A few years ago, I wrote a series of vignettes to amuse myself, a completely fun project intended for my eyes only. I never finished it -- because I was for me, I didn't have to finish. I don't remember why I quit writing it, but it was probably a matter of lost interest. At any rate, I forgot all about it until a couple of weeks ago, when reading something else reminded me of it. So I went looking for it, just to see what it looked like.
The writing was better than I remembered but the thing that surprised me was the way that series of vignettes formed a story. The first curve of a story arc was plainly visible, and I found myself wondering what happened next. So I decided to finish it, to complete that arc.
So that's what I've been doing for last couple of weeks. I finished the first draft last night, all 14k words of it. I'm not entirely satisfied -- I think I need to layer some things in to make the climax satisfying -- but it's done, the first thing I've finished in a decade, short or not. I'm going to let it sit for a couple of weeks or a month, and then I'm going to think about self-publishing it.
While the story is resting, I want to think about what working on this small project has taught me. If I can, I want to take advantage of the lessons presented as I try to tackle my big project:
1. I'm a storyteller. Even though I wasn't aware of what I was doing, I bent my series of vignettes into the shape of a story. I have to refine what I did -- that's why revision is a writer's best friend -- but the shape of it is there, without effort.
2. If I let myself go, I put emotion on the page without thinking about it. When I wrote them, the vignettes were detailed descriptions of the physical relationship between a man and a woman. When I read them, they were about the emotional connection that developed between them, through their physical intimacy.
3. Even when I don't know where I'm going, I get there. I had no conscious idea that there was a through line to this little story as I was writing, but it was on the page nevertheless.
4. I might possibly be a better writer when I write for myself alone, than when I think I'm writing something that other people will see. Stephen King says write [the first draft] with the door closed, rewrite with the door open. I can't seem to separate the two, or maybe I can't help being aware that at some point, I have to open the door. At any rate, I wonder if the thought of eyes other than mine seeing my work makes me self-conscious. Perhaps the lesson for me here is to tell myself -- and mean it -- that I'm never opening the door on what I'm working on.
5. The things I love best about my writing -- the emotion, the way I use language -- happen naturally. I don't have to force them, I don't have to strain after them. It just happens. I think every writer has gifts like that, elements of good writing that just happen.
I gave myself permission to set aside the fantasy to work on this shorter piece for two reasons. One, I thought it wouldn't do any harm to give myself a brief break from the big story. And two, I thought I might learn some things that would help me with the novel. I'm not sure about the former, but I know I succeeded beyond my expectations with the latter.
This might have been the best thing I did this year.