Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Potholes in Memory Lane

Last night I was looking for a file on my computer so I could continue proofreading my niece's novel. Instead I clicked on the wrong folder and found a bunch of my own writing I haven't looked at in quite awhile. I ended up not getting to my original work (Sorry, Kayleen!) as I started re-reading stories and parts of stories I'd forgotten even existed.

Some of them are not only interesting memories, but mileposts marking the changes in my own life. For example, I had started re-writing my only published work as a larger novel. I'd decided to set it in my new home town which, at the time, I wasn't very familiar with. And so I have to laugh now to read about how my protagonist, who supposedly had lived there for six years, took a wrong turn, got lost, and just drove around for 45 minutes before he found a familiar landmark.

The city where I live now is quite a bit bigger than where I used to live, but there is little chance a person could stay lost that long unless they were trying to.

Some of the stories are somewhat embarassing in their simplicity, even though the concepts are still interesting and compelling. Others are little more than flotsam. Whatever my original intentions were, they're lost now. I have snippets of stories that I can't remember or reassemble where they were going.

I even ran across the beginnings of yet another attempt at a novel that's been stuck in my head for perhaps 15-20 years now. I've been over the beginning in my head thousands of times. But I'd forgotten all about this particular attempt, and I was excited to see that my new approach had been working. The material seemed fresh and new to me, and I was disappointed when I hit the stopping point.

I will--I must--write that novel someday. I'm probably just not ready yet. I've never been particulary good at--or patient enough for--planning my plots out to the conclusion before I begin writing them. I don't think will do for this one. I think the ending will rely far too much on details that would need to be in place from the beginning, and there's no way of doing that by accident. Watching "The Tale of Despereaux" yesterday made that very clear.

The good news is that I'm getting some practice at advanced planning like that. I'm running a D&D campaign with more depth and detail than I've ever managed before. I've fleshed out much of the setting to perhaps insane levels, as our group may never even encounter even half of what I've documented, and yet I've left much open to the players, as I don't want to impede the free-form nature of the game. It's their world to do with as they please, so long as they accept the consequences.

I need to dedicate a similar level of attention to my novel setting, and then the plot will practically write itself. And, of course, I need to write it. And that seems to be The Trick these days. Last night's reading session was depressing in some regards. I used to write much more than I do. What happened?

Life happened. Kids happened. Marriage happened (not necessarily in this order, mind you). Work happened. Mental and physical weariness happened. Taking too many shortcuts to entertainment and mental stimulation happened. In short, I've wandered far afield, and if I'm ever to really be a writer I need to find my way back.

I think it's time to decide if I want to. If writing is really my dream, then I need to can the excuses and do it. If it's not, then I need to cut it loose and get on with finding out what I really want to do.

Ewwww...is this a mid-life crisis?

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