“When did you realize that your life wasn’t going to turn out the way you thought it would?”
Often, when I’m out of ideas, I open the little folder on my desktop titled ‘unfinished’ and see if any good sentences jump out at me from the half-finished poems and drafted introductions to short stories that never really led to any sort of story. Sometimes, I’ll spot an idea or a well-written thought that fits into another piece and helps it move forward. Sometimes, I’ll just see something that makes me think.
The line above was the first line of an unfinished story about… something. I’m not sure what it was supposed to be about, which is probably why it was never finished. It was a line of dialogue uttered by a young woman to a young man as they huddled together and slowly froze to death. I think I meant it to be profound. I can’t be sure because I don’t remember writing it.
But it did get me thinking about expectations. I remember a conversation I had with a friend just after we graduated high school. We were talking about the future and all the amazing things we were going to accomplish. We were really enjoying ourselves since, at that age, the future is still exciting and hasn’t yet become terrifying. Oh, we had some ambitions. I think I claimed my first novel would be published by the time I was 25, which seemed totally plausible at the time. She would, by that time, have turned her modeling career into a fashion empire, and we would basically spend our time being the coolest people ever. It’s a memory that seems at once shamefully naive and totally adorable.
Nostalgia is the pain of remembering, but the pain is not entirely unpleasant. As Sir John Cougar Mellancamp* would say, it “hurts so good”. As we age, we grow, and that can be a painful process. Not only do we grow softer around the midsection but we grow more realistic in our goals. That novel remains the X on my treasure map, but time frame has had to change. And probably for the better. I don’t think I’d want to read the book a 25 year old me would have written. But, then again, I don’t even like reading my old drafts. As stated above, I usually only do so out of desperation, when writer’s block strikes.
As writers, we understand deadlines. Or at least we should. When I was 18, I set a deadline while trying to impress a girl and drinking warm beer in a park. I don’t think anyone would consider that legally binding, but it stuck with me because I broke it. Let’s see if I can’t recreate that experience for all of us.
What is your five year plan? Where will you be as a writer in 2018?
Once it’s written down, you’ll be able to look back fondly at how young and naive you were. Or, you’ll have something to stare at angrily while you reminisce on your failures and drink.
Either way, fun stuff.
*He was knighted, right?