If you’re anything like me, your story sparks blow up while you’re trying to keep ahead of them.
Recently I began to write a short story for a contest I wished to enter. When I see local writing contests, I like to enter as a way of showing my support for the organization that is hosting them. The intention is never to place in the contest. I don’t have enough self-esteem to hope for that to happen. If it does, even better. But if it doesn’t–if I just happen to be one of the paying entrants whose money helps to support the continuation of the contest in the future–well, I’ve already won. I like that these writing opportunities exist.
I haven’t forgotten the thread of this post. It’s actually about the short story I penned for the writing contest. Or rather, it’s about what happened when I took on the spark of an idea that prompted that original short story. Perhaps it was the subject matter itself–the Camino de Santiago–but I doubt it. Because it happens a lot, no matter the subject matter. I begin to write one short story, and, like a horse in a race it begins to make its way to the finish line while I struggle to keep up with its frenetic pace. What happens next is typically what happens in a horse race. While the horse and I are tearing up the track, another more urgent horse comes barrelling up alongside us.
The second horse in this analogy, as you may have guessed, is another spark for a short story idea…which stemmed from the original. Do I get off the first horse and hop onto the second? Probably dangerous, right? It may kill my momentum and fizzle out the writing fire I’ve begun with the first story. If I try to jump to the second horse, I may fall and end up horseless.
Here’s where multi-tasking comes in to play. No…I don’t try to write both stories simultaneously. That’s like straddling both horses, and it’s almost always a catastrophe in my own personal experience. I DO jot down a few of the second story’s more pertinent sparky little details before I lose sight of them, though. I can do this while maintaining my pace with the first horse.
If you’ve ever been to the races, you’ll know there are very seldom (never) races which involve only TWO horses. Enter horse number three. If you’re feeling a bit of stress reading this and realizing that the Creative Spark Fairy is often a sadistic bastard, you’re not alone. I’ve known this for quite some time.
So there I was, writing my short story for the writing contest and knowing the deadline was RIGHT AROUND THE CORNER. I mean, at the stroke of midnight my time to submit it would be up. And a third horse came up alongside me. “Hi. Look at me. I’m another story!” I can’t hush these sparks. They demand attention. They insist that you juggle them. They want to be told. Our passions are monsters…they take hold of us in the best possible way. They make us better.
Maybe it’s a matter of being really good with a lasso? When I was 5ish I lassoed the family television and pulled it around the living room, so I happen to know that I am exceptional with a lasso. (Before you ask, yes I did get permission to do this prior to doing it. I’m not crazy. My parents, on the other hand, may very well have been. They should always pay attention when their most rambunctious child is asking them a question. Especially when he’s twirling a lasso over his cowboy hatted head while asking it. It’s like they never learned.) So, back to the horse analogy. I DID manage to stay on my first horse and race him to the finish line in time to complete and submit the original short story prior to the submission deadline. Yay, me! What I also managed to do was lasso the other two horses and get them to keep pace with me so that I could explore the sparks that created them in the first place.
After the first story was submitted, I hit the ground running with story number two. The thing about this particular subject matter was I can think of a hundred thousand stories that take place on the Camino. When I walked it, I met so many people from so many different countries. And I got snippets and tidbits of their stories while I walked. People open up on the Camino de Santiago. They whisper to fellow peregrinos some of their deepest most private thoughts. They share their lives.
So when I started that first story, about a woman walking the Camino in order to find a way back to who she was before she identified solely as a wife and a mother, more people came up to me from the deep well of creativity that the Camino inspires in me. I wrote about Helen and that second horse, Corinne came barrelling up and said, “Wait…I too have a story that you can tell.” And then a third horse, Richard, came up and pleaded, “No, tell my story.” And it just snowballed from there.
Usually when this happens with a spark I do see a few projects through. But often I only use one of them. Often, it’s the original that goes out into the world. But it’s also at times the third or the fourth or the fifth story that I eventually end up using. I never consider the unused ones to be a waste of my time, though. Every spark becomes a horse race. And horse races are fun. I enjoy exploring all my options before I settle with the winning horse. And then there are the times that a subject matter possesses me so thoroughly that the topic comes up across the board in my writing life. I’ll write plays, novels, short stories and poetry from the same well. It’s the only way I know how to exhaust the well. Get all my horses to the finish line. Then and only then can I move on to the next spark that inflames my passion. This Camino race? It certainly has a lot of horses in it. I suspect this race will be off and on for the rest of my life. Its horses are strong and fierce and filled with spunk. It’s a horse race without a finish line. And I’m good with that. I have to be. I’m a peregrino.