The title story of this one was a year and a half in the writing. Isolation started as a short story. When I thought I had finished it, I sent it to my wife to see what she thought, as I always do. And she thought that the ending point was WAY too open-ended, left WAY too much unsaid. She wanted to know what happened next, and she was certain that what happened next would be interesting and important and the reader had to know what it was.
I grumbled, but I sort of saw her point, so I put the story on the back burner. And then I came back to it months later when more came to me, and it turned out that she was right. A 5,000 word story, in bits and parts over the course of more months, turned into a 20,000 word story. And the ending was still open-ended, but this time both I and my wife were okay with that.
Back in February 2014, nearly a year ago now, I posted an excerpt from That’s All, a story about a man vaulted from the edge of homelessness into reality-show stardom in a future where television and movies include “emotional tracks” that transmit the emotions of the actors to the audience. I have 15,000 words of that one down, and I think that maybe it wants to be a novel — which would be cool, I haven’t written one of those yet. But I still don’t know what happens next. I have some ideas, but none of them are really resonating strongly with me so far. I re-read it every month or two and think about it. That’s how I operate, sometimes. Some stories come to me all in a rush. Others take time. More time that I’d like.
The prevailing advice to writers is, write the story no matter what. Make it happen. Bull ahead, write crap, then edit it like a demon and chop it to pieces. And from those pieces, you will assemble your story.
That’s just not how I work. I don’t like writing things when I don’t know where they’re headed. I don’t need an outline; when I do one, it’s skeletal at best. I tend to write organically. But I need to have a destination in my head, no matter if I discard it after a thousand words because things have changed as I have written.
Don’t get me wrong, I do benefit from sitting down and writing when I don’t feel like writing or when I don’t know what happens next. But some stories, for me, just need to marinate for a while. Sometimes for months. Maybe a year or two.
This writing thing is an art, not a science. Maybe my feelings on stories are wrong sometimes, and maybe they’re right. This is an uncertain pursuit, drawing stuff out of a human imagination. We all need to take our chances, follow our feelings, push ourselves to finish work…
…but we also need to back off when we don’t know what comes next and give things time. Or, who knows, maybe you don’t, you lucky bastard. But I do. So it goes.
There’s a reason I keep a dozen projects juggling at once. It’s because I go through ebbs and flows on any one project, and I need other things to go work on while another stalls. To produce writing, I have to have some grasp on how, personally, I work as a creator. And this is just how I work. So it goes.
Sometimes, this means I post an excerpt from a piece of writing and a year later I’m no closer to completion than I was before. I don’t really like doing that, because I like to follow through with my readers. I don’t like to tease what’s not happening soon. And I have come to hesitate to post work in progress because of that, which, today, I have realized is a shame. I like to share, and I think you like to read. Why shouldn’t we share some work in progress, even if its future is uncertain? Hell, everything is uncertain. EVERYTHING. A black hole could swoop in and eat us all tomorrow, or something.
But again, so it goes.