I think about my stories as my children. Sometimes I use the term to mean the entire story. And before the story is written, I think of the individual characters as my children, too. I will sit down at my desk to work, and my characters will start talking to me all at once. They aren’t from the same stories, either. On the days when I’m already having trouble concentrating, those insistent thoughts and ideas will block me. I know which story I was planning to work on, but there’s a niggling feeling I’m going to miss something important if I don’t listen. And I don’t want to neglect these ideas and personalities in my head. So, who do I listen to?
I have one story-child who is very troubled, and I haven’t figured her out yet. When I visit with her, she craves the attention, even while she refuses to tell me what she’s really looking for. Her world is super alluring to me, but it’s also a black hole of research and details that swallow me up for hours. I finally come up for air with less than a thousand words to show for it. Another story-child is part of a plot that’s more like a ball of knotted yarn. The protagonist knows exactly what she wants, and I’ve tried to work out the kinks of the story arc so many times I’m cross-eyed. The more I concentrate on it, the more it tangles. I will step back and tell her that her story isn’t ready to be unwound yet, but it drives me absolutely mad. I so want to be done with the story, and there are times I’ve contemplated burning it. A third story-child just wants to be read. I’m in love with each of its characters, but the story ending just needs something. I don’t know what that something is, but I tend to ignore that story the most. It’s like I’m telling that child, “You’re the most put-together of all my story-children, so I’m going to neglect you because you don’t need me as much as the others do.” What? What kind of reasoning is that?
I think it’s ridiculous that I go around with a burden of guilt for not finishing my unfinished stories. Yet, that’s what I feel. It’s like I’ve promised these imaginary people something grand. I really believe my promise when I make it; but as the journey with my characters progresses, I lose confidence.
Years ago, I was part of a discussion where someone theorized that writers’ half-finished novels become a shadow of their own lives, and that finding the answers in your life journey frees up your subconscious to find the resolutions in your story. I wish I’d never been exposed to that theory. Before I heard that, I worked from the opposite premise—that when things were too much for me, I wrote about a scenario and a conflict I could resolve. It was both therapeutic and productive. It gave me a way to think calmly while I waited on reality to make sense to me again. That’s how I coped. Now, my stories take to haunting me. They tug on my shirt sleeve and look at me imploringly. What’s a writer to do?