Starts and Stops

I will finally finish writing all these great stories. Really, I will.

I have this awful, terrible, mortifying habit. I don’t know what to do about it. The guilt plagues me relentlessly. I have to lay it bare — like so many other writers who have sought public places for their confessionals. So, here it goes.

(Big inhale. Slow exhale.)

I start stories and rarely finish them.

I have a thousand beginnings and very few endings. The middle parts? Maybe a handful. There is an absurd number of word processing documents in my “Writing” folder that are the beginnings of stories that end in a great deal of white space. Lovely sentences that trail off into ellipses for no good reason except that I cannot seem to finish what I start.

(Alright, it’s out there. Now, keep going this time.)

It pains me to see this nonsense. File after file, created and abandoned; something left for nothing. My “Writing” folder is like one of those all-you-can-eat buffets: A wide assortment of things either barely touched or almost devoured, all warming in futility under heat lamps of good intentions.

Here’s an example. In a document named “hurricane,” there is only this:

A hurricane looms off shore tonight. It never threatened land, us. I dipped my fingers in the Atlantic this morning, nearly sure that I would be able to feel it, sense it. I watched as the breakers raced up the beach, pushing towards the dunes. Small children played in the miniature lakes that were left behind. The sky dimmed an unearthly gray. Ten-foot swells roared and rolled.

Then what, Stephanie? What comes next or what was supposed to come before? Am I lazy or was this just a poor start?

The thing is: I remember this day. I know that I was as churned up emotionally as the ocean was from the hurricane. There was a storm inside of me. So, what happened? Was it just too painful to make the comparison? Was it too hard to tell the story?

Another example, for which I continue to kick myself: My sister, who is an avid NPR listener, called me last year and emphatically urged me to enter the “Three Minute Fiction” contest. (Her faith in me borders on fandom and I adore her for it.) “You can do that! Easy!” she said. I agreed to give it a shot.

I pulled up the NPR page for “Three Minute Fiction.” It was Round 8, and the guest judge was Mexican-American poet and novelist Luis Alberto Urrea. He presented the challengers with this first line: “She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door.” From there, I only had to follow up with three minutes of fiction.

And, in my head, the fibers of a story began to weave and mesh. Stitching themselves together in frayed hunks and loose seams. It was loosely based on a story that my father once told me, from his days as a paramedic on the city ambulance. A domestic abuse situation. One night, the wife had decided she’d had enough. So, I took what fragments I could remember of that old story and started …

But, you already know how my story ends. I never finished my entry. What was the problem, Stephanie? You only had to survive three minutes! And, you had all the pieces: Luis Alberto Urrea gave you the beginning, and you already knew the ending! Three little minutes. One hundred and eighty seconds! Good sakes.

I frustrate myself.

Look at these pushed-aside pieces in this “Writing” folder: “curacao,” “what remains,” “broken things,” “women and god.” The best of intentions just sitting there, waiting, waiting, and waiting. These stories deserve more; they were born in my clustered mind, so I have to be the one to give them their proper parts — interesting beginnings, fleshed-out middles, succinct endings. I can do it.

And I will.

Right after this.

I swear.

(Another big inhale. Purposeful exhale.)

Article © 2013 by Stephanie Fowler