If there’s one thing experienced authors can count on, it’s that at some point in the creative process they will look at their work in progress and believe it was, is, and always will be a huge piece of crap. Success rarely comes to those unable to navigate this nadir.
That’s where I was last month, when I watched a writing challenge – one I’d really looked forward to – turn to mush. Another NYC Midnight challenge, this one was:
- a rhyming story up to 600 words,
- in the genre of a ghost story,
- with an emotion of vulnerability,
- and a theme of around-the-clock.
I couldn’t have gotten any luckier getting assigned a ghost story theme so close to Halloween. And I had entered the contest wondering why they would consider giving more than a week to finish. Then, two days into it, I felt like there would never be enough time to turn this dud into a diva.
A rhyming story? Isn’t that a poem? Well it may be. But perhaps not. It needs to actually have a story, a plot. “Romeo and Juliet” is a rhyming story. “I heard a Fly buzz – when I died” is not…in my opinion. Emily Dickinson fans should feel free to weigh in.
I love a good rhyme. In college, I wrote a paper in rhyming verse format on the topic of Jonathan Swift’s “On Poetry: a Rhapsody”. The topic was assigned, the format I chose for kicks. When this challenge came along, I knew I had this! I was made for this.
And yet shortly in, I began to wonder why I had signed up, why I ever thought I could do this, and why the story in my head just wasn’t coming out on the page. I had a likable, vulnerable protagonist Ghost. The story arc was there, the inciting moment was solid.
But what was that theme again? And why had I chosen this rhythm? Why couldn’t I come up with something more sophisticated? Surely others would have ravens quoting “Nevermore”, and winds chilling and killing.
Although my writing eventually turned a corner, in the end I had to bow out of the contest. I didn’t give up on the idea or the character and story it spawned. Competing non-discretionary priorities just made it too tough to pull off in a way I could be proud of…or even stomach. The challenge offered a valuable reminder, though.
The difference between failure and success is often a matter of continuing to work through it. We need to keep walking the path until the woods clear before us – until we see how to get through, feel the joy of finding, and begin the run to the end.
I suspect someday I will write the story I envisioned, though likely not in rhyming format. It was a beautiful story, and beauty is best when shared. Don’t worry – I haven’t given up the Ghost just yet.