The following is a real facebook status update and spouse’s comment. (not mine)
Status: “my husband rocks, first took kids to ice cream store then walked home and got the girls and boy from the dentist. Then took them all home so I could have as little stress as possible for my appointment. Thanks Babe “
Comment: “you made it sound like I just got the kids ice cream… I walked 2 km’s uphill pushing 3 kids in the double stroller to the WRONG FLIPPING DENTIST!!!!!! Then said 2 swear words (1 directed at (you)) and walked back the 2km’s and then 2 more k…m’s to the proper dentist, picked up 3 more kids and walked back 2 more km’s… in this heat! Kids are eating freezies, 2 kids are sleeping and I’m 1/2 dead on the couch!”
Reading that made me laugh out loud. And it also inspired this post.
From facebook updates, to blog posts, to novel-length works, as writers we love words and story and we commit ourselves to them. If we didn’t we wouldn’t bother spending years of our lives trying to train our brains to capture and then channel the elusive awesomeness in our heads down into our hearts and then out through our typing fingertips. Sometimes our efforts reward us and we’re pleased with the end result. Other times our efforts dissolve into a puddle of tears and we question whether or not we’ve got it in us to write even one more articulate sentence ever again. It’s because of experiences like the latter that most of us probably have a story or two or three or ten that have fallen (or been thrown) into our own personally branded Abyss of Unfinished-Slash-Failed Attempts. When we feel we have no choice but to give up our stories to The Abyss is when we realize just how fine that line is between love and loathing; genius and insanity.
There are many reasons why a story might not work. Could be lack of structure. Lack of plot. Lack of ideas. Lack of character motivation. Lack of depth. Lack of resonance. Lack of conflict. Lack of … you name it.
Now, let me direct you back to the status above: Awwww, sweet, right? How nice. What a lucky girl. Such a thoughtful husband. Happily ever after.
Now take another look at the comment: There’s grit. There’s sweat. There’s fatigue. There are references to swear words. Now that’s worth reading!
Here’s the remarkable thing: Both the status and the comment are the same story.
And it’s that very fact that leads me to conclude that there’s always hope for our “failed” tales to go from blech to worth reading. If only a glimmer.
If you’ve got a story that you’re still in love (or at least in like) with, one that you just can’t get out of your heart and mind, but you know it’s blech and are on the brink of tossing that baby, try amending your question. Instead of repeatedly asking yourself, “Why isn’t this story working?” while continuing like mad to fix bits and pieces of it to make it work*, try asking, “Is the right person narrating?” This certainly won’t be the cure to every story’s sickness, but it can’t hurt to ask yourself if your current narrator is indeed the one whose perspective resonates the most. Is their point of view the one that creates the most tension and forward movement and interest? Or could someone else’s perspective on this same story be more effective? More compelling?
Think status vs. comment.
The next time you’re standing with your toes on the ledge, despondently dangling one of your darlings above the mouth of The Abyss, before you drop (or hurl) that piece of your soul into the darkness in a fit of despair, stop. Clutch your precious to your chest and step away from the ledge. With your amended questions, a re-directed sense of purpose, a little more time, and a whole lot more sweat, you just might be able to save it.
*The definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” – Albert Einstein