Sunday, October 10, 2010

Unfinished things

My system these days is that I open up a document and I write until one of two things happens: either I get bored, or I finish a story. I do things this way because reading submissions for Puerto del Sol and now for this place as well has taught me that probably the main thing writers could do to improve their output is to stop writing whenever they get bored. Of course I am pretty easily bored, but then of course I don't finish reading most stories I start, either -- they lose me. They lose my interest. Some of the stories I do finish reading I finish more for the sense of accomplishment than because I want to. I wonder if the writer felt the same way writing it -- if they wrote, and then published, largely so they could know that they had. My goal is only to write things I would enjoy reading.

I've started 41 stories this year, according to my documents folders, as well as some other things I never finished. I've finished thirteen, and also written a novel, and also written a number of pieces (about forty, I think) that will add up to a larger, novel-length thing. Here are some beginnings I never finished.

From a file called thefields.doc:
 They walk together in the mixed-use fields. The windmill shadows licked their hands. These power the servers. Rebecca kneels in the dirt, pushes her glasses up her nose. The sun glints on her left lens; the right lens is missing. She feels for it in the dirt. Her fingers leave a swirl.
Quincy says they should take off their shoes. That way they won't break the lens if they step on it. 
“Or we will,” says Rebecca, “and the jagged edges will get up in our feet.” She makes her hand a claw. 
From a file called whole.doc:
In the field there were no whole men at night. The young seamstress gathered what they left in a wheelbarrow. She piled their arms, their ears, their pricks, their scalps, their noses, their jawbones, their toenails, their thigh bones, laying down over each layer a sheet of wax paper to preserve and separate. Their uniforms she wound up in a sticky ball, which she rolled through the grass, prodding with a branch she had pulled down from a white tree. The ball was easier to start than stop. It liked rolling. It liked cloth. It would begin the night as a sock half-full with gore, or as a crushed felt hat rolling lopsidedly edgewise like a coin, and by the end it would be waist high. The tall grass knelt beneath it, and beneath her feet and the wheelbarrow's wheel. They left a long, wandering trail. The next night that trail would be gone. Everything would shift position: the gray rocks that studded the ground, the tall blue grass that hid the rocks, the white and red and yellow trees that enclosed the field, and the weeds, and the snake holes in the ground, and the craters, and even the moon, which was sometimes very near, and sometimes a distant glint of light as if glimpsed through the eye of a needle. The men left no tracks. Only pieces. In the field there was nothing would last. When she brought what she had gathered back to her cave at the edge of the forest, the ball of cloth the young seamstress had made would fall to pieces. The men parts would begin to stink.
 From a file called hero.doc:
The first time I saw my brother kill someone it was a girl. I could describe the body but I don't know why anyone would want to do that. There are books you can read to find out what we look like inside. There are people who spend their whole lives drawing the body again and again, all its little moving parts, from moles to marrow, practicing and practicing to get it right. The heart, the lungs, the stomach, the digestive guts, coiled in the basket of our hips like a snake. All I'll say is the pictures are accurate. Those artists know what they're doing. If you can find one of these anatomy books, pull out one of the pages. Make it a girl page. A pretty girl if you can find one. Pull it out of the spine slowly, careful. You can use a razor. Now grip the paper on its top and bottom ends. Twist the paper. The first tear is the hardest, and then the rest come easy.
How do you deal with this stuff? I keep my scraps these days, hoping one day a few of them will turn into good stories -- a couple of my favorites that I've written have come out this way. Sometimes though I wonder if maybe I'm being too harsh on myself, if I shouldn't push on, just to see. For very prolific people I think quality control can be a problem. This is the main way I do it. I just don't bother finishing.


  1. I think you should consider coming back to whole.doc.

  2. That one is tough. I think I've started it four times and it's one of my Frankenstein plots (didn't know I did these until someone on the Internet I didn't know pointed it out!) and I keep changing my mind about the character of the Frankenstein and the relationship he has with the seamstress. I get to the point where the plot needs to start and I can't think what to do.