The Mark Blog

SUFFER NOW, HEAL LATER

This morning I did something unusual, or unusual for me, anyway. I woke up at 6am and went to a yoga class. I know this is not classic, writerly, self-destructive, up-all-night, nefarious behavior, but I’ve probably had enough of that for a few novels. Now it’s more beneficial for me to have a clear head and to utilize its maximum potential in my writing. Or whenever I get back to it.

Currently, I’m on a break. It’s a bit of a challenge. For the first few days after I turned in the second draft of my collection, the stories kept running through my head. I kept wishing I’d changed or deleted something and wishing I’d had a bit more time, especially on the final story.

My first version of that story juggled three different plot-threads. This wasn’t my initial intent; they came up organically through the writing process. I think this layered, tri-story approach made the work intriguing, but it was difficult to hold them all together and come to a satisfactory payoff in the end. 

After two re-writes, and cutting one of the plot threads, I still struggled to find the right tone and trajectory for the story. With the deadline looming, I scrambled at the eleventh hour, turning in what I knew was a not-quite-realized version of the story.

In the end, I need more time. Because it’s the last story in the collection, I feel like it has to be especially relevant. This is the end of the protagonist’s journey (the stories are linked by the same main character), and he needs to come to something. If not a revelation, he should have at least a change, a development, a regression, something. Even if it’s not neat or tidy or complete. In fact, it might be better if it’s not. It doesn’t have to be rousing, heartwarming, resolving, or redeeming. It just has to resonate on some level. Basically, it has to work.

I’m determined to let it go for a while, and to return in a month and see how I feel. I’m actually looking forward to seeing the manuscript with fresh eyes. I’m always surprised; even when I think I couldn’t possibly work a story any more, I come back to it a month or two later and find all kinds of holes, bad sentences, characters, or situations that can be developed more sharply, new ways to uncover hidden depths.

Won’t this always be true? Is it possible to overwork a story? Maybe, but I don’t think I’ve gotten there yet. I think as long as I’m inspired to work and it feels like it’s getting better, then it probably is. Even if it has to initially get worse in order to eventually get better.

It’s like life, how sometimes the only way to get to a place of healing or revelation is to feel the pain in order to process it. In other words, I have to suffer my own bad writing now to write better later.