When You’re Writing the Wrong Story

I’ve taken down The Time Travelers’ Hotel, which is the second short story series I started posting. It was painful, because I wanted to be able to give myself the pat on the back for having regular content uploaded, but it was also the right decision. I am doing this for fun and passion, not invisible writer brownie points. I liked each element of the story, but I wasn’t enjoying writing it. The pieces of the puzzle weren’t coming together.

I actually started that story (in a very altered form) after I finished the first story of The Utopians. I was trying to write the second story for Nick and Matteo, but kept trying to work in spiritual issues that didn’t fit with the story I had begun. They did not grow organically from the premise. They were spliced awkwardly from another region of my brain.

So, after a few false starts, I created Kit and Raven, a pair more suited to exploring the spiritual questions I was actually driven to write about. Kit and Raven had core personalities that stayed consistent. Nothing else about their stories stayed unchanged. Settings, plots, supporting casts, even their backstories, all were written, scrapped, and rewritten, over and over again. I kept running into a roadblock that I couldn’t name. I felt its shape over and over again as I stumbled into it, but I did not know how to address it. 

Often I’ve heard the advice to take the plunge and commit myself to put my writing out there, whether I was ready or not. For a number of people, this advice is life changing. It gets them out of a perfectionistic rut and on the path they want to be on. I’m not one of those people.

Writing is like gardening. There are parts you control and parts that you don’t. You know what seeds you plant and that the soil you plant them in, the light you give them, the way you water and tend them will affect how they grow. They also have a bit of a life of their own, and will not grow exactly according to your expectations. There will be funky little spots and dimples, and no good gardener would let a fresh tomato rot on the vine just because it has a little dimple. You pick it when it’s ripe and accept it for what it is.

Some writers need to be pushed to pluck their ripened stories, dimples spots and all. That’s not my problem. My problem is being impatient with my stories while they are still ripening. My problem is wanting to serve tomatoes in my salad right now, so people can pat me on the back for my home gardening skills. But hey, it doesn’t work that way. You don’t get props for serving unripe tomatoes.

Deep down, I knew my problem wasn’t that I was a perfectionist, but that Kit and Raven’s story was not ready. I didn’t trust myself. I told myself the problem was my own indecisiveness, and if I just committed myself to a story, I’d force myself to write the right one. Bad, bad bad bad idea.

Still unsure where this story would be set, I incorporated a time travelling element. My reasoning was that I could set the story everywhere, just like Doctor Who. I love Doctor Who!

Turns out, just because you love reading something, that doesn’t mean you love writing it. Many of my favorite stories involve travel to exotic locations, but the stories I most enjoy writing involve people with deep roots in their homes. Ones that tie them to problems they would love to escape from, but cannot. This is what energized the character of Matteo; his betrayal at the hands of his society and his family is not enough to make him abandon the land and the culture he loves. He tries to find a way to destroy the parts he hates while preserving the parts he loves. It’s a challenge that nearly kills him, but what else could he have done? That was damn fun to write, and whether it gets two or ten thousand readers, I’m glad it is what it is.

Time travel is cool, when other people write it. It’s just not my thing. Oh well.

That said, even though I can’t continue the story as written, I did finally put myself in a position to name the shape of my problem. I was grappling with ideas that were too big to be rooted to a single place. In order to write about them, I have to break them into smaller pieces and tie them to their own unique places. Maybe someday I can reweave them into a larger world and connect the bits of the puzzle. I don’t know. For now, though, I just need to stop fighting myself as a writer, and put out something that I enjoyed creating.

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