Tis the season for anthology deadlines and convention prep, and I never seem to have enough time to devote to either properly. It is for this reason I always have a few stories in various stages of undress ready to be rescued from the Whoretown of my Pending File.
This year’s anthology theme is Phobias and Superstitions, and I knew I had the perfect story for it. It was mostly formed and just in need of a little tweaking. I knew it was in a notebook or on a hard drive somewhere, and this ethereal wisp of hope is what kept me from actually stating to write it. I was so sure of this Athena of a story, when I found it just last week, scribbled in an old steno book dating back at least 10 years, I put off getting it into pixels for another few days. When I was in the right frame of and avoiding other work, I read the first few lines, reintroduced myself to my characters, and knew I was good to go. I fired up my comp to make the magic reignite the fire in my brain and got down to business.
I usually just transcribe without stopping to edit, much like the way I begin all of my projects longhand. With my handwriting *just* legible, I don’t concern myself with it looking perfect. No one will see these scribbles but me (and future biographers), so getting things perfect isn’t the goal. Basic idea, structure, phrases – I can fill in the rest later. When I later transcribe, I get that the sentences sound silly or wrong and maybe I’m not at the point I wanted to make right then, but it’s okay, because where I was going probably became clear and was written a few sentences further. Transcription is like a Zero Draft Point Two. Just get the words down, the red pen will come out later.
With this project – I simply never got to the Red Pen Point.
This is what I originally wrote (circa 1998):
Casandra and Joanne had been the best of friends since being assigned roommates at the most prestigious witching school in Germany.
LOLOLOLOLOLOLO – WUT?
No, seriously 1998 Me – WUT? I’d always kicked around magical schools long before JK Rowling made them all the rage, but I never thought I’d actually write about one. It wasn’t the direction I’d ever been going. Oh, well. I stopped rolling my eyes long enough to type out a few more sentences, to get through a paragraph and not worry about how blessedly over the top this story was sounding. I could fix it later as soon as I located the thread of the idea.
About 500 word in and it hit me, that thread wasn’t ever going to be found. 500 words in, I was setting up my own story, not just for my readers (still six years from ever reading a published word I’d written) but for myself. This was over 500 words of back story and utterly ridonkilous – and worse yet, I wasn’t done laying out the past of these two women.
I flipped up a few more pages and it just went on and on. Silly introductions, with snatches of coven mothers and clandestine incantations, I still hadn’t gotten to the point. Finally as my characters were getting to the meat of what the story was actually about – 5 LONGHAND WRITTEN PAGES FRONT AND BACK LATER – it ended.
Just, you know … stopped.
I’d run out of words, or time, or satisfied my muse long enough to get back to the rent-paying gigs. I used to be pretty good about slipping in a few sentences about where I was going, just in case I had to stop writing. It is completely possible to forget where a story was going, as multitudes of dangling ideas can attest. I didn’t do that this time.
Once upon a time I had an idea strong enough to get out pen and paper and open a vein. I tried to ham-hand it into existence, but at the 500 word mark, I still did not have a story. I did have a pair of characters with a very interesting past, but stories really aren’t about the stuff that happens before the stuff happens. And at what is probably the 1200 mark, I was only just getting there, to the reason I probably wanted to write in the first place.
I didn’t get that then, but now I completely understand why stacks and stacks of stories I sent out for submission came back like Dear John letters in the post with other editors’ scribbles noting why it just wasn’t going to work out. They were politely telling me that we should see other people, when they really wanted me to just get to point already. I do that now, my writing is leaner with less pointless back story that doesn’t take the idea or characters anywhere, and the meat is right there. There aren’t 14 courses of empty calories before that one dish people can’t stop talking about is served.
I’ve come a long way in my writing and it’s exciting (and a little embarrassing) to see something like this surface and just float like a dead whale. I can’t wait to see where I am in another 14 years.
By the way, that was 896 words to explain the reason why my submission to Erie Tales is going to be late this year, Editor. Sorry.