I was a fiction writer once. I have four Kinko's bound volumes, two LuLu published novels, and stacks and stacks of full yellow legal pads. I used to have that half-enchanted writer quality, and I would grab paper napkins to scribble on while out to dinner with friend's families.
"She's a writer," my friends would whisper to their perplexed grandmothers.
Then, when I discovered screenwriting, I gave fiction up for a while. And I found the longer I stayed away, the more trouble I had reconciling the brevity and austerity of screenwriting with the description and mood of fiction writing.
Now a days, I like to pretend I'm a fiction writer. This summer I decided I wanted to return to my roots, crank out some fiction, and perhaps see about sending it out to magazines. I had some great ideas, and I actually made sizable dents in a few pieces. But I was collecting beginnings. I would run out of energy or have difficulty finding the right tone or start with nothing more than the opening line. It's become more difficult for me to finish fiction pieces than to finish screenplays.
Still, I could delude myself into the belief that I was making progress.
Another thing that I do to convince myself that I'm developing as a writer is to not write, but read. But what I was using as a method of procrastination was pushing me back to productivity. I have a nasty habit of taking more books out from the library than I ever have intentions of reading, but the behemoth of my last visit was a collection of short stories from one of my favourite authors, Dreamsongs by George R. R. Martin. I love this anthology because 1. it starts with some of his earliest work, making the legend a man. It's refreshing for an amateur. And 2. he prefaces each section of stories with an introduction of his life and career at the time he wrote the stories.
In one introduction Martin describes his determination to finish. "Every day after breakfast I would drag out my Smith-Corona portable electric, set it up on my mother's kitchen table, plug it in, flick on the switch that made it humm-mmm, and set to writing. Nor would I allow myself to put a story aside until I'd finished it. I wanted finished stories I could sell, not fragments and half-developed notions. That summer I finished a story every two weeks, on the average."
Sometimes a story deserves to fade. Some ideas aren't strong enough to carry a story, some don't have enough life to develop into something interesting, some are just bad. But sometimes I think the real reason my stories peter out is because I am too fickle and careless. Sometimes my follow through is just pitiful. It's the classic writer problem of getting my butt in the chair and my brain off Facebook.
So I have a new philosophy. Finish. Detours are only allowed as far as jotting down new ideas that I am guaranteed to forget. Besides that, I stick with the story I am writing. And there I plug away, day after day.
I've already finished one story and am halfway through another. It's refreshing, the world of fiction, a delicate foil to my screenplays. There's a lot more freedom in fiction writing than there is in the utilitarian world of screenwriting. It's an indulgence, I do think, but hopefully one that pays off in the end.