The difference between starting and finishing

I wrote last week about how ideas were coming thick and fast, and they still are. Turning them into something that hangs together is actually quite a challenge.

Last week I was given the task of turning on the radio and writing a story starting with the first thing I heard. I had an absolute gift of a first sentence from an obituary programme:

“I heard that he lost two front teeth in a fight, and half a finger in a sledging accident, is that right?”

I wrote something that was more like a character sketch than a story, which I’ve posted separately. It came out of nowhere, in the weirdly uncontrolled way that I wrote about last week. It was obvious to me on reading it back that Thom’s personality is a composite and an exaggeration of different people I know. I wasn’t very happy on a first read-through, mainly because it didn’t seem very finished – we were given the job of writing a 500-word story, and instead what came out was a character sketch. On a second read I was a bit more satisfied, mainly because I realised that it could be a part of something else, and that once written it’s there to be played with and reworked and edited later, so that if I ever discipline myself to finish anything, it could be a fragment of the whole, probably unrecognisable from the original. But for all the crazy momentum that ideas get when you give them free rein, you do need to have some order and structure for all of the things that are boiling over.

The other thing I’ve discovered is that every time I try and write dialogue, I chicken out, because I read it back and it sounds hollow. Passages of description have come easily, dialogue less so. I think this has to do with trying to write in someone else’s voice – or perhaps with liking the sound of my own too much.

It’s also very typical of me to have passing and even fleeting interests in many different things: a jack rather than a master. It’s one thing to give space and time to ideas that bubble up. It’s quite another to catch up with them, knock them over, tame them, and yoke them to some kind of purpose.

Image credit: Sean MacEntee via Flickr Search

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