I had a “Eureka!” moment today, that I hope will lead to many more eureka moments to come.
Frequently in my life I have gone through “quiet periods” in my writing, where I flounder between a lot of projects, not knowing which one to pursue next.
Right now, for example, I have two active novels in progress, two (at least) on the back burner, and so many unfinished short stories I don’t know quite how to count them. I think those suckers are proliferating behind my back.
But when I sit down to write, nothing grabs me, not the way my first novel did. That book, which is still deep in the editing pit, started as a handful of chapters I had written several years ago, and was finished in less than a year. Hand written. Mostly on the subway as I commuted to and from work between Brooklyn and Midtown Manhattan.
I was on fire. And now I think I know exactly why. Just like that subway ride, I knew exactly where I was going. I didn’t know all the details, but I knew where the story had to end. The journey was all I had to focus on, because I knew the destination.
I’ve always been something of a “discovery writer,” writing slang for someone who doesn’t want to be pinned down by all that bothersome structure, like an outline. Which is all well and good, and actually a great deal of fun. But it also presents a problem.
Without a destination, a journey is aimless, meandering, unstructured and unclear. The characters have no motivation, because I don’t know what they want. In my first book, in the simplest sense, the main character had to get home. No matter what. It was literally a matter of life and death. Quite a bit happens in the meantime, but in the end, he would get home or die trying.
Not a single one of the projects I’m currently bumbling around with has an ending. And that, I believe, is the problem. I have a ton of great ideas, seeds for stories with originality and substance. But if you don’t know where you’re going, how the heck do you get there?
So, this is the revelation that will, I hope, lead to many more. Namely, an ending for each of the stories crowding my head.