You have a new idea for a story. A bright, shiny, new idea. Sure, nothing under the sun is new, anymore (to butcher the Bard), but it’s a new idea to you and you are so excited to start on it.
You sail through the first draft. Not because you’re an amazing writer who can instantly string words together into a beautiful story, but because you’re excited and inspired.
This is a good thing. A natural thing.
Then you set aside the story for a day, a week, as other things in your life take priority, or you finish other works, or a new idea takes hold.
This is okay too. When you come back to your story you have a fresh perspective. Then you start the revision process.
You’re stonewalled. You hate it. You try re-writing it from scratch but there are sentences and moments in the first draft you want to keep. You try stitching those in with new pieces, and your story ends up looking like Frankenstein’s monster on his worst day.
So, you try editing the original story, covering your work in red pen. Re-write this. Change this. Move this here. Delete this. No. No. NO. NO. THIS SUCKS!
Or maybe that’s just me?
I’m currently revising a short story I wrote, technically last year, really a few months ago, called Lemonade in the Shed. It’s a story about a young woman named Josie who returns to her real father’s house to rescue her mother’s family photo albums before her father sells the house and everything in it.
Josie and her mother escaped from her abusive father in the middle of the night when Josie was twelve years-old. Now, Josie is in her early twenties, and has elected herself as the person to pick up the photo albums that are important to her mother.
Where I’m having trouble is structure. A part of me feels the original story is too short, but also a little disjointed. I start the story with Josie driving back to her father’s house, but I also want to show why she’s driving back to his house, why it’s Josie and not anyone else, etc.
I could easily make the story longer. I could rearrange scenes. I could change the view point from third person to first person. I could do anything I want to it, and I realize that.
This is where the ‘existential crisis’ comes in. Like I said, I wrote this story months ago. In fact, it was written for a school assignment. The assignment had no parameters for what kind of story was to be written, but if I had never had the assignment, I wonder if I would have written the story at all.
I find myself asking myself why I wrote it. Where was I going with the story? What about the subject matter made it important to me? The plot is about 1% autobiographical. I was never hit as a child. But I know what hatred looks like when you see it in the eyes of someone who is supposed to take care of you. That is part of my motivation. I know what that looks like, and I know what it is to be haunted by your child self as an adult. That is another part of my motivation.
So part of the difficulty is the importance of the story. Of course, I figured that out when I got to the point of revision. And of course, I only realized that after questioning my entire existence and why I thought I could write in the first place.
Here’s my point: Revision not only uncovers flaws in your story, it can also uncovers your motivation for writing the story. And, if your having a really difficult time, sometimes revision uncovers what part of your writing needs to be worked on.
For me, I discovered (again) that I need to work on:
Plot, Structure, Dialogue, Imagery, Descriptive writing, showing not telling, and so on and so on . . .
So, everything to do with fiction writing, I need to become better at.
This is where the ‘crisis’ in ‘existential crisis’ comes in. This could become a crisis, if you take your mistakes too seriously. For some reason, so many people are somehow taught to believe that mistakes and having to work hard at something means you’re not good at it. That ease is somehow indicative of talent, and not years and years of practice and hard work. And some people need to realize that some things may never come easy to them, no matter how good they are at doing it.
I am learning this about my writing over and over again (I’m the kind of person who learns lessons painfully before I actually learn them). It’s not going to be easy because I love it. I don’t know everything. I almost know nothing, really. First drafts are just that: first in a number of drafts. Revision is important, and good, even though it is hard, and if I truly feel my story is important, even just to me, I’ll work through it.
And, it could be a good thing to explore your motivations, whether in writing or in life. So revise that story, and have a side of existential crisis along with it, if you have to.
I’m writing to myself as much as I’m writing to you. Hopefully, I’ll have the revised Lemonade in the Shed to post in a couple of weeks. If not, just know I’m working on it (and maybe questioning my existence, but who doesn’t do that every few weeks anyway?).