Waiting for Story

Today’s guest post is by Susan Frith.

Waiting for Story

 

I was 13 when I got my ears pierced. The lady at the mall told me to keep the hypoallergenic studs in place for six weeks, but I couldn’t wait that long.  Eager to advertise my rite of passage, I swapped out my sensible starter set for a pair of cheap, dangly feather earrings. Soon my only accessory was a nasty infection.

My earlobes weren’t ready to be shown off, and sometimes, I have to admit, neither is my fiction.

Though I’m sure every author’s experience is different, I consider it no coincidence that every piece of my own that’s been accepted for publication has found its home after a period of waiting, letting time work on my characters and me. Waiting has led me to make helpful changes to story length and point of view, find a new insight into my protagonist’s actions, or finally summon the willpower to dismiss that clever subplot that doesn’t work.

For me, waiting is rarely an intentional discipline. A reporter by training, I can’t help but set internal deadlines. I want to push the submit button right away.

Before I do I usually realize that something’s not right. So I tweak and re-tweak the same passages. I pester my characters to tell me their secrets and research odd topics—stalactites, octopus hearts, anything vaguely related to my setting, hoping to mine a nugget of information that thematically holds the piece together. Then life or a new deadline gets in the way, and I set aside the project.

When I come back to it after weeks, or even years (because, as a hardened pack rat I rarely delete or destroy anything), I’m sometimes surprised by the new possibilities that suggest themselves. What I’ve read, whom I’ve met, where I’ve traveled—any of those things might influence my next approach.

 

This doesn’t happen with every piece, of course. Sometimes a story refuses to open itself up to me. Take the one I began to write years ago about a tiny restaurant. (Very tiny, as in the size of a dorm-room fridge.) Each time I revisited it, I was enchanted by the setting and stymied by the dead-end plot. But who knows? Maybe one day I’ll rescue and reshape that one, too. I’m still waiting.