Friday, May 18, 2012

Finishing a Story

I hate writing, I love having written.  This quote, attributed to Dorothy Parker, summarizes what all writers must feel upon finishing a story.  For me, anyway, a story starts innocuously enough.  Usually, ideas swirl around in my head until two or more collide and spontaneously define a theme, a character or two, and a general plot line.  From that moment, the story idea becomes a mental itch that demands to be scratched, and the only way to scratch it is to mold it into a coherent story.  Often that involves research to make sure I get the science right, and that almost always suggests plot and characterization details.  The story begins to take shape and becomes a living, breathing entity in my mind.  And it's clawing from the inside, demanding to get out.

At that point, I have no choice but to write the story.  The itch becomes a burning rash inside my mind, and as I write it becomes more intense.  Sometimes work and social demands keep me from writing, but the itch to complete the story is always there, demanding the lidocaine that can only be provided by writing the last sentence.  If I make writing sound less than fun--good, because it often is.  I tend to advance in frustrating fits and starts, a fit of inspiration spawning a flurry of writing followed by a painful pause where my mind tells me that what I have written is crap, that it is going nowhere, and the entire premise is flawed.  Then inspiration strikes again, and the story advances.

I wrote the final sentence of a story last night.  The itch has been scratched; my mind is at ease.  For now.  The story is by no means finished.  This is just the first draft, and there is much more to do.  It'll go on the back burner for a few days, then go through a couple of rounds of rereading and editing.  And the itching will begin again.  For some stories, it's a relatively painless itch--a few wording changes satisfy it quickly.  For others, it requires a painstaking revising process, including moving, rewriting, and deleting whole scenes.  I have the feeling this one will be closer to the latter scenario.  From there, it'll go out to my writers group to be scrutinized, torn apart, and again rewritten to fix flaws that I missed.  Then, finally, my mind will be at ease. By then, of course, I'll probably be deep in the grip of another story.  I already have an idea coalescing.

But at least for today, I have written, and I am at ease.  For now.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Life, Death, and New Beginnings

Two of my friends lost their fathers this week.  Attending all the social functions that accompany death--viewing, funeral, wake--reconnected me with old friends who I haven't seen in far too long.  As usually happens at such times, my friends and I spent hours reminiscing about the departed, retelling stories that we all knew, healing through laughter.  That is surely one of the primary functions of these events.

I found myself wondering when I had become the guy who only sees his friends at funerals.  Actually, I wondered aloud, if a Facebook status counts as aloud.  There's nothing mysterious about it; the usual culprits--jobs, families, responsibilities--gradually ate more and more time over the years, leaving friendly get-togethers to dwindle away.  Guys I used to see nearly every day were now men I talk to maybe once a year.

Some good can come from even the saddest of circumstances.  As Rajnar Vajra posted on my Facebook status, it's better to be the guy who sees his friends at funerals that it is to be the guy who doesn't see his friends at funerals.  True enough; good friends are a blessing to be appreciated, especially during difficult times.  And seeing death up close and personal puts people in the mood to reconnect with the past.  At the end of it all my friends and I scattered again--meetings to attend, and all--but not before agreeing to organize a grand get-together this summer.  Will we follow through?  Who knows; it's very easy to succumb to daily pressures and blur the long term goal that once looked so clear.  I sincerely hope that we don't allow that to happen this time, that we do follow through on our vow to get together, at least this once.

Because this once just might open the door to another.