A short natural history of my fiction writing

12 Apr


I’ve wanted to write fiction since I was eleven years old, but had *nothing* to say for quite a long time. So I wrote insipid poetry instead. Then, finally, when I was 29 and working on my doctoral dissertation, I started writing a “purely for fun” story that I would keep in the Microsoft Word file under my current dissertation chapter. I just started with a cast of characters I knew only by name and let their adventure unfold, not knowing where it would go. I think it got up to 700 pages, where “pages” could mean scribbled notebook pages at a bus stop or Word document pages, etc.

A few years later, when I was in my tenure-track philosophy job, my friend Diana talked me into giving my story a beginning, middle, and an end, which it never had up to that point. She offered to read it while I did that (a very generous friend). Eventually, I expanded some of the chapters from that second draft and took them to fiction writing workshops I participated in after I moved to San Francisco (and belted out a “third draft” from those critiques).

In one of the workshops, I met Thea, the writing teacher who then became my writing coach, and for two years, I wrote “draft 4” of my “novel” and she gave me constructive criticism on it. After the full draft was finished, I spent another two years by myself polishing a fifth draft. I fully intended to find an agent after I finished the 5th draft, but wanted to finish the draft first, because the various books I’d consulted on the publishing industry indicated that I should have my work as polished as possible *before* I submitted it–that agents and editors were not interested in doing any more extra work for unpublished writers than they had to.

So I worked diligently on that fifth draft. Then, around two years ago, I realized that I’d lost my interest in that particular story. Whatever had fueled the love and energy I’d had to work on it (off and on while in other full-time careers) for over a decade wasn’t there anymore. And no wonder–it was based on my experiences as a 20-something, and I nearly 40 by then.

So I backed it up on disk and set it aside. I wanted to start from scratch with a new story/novel, but I didn’t have any engaging ideas at that time, and I needed a bit of a break anyway. About two months later, I started writing fan fiction. Angel had been cancelled, so I started writing two new full “TV seasons” to follow the last aired season. One series was a Season 6 and a group effort with friends, where I served as Executive Producer and Editor (as well as a writer), and the other series was a “spin-off” series based on Connor I wrote by myself.

These were both well-written efforts by some intelligent, creative people and well-received by fans on the internet. But ultimately, they are an exercise, as you can’t publish that kind of stuff. Still, it allowed me to write during a time I had no ideas for my own original fiction, and it gave me something I hadn’t had much of before–an avid audience. I have readers from literally all over the world reading those two stories. The constraints of canon also allowed me to concentrate my creativity onto the elements of theme and the incorporation/emulation of mythological story elements as well as elements from more modern genre stuff.

Recently, I was going through my old backed-up files and discovered several of the zip disks I’d bought were corrupted. One of those zip disks was the one with the 5th draft of my old novel. I had a few notes, but basically, the only full completed draft of my novel I had left was the 4th draft. Two years of polishing just gone. I was devastated, of course, but I took that as a sign to just move on, because I knew I didn’t have the interest to start polishing it again.

Now, I am trying to start work on a new original fiction project in earnest. I think the real block to getting back into my own original work is that I’m not a “short piece” writer. Short stories flummox me. I write “big stuff”–novels, full television seasons. So, realizing this is going to be a big work that’s going to take time to finish, I feel this pressure to find something that will be REALLY engaging. And, of course, nothing can really match up to what I want to find. So I’m struggling with how to get started again.

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