Wednesday, February 2, 2011

A story is born

The novel I've been working on for my thesis has monopolized my storytelling brain cells for most of the past year and a half. Only two times have I stopped to think up new story ideas. One was in November for NaNoWriMo, but that doesn't count because it was more of an exercise in discipline and commitment than anything else. The other was this past summer at school where I started six or so stories to fulfill class assignments. I never picked any of them up again because I had to focus on getting my thesis edited and submitted to my advisors. So I haven't really put hard work into a story since I started the thesis.

That's because thinking up an idea is one thing. One very tiny thing. Following through on that idea is an enormous process: brainstorming, outlining, writing, editing, writing, editing, burning a copy of the manuscript in a huge tower of gasoline fueled flames while laughing wildly and dancing around it in underwear, editing some more, and so on. That's a huge chunk of my life spent attempting to mold an idea into an almost living thing that conveys an aspect of life in a moving way. Therefore, I must care about it deeply, and therefore, it doesn't happen often.

Recently, my time opened up. The major writing and editing stage of the thesis is mostly over, and I don't have to start working till fall, so I'm finally free to consider new story possibilities. This coincided with an opportunity to make a submission with very little risk involved, so I pulled out some of those stories I started in the summer. All I have to do is send in a good strong chapter to my regional SCBWI folks to try to win free tuition to the fall conference in Charlotte. In order to choose the right chapter to submit, it might seem obvious to ask: Which will capture that mysterious-and-all-powerful-editor-type-judge? Which chapter is a winner? A prize winner? Which is sure to captivate and stun and move its possibly tired and irritable audience? (I've met that editor before--she was not impressed with me--I have the scar [also known as the painfully polite rejection letter] to prove it.)

Those are the questions a winner would ask, right? Lucky for me, I hate winning things. All that attention, the attempt at humility and avoiding smugness, the fame and glory and honor. Fleeting! What matters is: Which story do I believe in? Which chapter seems to promise a million possibilities? Which one gives me that feeling of excitement that makes me want to drop everything and start writing? That will, in the end, be the best story I could write. I haven't felt this way about an idea since the thesis. But I'm happy to say that one of those chapters, just six little pages, is now shining for me.

It's the one. It's my next story.

I mean, sure it'd be great to win, to be recognized for writing well, to possibly be seen by an editor who has the power and connections to turn a chapter into a book deal. But what a lovely and lasting feeling, having a new story to tell.