Sunday, November 28, 2010

Just a Story

When I submitted a piece to the Literary Lab's Notes From The Underground contest it was mostly to keep me on my toes submitting stuff. I was pleased but very surprised when I saw my name on the list of winners. I lost count of how many time I re-read the list to make sure I wasn't imagining it. When I was finally convinced that if this was an hallucination it was a detailed enough one to land me in the loony bin I got excited and told all my friends, decided which idea I would dig out for the final submission, checked out some books on the subject, scratched down a bunch of contradictory notes . . . and didn't actually get anything written down for a month and a half.

I tried. I really did. I sat in front of the computer with my hands hovering over the keys trying to decide what flavor this story would have. What themes I would use. Whether I should use first person or third. How snarky the protagonist should be. How creepy I would make the tone. How I would prevent it from turning in to a novel the way every other short story I'd ever attempted had. What reaction I was going for from my very first realio tuelio audience. All the rules I wouldn't break to prove that I knew what I was doing.

I'm sure you get the idea. I was over thinking. A lot. I had a ton of ideas but every time I was able to type them out on the screen they were immediately followed by a rigorous application of the backspace key. The irony is that the whole nature of this particular contest was supposed to liberate the writer from rules and the fear of rejection so that they could create the story they wanted. The freedom scared me. I would be the only person responsible for whatever I turned in and it would be permanent. I couldn't wake up in the middle of the night and say “What was I thinking? Taig Feargal would never use the word 'acquiesce'” and make the necessary amendments. It would already be printed and sent off to readers who have never met me and would judge their opinion on my entire existence on those words alone.

Then came the nasty part. I had to admit to myself that a large part of why I write is to improve other people's opinion of me. I didn't want to write a piece that I had a strong emotional connection with that expressed my innermost thought. I wanted to write something that other people LIKED. Of course it would be nice if it at least appeared to express my innermost being or managed to say something clever and profound sounding. But it had to accurately represent my other work and . . .

By then I was sick of the whole idea. The deadline was approaching and I had nothing but a handful of sentences and paragraphs that didn't make sense together. I was trying to make ten pages of story do more than any story possibly could. Too much clutter. Too much expectation.

I started over. I placed a stack of notebook paper next to my bed and started writing the way I did when I was thirteen. Long hand with no outline and no delete button at the end of the day when I was too tired to worry about whether it was making sense or had intelligent themes. Just me and my imagination and the calming sensation of pen against paper.

I am content with the result. It is flawed, I am sure, but by allowing it not be a masterpiece I was able to manage something much more personal and something I can release into the world without worrying about the reaction. It's just a story. I will tell many more and hear many more and if I don't let it go after I tell it I won't be able to focus on the next one while it is being told.


  1. And in the end what you got is beautiful. I LOVED that story-- have been thinking about it since yesterday, in fact, and I'm glad you finally got to the right place to write it, so it can be shared.

  2. Taryn, I much prefer writing in long hand, with a pencil. Stops me over thinking as well. Looking forward to reading your story in the Lit Lab's Notes from Underground.
    Judy (South Africa)