You can’t have a relationship without going on a first date, and you can’t have a novel without writing the first page. The first draft is like the early days of getting to know someone, when you’re looking for things you have in common.
Sometimes you’ll know right away if there’s a connection. You’ll be swept away by the rush of first meeting; you can’t wait to see them again the next day. And the day after.
Excessive research before a first draft is like poring over someone’s Facebook profile; when you finally meet the story on the page, you’ve built it up so much that whatever comes out is going to disappoint.
First impressions can be deceiving. Second impressions too. You find out what the story is by dedicating time to it, by conversing with it, being with it even when not much is happening.
Even after you’ve been with a story for years, it can still show you things you hadn’t seen. A commitment to a story is a commitment to being surprised.
You’ll get into fights – or if not fights, you’ll reach impasses. You will feel like progress has stopped, like the story is refusing to let you in. Sometimes time and distance are the only answer.
If this keeps recurring, maybe it’s not the story who’s emotionally unavailable.
You’ll have flings with some stories, see them for a couple weeks and part ways because of life and circumstance. You’ll decide to commit to one story over another. Some you’ll think about every few of months and wonder what if. Others will be forgotten completely, only to re-emerge as sudden as a text message on a rainy Friday.
Every relationship ends. Some people have one long one in them, others have dozens. Some have one-night stands with stories, are just looking for the thrill of hooking up. It’s okay, perhaps even necessary to have these fleeting romances, so long as the thing that powers them isn’t your fear of commitment.
On the flip side, there are times when you’ll stick with a story for too long. You’ll stay with it even though it is no longer right for you, even when it needs to be released into the wild. You’ll cling to it because it’s become indistinguishable from you. The fear of loneliness and the fear of commitment have the same zip code.
This is not about bringing a human being down to the level of a story, but about elevating a story to the level of a human being. A living thing with its own wants and needs, deserving of your kindness and respect. A writer’s relationship with a story can be as nourishing and life-bringing as those with the people in our lives. For as we get to know them, we get to know ourselves.