I have this problem. With my writing. I can’t seem to finish things. Actually, “can’t” is probably the wrong word. A better word is “don’t”. So as not to let myself off the hook. I could, in fact, finish things — books, stories, novellas — but I tend not to. I don’t.
Which is a problem, a problem that is entirely, one hundred percent, ain’t no sharing here, on me. I suppose I could deflect some of this obvious personal character defect — my parents weren’t tough enough, too much sparing the rod and spoiling the child; teachers all along the way didn’t push me, didn’t motivate me, didn’t raise the bar for me; I fell in with a crowd at an early age that was more interested in quality testing of various liquid refreshments like Haffenreffer Private Stock and Chianti (with those cool, round, basket-weave coverings that we used for hip candle holders) and Tango; that I grew up in an age that idolized endless wandering and meandering.
But that would be punking out. I worked for a youth program in San Francisco for a while, with lots of cool, righteous, ‘you are responsible for you’ sayings. One of them was “Own Your Own”. It’s a good one, and I get it and accept it, which means that as far as my starting and not finishing writing projects goes, it is my problem. It’s all about me.
I don’t know why that is, this failure to finish. I suppose a good therapist might help me puzzle it out in three or four years. But, I’m a struggling artist and wannabe writer with very little in the way of money, so that’s not an option.
Which is why I am writing this post. To ask for help. Yours. I need your help.
Let me give a few examples, and I’ll be brief because there’s some other stuff I want to do.
A little over a year ago, after a drive-through with my son Cameron and his family, I wrote a story about a trout farm, and some strange, lethal going ons there. I set the story just outside Astoria, on the Oregon coast and Columbia River. The story was just under 9000, not all that long but not short either. A couple of weeks later I had an idea for another story, about what happens when you drink too much coffee at night, and set that one in Astoria too. Soon after a “Duh” moment occurred, and I realized I could write a book of short stories — I settled on eleven — all set in Astoria, which would be my first ever book, “Astoria Strange”. I plugged along, took a fiction writing class at Portland State, kept writing, and sometime in June finished the 10th story, “Texas Two-Step”.
By that time, in mid-June, I had written just under 130,000 words, had completed ten stories, awaiting re-write and revision. This morning, October 7th, while meditating in the pre-dawn dark (where I usually sit in a chair for 20 minutes or so and think about the Red Sox and other stuff), the thought came to me, in bright neon signage, that I was a story short from writing my first ever book, here in my seventh decade on the planet, and three months had passed since the last one. Double duh.
Here’s another example. I began a short story for a specific submission request that required some kind of apocalyptic event and a leading character with a disability long ago, early summer (just when I was not finishing my book). Very quickly I passed the limit of words that particular submission allowed, and kept going. I went past 10,000, I went past 20,000, I went past 30,000. I knew I had my first ever novella in the making, under then name “Ring Around the Rosy”, and realized, hopefully without arrogance, that it was pretty damned good. But somewhere in August the writing slowed down. I did manage, in late September, to pass 40,000 words, but the steam was running out of my engine. Rosy and her friends were staring at me, pleading for resolution. Total duh.
Instead, I began another story, for another submission, and it’s 4000 words down on the basement computer. It’s been there a while. I wrote, last Saturday, a flash fiction piece of 1200 words and sent it off the same day. See — I can finish stuff.
I should also mention that I have, sitting somewhere in the electrical innards of this computer, the beginnings of two other novels, both begun last winter — one about a young man with polio in Berkeley who is becoming a Jim Rockford character, and another about a kid from Wareham, Massachusetts who drinks too much, suffers a head injury, and begins having premonitions and visions, which will lead him on a long journey to a bar in Santa Monica, CA, where he spends his time, not drinking, but doing something else.
I don’t know what. Yet. I don’t know how the “Rosy” story ends. Yet. I don’t know what story to tell for my 11th and final “Astoria” story. Yet. I don’t know how Bennie in Berkeley rescues the runaways in the Tenderloin. Yet.
I say “Yet”, with great hope, that the endings will come, happy or not, and I will finish these projects. Instead of starting another one. And then another one.
I don’t know what’s wrong, with me. So I am asking for your help. All suggestions, opinions, diagnoses, go jump in the lakes, any of it will be greatly appreciated.
Right now I need to get back to this painting I’m working on.