on my editorial hat and reel it back in right away versus spending a month or two on a chapter that I’d later kill. I also know that I’m lucky to have this storytelling gift and I do feel quite a bit like Rapunzel, spinning words (and gold) out of thin air.

Which makes me think of all the great folks I’ve met over the past fifteen years who didn’t make the jump. For one reason or another, usually involving family/children or a difficult work situation, I’ve seen my share of writer’s groups bite the dust. My favorite group met for more than a decade before it quietly faded away and I still wonder what happened to those stories that didn’t get born: Jim’s prescient and apocalyptic vision of the future including advances in science like stem cell research that is going on even as I write this down; Joan’s amazing autobiography of her life as an American woman living inside Iran during the downfall of the Shah and the Rise of Fundamentalist Islam and wouldn’t that still be timely; Betsy’s transmogrified experience as a Peace Corp volunteer in Gabon and the subsequent dislocation of her ‘normal’ life upon her return to western ‘civilization’. If it’s true that we are all recycling the same stories over and over, where do the stories that don’t make it go?


PatRemick said...

Thanks for posting this Martha -- I was literally just trying to decide whether to put aside my writing until after the holidays because I'm so stressed out about them -- but your post gives me inspiration to go back and try to invest some writing time each day before I do everything else!

And congrats on finishing the big chapter!

Martha Reed said...

Thanks, Pat. My advice is to try not to put the writing down even if it means only touching base with it every day during the holidays. Think of it as quiet time to balance the stress of the holidays. That always helps me!

Anonymous said...

Martha, congratulations on finishing that chapter!

For a while, I had several unfinished novels. I discovered that the reason they were unfinished was because they were really short stories. Now I have several finished short stories...and one novel in progress. Which I suppose I should go and work on now.

Good luck in the 40 page stretch.


Martha Reed said...

Oddly enough I have one short story that's the opposite - I sometimes wonder if it's actually a longer work but can't imagine where it would take me if I decided to expand it. Hummm. Isn't following the path half the fun?

Gina said...

The first full length novel (alas, still unpublished) that I completed started out as a short story, but when I got to page 24 and hadn't even finished introducing the three main characters yet, I knew it had to be a book.