I was out for a run once, and it had been raining in the days before. The sun had been out for a day in between the rain and my run, so most of the ground was relatively dry; even the dirt patches had baked and packed down solid. There were still deep standing puddles here and there at low points in the road, but they were obvious and easy to avoid.
The day was gorgeous; clean spring air, soft breeze, shade from the verdant, rain-thickened trees. The kind of run that makes you feel alive and calm… you know, all that hippy-dippy crap that I usually try to write away from. I had gone a couple of miles, completed a neat loop through a well-marked part of the trail, and was about half a mile away from the trailhead and my car. I had expected to get muddy from stomping through the elements so soon after a rain, but surprisingly, I had stayed relatively clean. I relaxed into the last mile, putting on a little speed and feeling the wind on my face as I streamed along the shaded path.
A mud pit, cleverly disguised as a perfectly ordinary patch of dirt, had engulfed my shoe and yanked it unsanctimoniously off my foot. Through some miracle of physics I retained my balance and didn’t pitch over on my face; then I had to hop on one foot to circle around and look at what had happened. I’d plunged my right foot into mud six inches deep, and once ensconced, the suction was great enough to remove my entire shoe. There it sat, inches below the surface of the mud, sunk in a perfectly fitted crater with mushroomed edges, slowly beginning to fill with muddy water from the surface. I bent to try and yank it out, but with only one leg underneath me I couldn’t manage enough leverage to dislodge it. There were only two options — sink my unshod foot into the mud to establish leverage to pull the shoe out, or try to worm my foot back into the shoe and unstick it that way. Both choices would leave me with a horrific muddy mess on my foot, not to mention that the shoe was already past done.
I was beyond frustrated, and after the fact, I would realize that there was not a single good reason for the frustration. I had set out for the run knowing that the trail was likely to be a muddy mess. Had I hit the mudhole at the beginning of the run, it would have fazed me not a tick. The problem was, I made it through the run nearly unscathed, clean enough to let my guard down and start imagining a future where I wouldn’t have to stumble in the door and leave my laundry to dry on the porch before I could even step foot inside the house. Timing, I suppose, is everything.
Okay, so, this is an allegory, right? The through-line of this blog is and always has been my writing project. There’s a healthy dose of side business in the flavor of my kids, running, stupid stuff I see on TV, and what-have-you, but really, it’s all about the writing, all about the book, and that’s never more true than now. I was — am — will be — this close to finishing the first edit of this book. I can see the finish line, taste the clean air on the other side, feel the grass growing softer underfoot.
And all of a sudden, a mudhole yawns open beneath my foot and swallows my shoe.
In short: there’s a character in this piece. A character I like a lot. A character who’s critical to the early stages of the story but not quite so critical to the end. And due to that duality, some poor notetaking, and, I’ll admit it, a pretty glaring oversight, this character has turned into the Gordian Knot of the book. The problem? In one scene she’s there, helping to drive events and throwing down obstacles of her own; the next, she’s not. She’s simply gone. Like I totally forgot to write any sort of resolution, or anything even close to resembling a resolution for her.
And I’m stuck. I don’t know what to do. I made it through the whole muddy trek of this edit — even undertaking some fairly major changes to the story — without getting particularly dirty. Nothing I couldn’t hose off with a stout drink and a hot shower. But I don’t know how to fix this, and I can’t picture a future in which it’s fixed. Back up and write her out of the narrative completely? I fear the story will collapse in on itself like a matchstick house, and I’ll have to rebuild it piece by painstaking piece. Forge ahead and cram her back into the final third? The can of sardines will burst, and I don’t know if I’ll ever get all those tiny, stinky fish back into the tin.
I don’t see a way to fix this without diving in and getting myself covered head to toe with the inkstains of major narrative surgery. And I was so close.
There’s a third option, of course, just as there was a third option with my mudbound shoe. Leave it, and hobble home in my socks. Just forget about it and hope that my readers do the same. (Not likely.) Or, pile this and all the other little nitpicky problems the story has sprouted into a neat little pyre and nuke the whole mess from orbit. Leave no survivors. Take it back to the blank space.
Okay, so there’s really not a third option.
So if the blog has been a little sparse lately (and let’s face it, it has been), this is why. I’m stuck.
That’s not an excuse. I’ll find a way around. I didn’t come this far to shamble home with my shoe left in the mud. But it’s a problem I need to solve before I can really feel comfortable in my writing again.