Sometimes, a story doesn’t work out.
Maybe I told it wrong or made the wrong choice for the overall structure. Maybe I chose the wrong character to tell the story, or had too many characters, or had scenes where I presented too much information and too little action.
It could be that I became too interested in the technical details and too little interested in the main character. Maybe I forgot about drama. Or, maybe there just wasn’t enough of a story to begin with: I thought there was, but there wasn’t.
I’m finishing the first draft of a novel. I’ve been working on it for some time, focused on getting the story down. It’s been a struggle in some ways, but I’ve enjoyed it. It was supposed to be a thriller but, truthfully, there’s not much that’s thrilling about it. I thought I could make it a suspense novel. Unfortunately, there’s no suspense in it. I wish it was a mystery, but it’s not.
Well, shoot. All I can really say is that the novel is really interesting.
I describe something that doesn’t exist, but you will think that it does. I involve you in a global problem that’s extremely important. I address an immediate crisis in American society. I then weave them together into a climax that has a clever resolution.
In other words, it’s boring.
You’re probably saying “Oh, don’t worry. It’s only the first draft and, now that you see the problems, you can rearrange things, add stuff here and there, and it will be okay.” You are probably also thinking that this is my punishment for starting a novel without a clear plan on how the story goes. “Now you know the value of outlining,” you will want to tell me, wagging your finger at my foolishness.
I am guilty.
I will work on a second draft and my second drafts are always much, much better than the firsts. There is hope. Setting it aside for a while, I may return to it with a new approach and rejuvenated hope for turning my work into something that people will passionately enjoy reading. It may take on the glow of a bestseller and I will be contrite, surprised that I had underappreciated its potential.
Or, it may be one for the bottom drawer.
That’s my euphemism for where I put manuscripts that will never again see the light of day. Everything that goes into the bottom drawer is thereafter referred to as “practice”.
I discussed this with a friend who is a very accomplished writer, as in more than one hundred published books and novels in fiction and nonfiction, all written to international acclaim. Even his blog is translated into different languages (I didn’t know people in Mongolia even read blogs.)
He also has a bottom drawer.
“If you are a writer,” he said, “then you face the reality that sometimes you will produce boring work. Or even bad work. Some real duds. It’s the nature of creativity.”
“But this story is really interesting,” I protested. “Surely there’s a place in the world for really interesting work.”
“In fiction, interesting means boring,” he said, looking at me over his glasses. “If they ever declare a new book genre named “Boring”, you can jump right in. However, it will be crowded. Every writer pays the price of mathematics. If you risk yourself to write great works, your risk will also produce duds. Finish it, learn from it, put it in the drawer, and start something else.”
Don Willerton has been a reader all his life and yearns to write words like the authors he has read. He's working hard at it and invites others to share their experiences.