Of the Shallow Breaths of Unfinished Stories

Pay attention. This isn’t a comment aimed at you, the reader, though you may also take note. This is a public note to self. Pay attention to all the unfinished pieces that lie deep down in the dusty archive of the laptop’s innards, or in between the pages of notebooks. What could these pieces become, if only they’re paid attention to?

Writing something straight out, there and then, as it comes, has its advantages. There’s no time for it to settle into the page, to sink in, to let the pause of several days take affect on your writing emotions. Writing something straight out, then leaving it to settle, is often the better way to do it.

In the pause, in the gap that ideas and words fall into, in the space where no words scroll down the waking screen of our day to days, we can fall into states not conducive to words: apathy, doubt, that inner editor’s eye. Later still, other ideas form and supersede the unfinished ones.

I would like to know how many unfinished pieces other writers have; or, if they’re like me, how many pieces do others think they have? Estimations are useful for large numbers.

Why do we stop writing, leaving such pieces hanging?

I stop because I pause to think, close my notebook for a short while, and get distracted by necessary unnecessaries; I wait too long for the moment of that particular writing flow to wash over me again; I re-read when I should just be writing; I doubt the characters or the scene, momentarily; I just don’t focus on writing through it; I forget to write the characters the way they tell me they should be written, trying instead to write them how I perceive other readers want them to be.

When it comes together, it’s because I’m focused, true to what I’m writing, going with the flow I find myself in. More often than not, when I re-read writing later, after its settling, the words that have been placed down in such focused ways are the ones I feel more comfortable with.

However, there is hope for the unfinished piece. Occasionally we can find our way back to that place of flow, where that particular piece was born; we can see enough of the original shine to be able to recreate it, clone the mood we were in; we can reconnect with the style we had, that day, that week, once, if that style is something we still carry within us. There is small hope, though ideally we should not have let the piece get away from us to start with.

I think of the poor unfinished things, those limp creatures pressed away somewhere dark or deep; I think of the shine they once must have had for them to reach the point of ink or pixels on the screen. What will become of them? Will they ever receive love enough, small hope, to complete them? They’re like half-formed experiments, breathing shallowly, waiting.

So, a public note to self (which others may also make note of): pay attention — stories breathe.

4 thoughts on “Of the Shallow Breaths of Unfinished Stories

  1. chrisup says:

    Fifty, seventy, a hundred maybe; I wouldn’t know…. Come to think of it, I was never a finisher. Nice post, btw. Made me want to look at my old stuff again.

  2. Hazer says:

    It seems like a puzzle piece at times. But I totally agree, I wouldn’t throw anything away, I would keep for records and if someday it fits I go with it.

    • joelseath says:

      Never throw anything away, absolutely. It’s a philosophy I’ve stood by for many years. Some writers say, ‘Why keep words that are going nowhere?’ I say all stories, even the unfinished ones, are creations deserving of our thought: they’re living things. They also reflect the writer we once were. More importantly though, if we see it fit to create them then we should look after them.

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