A Writer’s Infidelity: Cheating on One Story with Another
The cast of characters who inhabit the end of the world (but don’t quite know it yet) were in a holding pattern of ignorant bliss. They got shoved to the back of the line when the fairies (drunken and cantankerous sprites that they are) crashed the party. We’re shiny and new, the fairies said. You want to write about us. And just like that, I’m cheating on one story with another. I have a writer’s infidelity.
I came to terms with my hurtful, fickle ways. Made a new plan. The apocalypse can wait, and even my dystopian fairies seemed slightly less depressing than the end of the world, which will probably involve a gross plague and other messy details (research, said the writer; we’re talking about time-consuming research).
Yes, new story, you have already lured me astray.
Then I found a page or two that I wrote (in longhand). As I was shuffling through the organized chaos on my desk, I saw a few blocks of my own huge handwriting and stopped to look again. There she was, my other protagonist-to-be. Right in front of me all this time. My old flame.
Huh, I thought. There might be some momentum there. A little fire. Maybe I should pick that story back up.
One of the 25 lies writers tell themselves (warning: not safe for work, or delicate sensibilities) is that they will work on that story as soon as they finish this other one.
I get the admonishment. Why split your focus? The world at large offers plenty of distractions—no need to turn up the volume with more. Better to show up and commit to your ideas. One idea. Concentrate.
Sounds great up there on the theoretical plane, but I know me. I love the process of writing almost more than the product itself. (Today must be a good day, because I often hate the process almost more than the product itself.) I could bury myself in the process of multiple stories before getting anywhere close to the finished product of one.
Stay with one story. Bah. Who says we have to listen to that advice, anyway? In this compilation of tips for writing fiction, Geoff Dyer tells writers to do just the opposite:
Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.
I think I’ll just give myself permission for a little story infidelity. A writer’s wandering eye. If I keep working, I know I’ll finish something. Eventually.
Hmmm. Should I add a calendar reminder—say, a year from now? If I don’t have a solid draft of one of these ideas, then …
What do you think? What’s the appropriate punishment for a writer’s infidelity?