Feeding the Wraith
By Kelley Davidson, Graduate Assistant, Bluegrass Writers Studio
There are a million ways for a story to die.
You leave your tiny Moleskine notebook in your coat pocket and then have it laundered. Your computer crashes. Your jump drive goes AWOL and you lose months of precious work. You grieve, but there is no funeral.
Sometimes stories die in their infancy. When the creative muse strikes, you write poignant little notes napkins or store receipts: short phrases, an opening sentence or maybe an ending. But you’re so spacey, so forgetful. You forget about your little notes and weeks later when you clean out your purse all that’s left of them is a gray smear. Time and friction killed them off. You say a little prayer as you throw them in the trash.
But what about the stories that we kill on purpose? The ones we leave behind? I think you know exactly what I mean. If you’re anything like me, you have quite a few story-skeletons hiding in a folder on your desktop, and maybe a few more in a binder on your shelf. You’ve given up on these stories for one reason or another: the plot came to you in a hurry, but you could never figure out how to handle the subtext. Your characters were flat, or maybe you didn’t have the heart to kill one of them off. You’re a little ashamed of these unfinished yarns, but you keep them around and they haunt your laptop in return. They have unfinished business.
But is a story ever really beyond resuscitation? We often engage in writing exercises in Maureen McHugh’s Fiction Workshop. One at a time, she asks each class member to name a setting and a character. From these bits of information, we are then asked to write for 3 minutes about our chosen character and setting. This exercise sounds easy but in actuality, its torture for the editor in all of us. “Don’t think, just write. Don’t stop writing,” she says. But all I want to do is stop writing, because I feel that what I’ve written is terrible.
However, a few weeks ago a classmate was delighted to tell us that Maureen’s exercise had written her out of a horrible writer’s block she had been suffering over a particular story, and that now she knew exactly what to do. That story had been flat-lining for months, and a 3-minute writing task had somehow revived what she thought was just wasted space on her hard drive. She turned in a draft of her story last week for critique, and it was remarkable.
So, don’t give up on your little ghosts. Put some flesh on their bones.
Published on September 29, 2014