Relax–And Take Your Time With Your Writing

When I was 13, I made up a character I loved. I gave her an entire life history and figured out every detail about her. Then I tried to write her story. I tried writing it several times, from several angles. It never quite came out right.

Then, when I was 16–after a year or two of not thinking about her–I wrote her story with an angle I’d never thought of, but with all the details necessary for that angle. Finally, I knew I’d done her justice.

When you set out to tell a story, you may find that you don’t tell it just right. You finish the piece, you sit back, and you frown. Something about it doesn’t jibe, but you don’t know what. You look through it: Well, I got that detail right. . . . I mentioned that. . . . Why isn’t it working?

Honestly, who knows? If the story is based on a real-life incident, maybe you hewed too closely to the truth at the expense of your imagination. Maybe you never quite lost yourself in the story while you were writing it. Maybe you don’t know enough about the story in your own mind to be able to tell it just yet.

When that happens, it’s okay. Really. That story’s time has just not come. But no piece of writing is ever a failure, because even when you tell it all wrong, at least you end up with the knowledge of how not to tell it.

I like to say that Mother Earth takes her time growing an oak tree; likewise, I give myself permission to take my time with my writing. So instead of obsessing over trying again, just set it aside. The parts of the work that you told right will stay with you. Be patient with the work: in the end, the story will ripen and be ready for the telling. You just have to be ready when it does.

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