The wisdom goes, you can’t edit what you haven’t written.
I know that as well as anybody. After all–I went a long time thinking I couldn’t write novels because I couldn’t stay focused for that long.
Part of becoming serious about my writing was finishing pieces. Not just novels, not just first drafts of stories, but really, truly finishing things. And I got pretty good at it. Novels written to completion and edited, stories given more than a cursory second-pass before sending out. (* I’m actually thrilled with the depth of rewrites/edits I’ve been doing on short fiction lately. That wouldn’t have happened five years ago!)
Lately, its been a bit more difficult.
This year, for every story I’ve finished, I’ve left two more without an ending, and maybe a third with a rough finish in desperate need of a rewrite. This has even happened to a story where I outlined the whole thing and had a theme before I put the first word down.
I know it’s a cycle, or a phase, or whatever we’re calling it today. Pinning a name on it doesn’t make it any less frustrating. Neither does figuring out the root of the problem for each individual story. Let’s just focus on the three fungus-related misfires of the past 6-8 weeks.
The “isolation” story came to me when I was in a very particular mind-set, but it was too late, and I was too tired to actually start writing. When I was awake and trying to work from the notes, I couldn’t capture that same dreamy, isolated mindset, and the whole thing fell apart.
A Japanese mushroom story was inspired by a Twitter conversation and the desire to submit to a particular anthology from a publisher I really liked. I had two finished stories that would have fit that particular call, but mention was made of something outside of North America, something neither of these stories had going for it. After a bit of discussion, I had the idea for the new story. It has a strong beginning. The middle is kind of there. I love the central character. Damned if I know what the ending is, though. So for now, it sits, incomplete in the folder, the call for submission having come and gone.
The one about the cough and toxic mold was started a while ago, but resurrected recently. I finished it, but the events which were originally planned to take place over a few scenes got condensed down to a single big scene. The story was all there, but something was missing. It felt rushed. It read well. I liked the story and thought the ending was horrifying. And I’ll be honest, I really should have taken more time with it to figure out what was missing. The editor who rejected it (and rightfully so) was kind enough to point out what it needed. It was (and is) a good story, that could be, when fixed, great. Even with that final piece handed to me, have I bothered to revise and resubmit somewhere? Nope.
I know, I know, I know I should cut myself a bit of slack. I am wrapping up a massive edit on the novel. It’s not like I’m not finishing anything. I am.
At the moment, it just doesn’t seem to be very much short fiction.
In the meantime, these pieces will sit until the demand to be finished. When the time is right, I’ll go back to them. Or, if there really isn’t a full story there, I’ll strip it apart and use the pieces somewhere else.
But still, it’s frustrating and I needed the moment to vent. Now the moment is over and I have stuff to get back to.
Catch y’all on the other side of an edited chapter. You know…when it’s finished.