“Write your story,” the WordPress prompt says. Okay, here’s my story.
This year, my writing pals and I started a group, at the behest of one person who’d been saying since last year that we were all writers and needed a group, by gum. We’ve met four times now, and I think it’s keeping most of us on track with completing new work and meeting goals.
I have spent the summer thinking about a novella I want to write, and in many ways it’s a personal story, although it takes place in a distant year, in a world far different from our present one. It’s science fiction, and also not. It depicts the slow illness my mother struggles with and how it will eat her from the inside out no matter what we do.
I put together a rough outline to present at our recent group meeting, and while I knew there were some gaps in my ideas (it needed bridges and brainstorming, to get from one riverbank to the next), I wasn’t prepared for the “there’s nothing new here” comment.
I am pretty sure no one wants to hear those words leveled at their work, and I was certainly taken aback. A week and change later, I am feeling less enthused about the work than I once was. Despite another group member suggesting some excellent bridges across my weird river of plot, I look at the piece now and think “there’s nothing new here.”
Of course, we tell the same stories over and over; this is not a failing, I don’t feel. Harry Potter was not “new,” by any definition — this is the story that G.K. Chesterton told us we needed because it proves that dragons may be slain. Narnia and Middle Earth showed us the same. Beowulf showed us the same. Does that invalidate all stories that come later and tell us the same?
Maybe I should have asked for clarification — but I was really too surprised to say much, ha. What the comment has done, in addition to taking the wind out of my sails, is make me consider how I have approached crits in the past, and how I should do so in the future. Crits should attempt to help the writer put the best version of their story forward. How can I help this writer refine this idea, without telling them it is lacking, because who makes that kind of judgment? We write what we write for reasons that are not always apparent; perhaps I felt the comment so sharply given my personal intentions for the story, of which this person knew nothing.
Perhaps the comment will be helpful in the end; how can I add to what I have already, how can I make it into something new, though the ideas at the heart of it may never be that. How can I show this idea in a new light, from a new angle? How can I strip whatever cobwebs there are off and show how the silver still shines?
Which is, perhaps, the thing we do with writing every day.