Simmering my Brainmeats in a Fragrant Crockpot of Creative Doubt

My Flash Fiction from last week is enjoying a bit of success over at  So good, in fact, that I stand to win a free e-book off the back of it (yay free stuff!).  That thread is here:  Three Sentence Stories.  And it got me to thinking, which is a bad habit I have.  Because I love these little Flash Fiction challenges; I take great pleasure jumping into them with both feet no matter how difficult or ridiculous or outside of my comfort zone they may be.

If you’re going along with this post, you might want to check out my series of stories from last week, because I’m stewing over them right now.  Simmering my brainmeats in a fragrant crockpot of creative doubt.

Writing the last one — I should say the last set, since I expanded on the topic and wrote way more than I perhaps should have — was instructive, because the development of the stories was so strange to me.  With only three sentences to tell a story, I agonized for the weekend over what story I could tell, what characters I could bring to bear, what possible development and twists I could effect within such a short period.  My first story was good but fell into my typical vein of the dark and somewhat horrific account of a more or less mild-mannered somebody taking part in senseless violence.  It’s a little bit of a motif with me, I’m afraid, and I’m just not sure how effective it really is.  It wasn’t bad, but the moment I wrote it, I realized just how much of a step into an old shoe it was, which is why I decided to write another one.

So I rebooted, kept my central idea and parameters, and brought in new characters, new conflicts.  New perspective, new story, new twist.  And v2 was better, I think, though it still fell in the same dark, depraved vein of the first.  But twisting the idea in my brain felt refreshing, so I tried again.  If the first story was a cruise down a familiar highway, the second was a short detour on a quaint exit ramp for a franchise burger.  A bit different but nothing incredible.

So for the third go-round, I decided to take a hard left into the ditch.  Rather than characters, I characterized inanimate objects (more or less), let them talk and explore human emotions and ideas, and … end up at the same dark murderous place.  Hmm.  The new take on characters was like a fantastic little food truck discovered set up around the corner from my office.  Totally new and exciting food in a familiar and comforting setting.  I knew I was getting warmer.

On the fourth go-round, I struck gold.  I re-imagined the central idea once again, personified an inanimate object and used my scenario to describe a situation that happens every day.  Not an earth-shattering revelation about everyday, just a little thought experiment on what might be happening when the vending machine at the end of the hall rejects your dollar.  Somehow, it felt like gold.  An ostensibly ridiculous premise with an endearing (at least, I think so!) character whom you don’t expect, giving an unexpected perspective and staying light and upbeat.  So it was a bit out of my comfort zone, a bit funny, a bit ridiculous, and very much me.  As I was writing it, before it was finished (yeah, that quickly, even before I could finish three sentences), I could tell it was the best one.  That “magic” was happening, that crazy feeling where you feel like you’ve tapped into the magical mind-juice of the universe and your pen (okay, your keyboard) is acting as a conduit for the timeless universal stories that speak to everybody.  You know, a good writing session.

The fifth attempt felt a little forced, so I pulled the plug after that one.

So, to reflect, I wrote one story in my usual vein, a second with one foot out of the vein, a third with an eye on a different horizon, and a fourth that struck out toward that horizon and — by all accounts — seems to be resonating with folks who read it.  So now, I’ve got another prompt in front of me for the weekend, and I’m all in my own head, wondering if I need to write three junk stories before I get at the “real” one.  For that matter, I’m working on an extended short story and boy oh boy, does it feel awkward and forced.  Like I’m in touch with the central idea, and I’m enjoying the premise, but I can tell as I’m writing it that I’m not telling the story the right way.

Do I need a few crap attempts at the topic to “clear the pipes” so that I can get down to writing the story that I want to write?  If so, how far do I have to carry those stories out?  When I wrote Rejected v1, it felt like a pretty good story to me, but in retrospect I can see that it’s awfully derivative.  The current version of Powdered Chaos, at about 30% completion, already feels crap.  Do I need to carry it to is conclusion before I take another stab at it?  Or, having written about 4000 words on it already, can I legitimately realize it’s crap and start over without crashing my creative process?

In short, just what the hell is my creative process anyway?  This is seriously bugging me, and it’s bogging down my writing hard while I’m trying to carry my momentum through this lull before I jump into editing Accidentally Inspired.

Need to figure this out.  Anybody else have anxiety like this about your drafts?  How do you attack it?  Do I just write the crap to clear the pipes or do I resist the urge to waste time on the crap and hold out for the good ideas to strike?

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