Doretta Lau on why you need to finish writing that story
When do you give up on a story or an essay or a novel?
In 2014, when I was on tour for my short story collection I started writing a new piece of fiction I labelled as “Toronto Non-Motherhood.” Then I went on a retreat and kept working on it, but there was something wrong with the structure. I saw the ending in my head, but it was emotionally flat. No matter how hard I tried, I couldn’t get the narrative to work. So I stopped and turned my attention to a different story called “Best Practices for Time Travel,” which Room Magazine published in 2015.
A few months later I started a full-time job and stopped writing. I really wanted to be that person who works a forty-plus hour week and still manages to produce new fiction, but Saturday would roll around and I’d be doing laundry and cleaning my bathroom and feeling so very far away from being a writer. How was I going to find my way back? Well, the universe kicked my ass.
Last Christmas my dad died. I had to perform CPR on him and no first aid course ever prepares you for the trauma of doing this for something you love who is dying. After his death, I decided I had to start writing again because he had invested so much in me. He believed in me for so many years, even when I didn’t believe in myself.
I decided to keep writing
I started with poetry. Then Michael Hingston contacted me to ask if I had a story for the Short Story Advent Calendar, so I went back to “Toronto Non-Motherhood.” This time it was clear to me that the story had a title buried in what I’d already written: “Every One of My Answers Was a Disappointment.”
Along the way, one draft got corrupted, eating a day’s work so I had to try to remember all the changes I made. I added more scenes and deleted others. Then I had to push to the end. I’d already written most of it in 2014, but once I realized that I was writing a story about grief I knew how to reach the emotional turn necessary.
I submitted the story to Michael and he accepted it for the advent calendar. Then I read part of it at the Real Vancouver Writers’ Series and made people laugh, which felt amazing. My pain was transmuted into something good.
Last week the story came out in print and it was so exciting to know that a lot of people were reading my fiction, including the comedian Patton Oswalt.
Sometimes you may let a story rest for a few years, but it doesn’t mean that you’ve given up on it. One day when something shifts in your life, you’ll find yourself wanting to finish writing that story or novel or essay that’s been sitting on your computer. If you’re open to letting the words come back to you, they will.
And just to remind you that everyone has different taste, a few other editors read “Every One of My Answers Was a Disappointment” and rejected it because they felt the ending was too strange. I didn’t change a thing and I’ve had many people tell me that they love the ending of this story. So keep going. Do it for yourself.
Come back Wednesday to read “Every One of My Answers Was a Disappointment” here on the Unpublishables!