It's 3:00 a.m. and I need a story. All 10 to 15 pages of one, worth 30% of my grade. By 9:00 a.m. today. T-minus 6 hours.
It's not like your average assignment, or rather, not like any I've done before. I can't just scan a source, then reword, then stick it in the paper, then scan some more, and reword some more, and so on until I have a nice chunk of neatly spaced, 12pt, Times New Roman hieroglyphs that may or may not make any sense to anyone, including myself. No, I have to create something organic. Something with more to it than the keys I punched in to make lots of pretty letters. I need backstory, plot, subplot, symbolism, motifs. I need characters with real feelings and real motivations, that can talk to each other like real human beings. And most importantly, I need it all to mean something. I need to create and sustain feeling. I need it to be memorable. Even didactic.
So I look to my failures. I open my laptop, and click through to my writing folder. I am greeted, as always, by half-formed ideas, unfinished stories and little snippets of dialogue that I thought were funny at the time, but found no place for. I scroll through finished stories that need revision, and finished stories that are beyond hope of revision, through misplaced assignments, and old one-paragraph writing exercises.
I click on my longest work. One part of a trilogy of short stories, the rest of which never materialized. Too much Gibson. I love him to death, and, unfortunately, it shows. His matrix, his obsession with brand names, and his "gun-metal gray" grittiness reflect upon my own attempt at story-telling, and reveal it to be a cheap imitation. I toyed with completing it anyway. Nobody has to see it, after all. But that realization of my accidental plagiarism killed any and all motivation to continue.
But I know there's a story in here somewhere, I just can't find it. I must be able to salvage something from the wreckage of my good intentions, but it doesn't look promising. Maybe if I read some more, I will begin to see a pattern and something will "click." I close the file and move on.
It's 4:00 a.m. and I need a story. Has it been an hour already? Sigh. I look over some more files, and still come up with nothing. Time to refresh. I sneak out the back door to have a cigarette. I've cut down to one or two a day, so I'm sure to get a buzz from this one. Maybe even enough to concentrate and get down some ideas when I come back in, but I'm not pushing it. It's colder outside now, too cold for the shorts and sandals I've worn all day, but I stay out anyway. It smells like wet grass. I can hear my neighbor's wind chimes. I smoke it right down to the filter, and manage to burn my finger a little while smothering it out under my sandal.
My life is boring. Too boring for me to be a writer. I realize that now, home from school and in a sort of limbo before my summer job starts, I have lost a sense of grounding in reality. Nobody wants to hear stories about a guy who lounges around and watches Law & Order: SVU reruns all day. Write what you know, right? No, I can't think like this right now. I need that story done, if only so I can sleep. I know there's a story in here, I just can't find it.
It's 5:00 a.m. and I need a story. Christ, two hours have gone by? Alright, screw the writing folder. Let's go back, way back, to my stash of notebooks. The ancient stuff, the neat stuff, the messy stuff, the stuff written in margins, doodles and half-assed sketches (I have always envied people able to draw), all of this spills into my head, and all of it is garbage. Seriously, garbage. I don't know why I keep it. Maybe it's a reminder that I'm getting better, or maybe it's a reminder that no matter how good I get, all of my previous stuff will seem like garbage to me. I feel embarrassed of myself just a few years younger.
Ok, I'll close the notebooks and the writing folder. I'll start fresh. I look up at the ceiling, and close my eyes. I know there's a story in here somewhere, I just can't find it.
And suddenly, inspiration strikes! What if I wrote about a gang of men who are surfers by day, and bank robbers by night! And they wear masks of the former U.S. presidents! And-- something about Keanu Reeves and Patrick Swayze! Wait, that's been done before, and also sucked massively.
Damn. I'm never going to get this story done. I flick off the lights and climb into bed. I know there's a story in here somewhere, but maybe it'll only come out when I'm dreaming.