OK, for weeks you’ve been sweating bullets, straining the gray matter and pulling out your hair (if you have any left). You’ve written, rewritten, eliminated pesky adjectives, corrected passive voice, made the beginning the end and the end the beginning, experimented with characters, voices, tenses and settings. But no matter what you’ve tried, the story you have stirring through your brain won’t tell itself. So, now you’re looking in the realistic, objective mirror of your mind and asking, “Is it time to give up on this story and relegate it to the shredder?”
My simple answer is, “No!” Or better still, “Not entirely.”
Ideas for stories come to us from every conceivable direction. They usually start off in some small way, finding their genesis in something we’ve read, a thought that’s touched us deeply, an event that is too precious or hilarious to pass without comment, a person who’s strength, dignity, disability or insanity strike us as unusual and worthy of closer examination — the list is nearly endless. From there we encapsulate fragments of that initial inspiration into words, which we then weave together into sentences and paragraphs to present, what we hope will be, an engaging story.
However, there are occasions when, even given our best efforts, we can’t seem get down on paper what we have in our heads. So, what to do? Certainly, I don’t have all the answers and I’m not qualified to be a Writers Therapist (as much as I believe it would help me to have one), but here’s my strategy:
1. Set the draft aside. Ignore it for two to four weeks. Write on another subject, preferably unrelated to the one giving you fits. If you’ve been doing humor, try tragedy. If it’s been fiction, try memoir. Seriously, try something, anything, different. Allow your mind to twist and turn with a new set of writing problems to solve. Then, return to your original project. See what happens. You may be surprised at what a refreshed perspective can bring out of you and show up on the page.
2. If, upon returning from hiatus, things are not progressing as you’d wished, try radical surgery: change your voice, delete a character, characters or scene, redefine your purpose. Why is it important that the story be told in the 3rd person? How does this (or any other) character add to and propel the story forward? When the last word is read, what point did you hope to convey, highlight or debunk?
3. OK, nothing has worked. It’s time to permanently let this story go. However, before you do, read through it carefully piece by piece, sentence by sentence, not with an eye for the story, but for the nuggets you’ve imbedded in it. I’m betting you’ll find something worth keeping for inclusion in a new story: a word play, a sweet sentence, a joke, a character’s idiosyncracy, an alliteration that rolls off the tongue. Snip them out, write them down, keep them safe for the perfect moment — which will come.
4, Keep writing, ’cause after all, you know you have other stories to tell.