on failure

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I’ve stared at a blank screen long enough tonight. Nothing is coming out. I tried getting down a bit of the scene where Mattie leaves Rodney (I really need to change his name), but it just didn’t work. It felt forced, and the more I forced it the harder it became.

So in the interest of actually doing something productive tonight, I tried to go back to the scene that feels like it might be the beginning–Mattie asleep in the bus, entering her dream of leaving. I feel like such a hack for doing it, for doing little more than copying and pasting stuff I’ve already written. But I think it was a good exercise. I can see now that there will be pieces I can draw on from previous drafts, that those pages don’t need to be discarded or abandoned. Perhaps that is where my prompts live, on those pages that are already written. So, if I were to merge what I wrote a couple nights ago with a chunk from the thesis draft, it would look like this:
It takes just one final surge of energy to swat a fly, to allow her arm to fall over her face, to blind herself to her surroundings.  Her arm is heavy and warm and it pushes against her forehead; the weight of it meets with the ache in her head.  Then there is silence, inside the bus, at least.  She can still hear the distant rumbling of a farm truck, bumping along the orchard’s roads.  She can still hear the muted ramblings of the other workers, the highs and lows of their after-work chatter, gatherings of acquaintances, greetings of strangers.  Her boy has gone out to find his sister. Her husband is still outside, likely talking to the other pickers, laughing with the other men before they disappear into their respective makeshift homes.  Before they sit down to dinner with their families. Before their day ends and their night begins.

Her arm presses against her eyelids and she can see nothing but black and the occasional tingling of white light that comes from a place unknown.  The stench of apples that has stuck to her blue jeans and the flannel shirt Joe no longer wears enters her against her will, violates her senses.  She tries to breathe through her mouth, to ignore the stench of fruit.  The voices outside the bus die down.  Mattie drifts far away.  Sleep falls between her and the world.

When Mattie dreams, she dreams of ghosts. She lies here, spread out on a dirty mattress that is not her own, in a house that is not quite a house, on land that will never be her own. She lies here with one arm bent over her face, so that her eyes are covered completely and no light can be let in. Her left arm stretches away from her body into a small shaft of light-the last bit of light the day has left.

For a while, she is alone. She is alone in this space that is not her own. She thought at first that she would lie down to rest, just for a minute, before going through the motions of a day’s end-cleaning and cooking and tending to children.

Mattie dreams of a time in the Carolinas, driving up narrow winding roads into the foothills of the Appalachians. She is alone in the truck and the windows are down and she drives with one hand on the wheel and the other hanging outside the window. She smells pine and rhododendron. Clumps of her hair get caught in the wind and she does not push it away from her face. Even when she cannot see she knows where she is going. The road leads north, she knows that, and if she continues driving like this, continues to move the car with tires on asphalt then she will be fine.

She knows he is behind her and though she isn’t sure how far behind her he might be, she presses the gas just a little harder.


I can feel the shifts in perspective, and I can hear the rough transitions between the voice I used then and what’s coming out now. What is coming out now feels different, sparse, almost detatched.

I need to force myself to just free write and let go of that need to craft. When I write fiction, at least when I’ve made these last few attempts, I pause a great deal and struggle to find the right words. When I journal, as I’m doing now, the words come out much more easily. I feel comfortable writing this, and could go on for pages. I wish I could feel that comfort when writing the story itself.

Maybe it’s just that I’m rusty. I have put aside fiction writing for a long time. I have worked on revising what’s already written, primarily the June stories, but I haven’t crafted anything new.

My greatest failure is that I continually reach for the familar.

Try again.
Fail again.
Fail better.

I want so badly to write this novel, to see it come together and learn about my characters and follow their story.


Author: Kim Sharp

more later

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