Ghost-writing

This morning I finally got a moment’s quiet to sit down and finish a piece of flash fiction I’d had the idea for, and mostly written, in early January. I’d been putting this off for a while, because I couldn’t find the draft. This morning I decided to sit down and recreate the whole thing from scratch.

There’s a lot of stories and writings out there that I’ve half begun then lost. In notebooks, on stray sheets of paper, on old computers, and even on some floppy disks I still have but cannot open. They haunt me, my own personal ghost brigade. Because some of them are good stories. But when you sit down and try to recreate them, there’s something missing. This morning, it was the character’s name. I knew I’d coined her something great. I knew I’d loved her name. I could not remember what it was. Not the first inkling of an inkling of a clue.

The ghost of the piece is there, on the page, but you can’t actually pin it down. You can’t see it clearly enough to draw round it. You can get a vague approximation of the shape, but the details, the pin-prick accuracy, is gone. It might be better, what you’ve re-written, re-thought, re-created. But you always feel it’s worse, because of those ghosts hovering in your mind’s eye. That story I lost, that was the one. That novel opening, it was perfect. If only I still had it, I could finish, I could sell, this would be the breakthrough.

It’s all another way of procrastinating instead of writing. Which is what I told myself firmly when I sat down to re-create this piece, which let’s face it, as flash fiction, was not going to be too awful as a job of re-writing, and I knew I liked the idea, which was still all there. (Flash fiction is a bit like writing jokes, I think. The concept and the punch have to be strong. Every word counts, but it’s the idea that grabs you and unsettles you – or makes you laugh.) And about ten minutes and as many false starts later, I typed the title, which I’d known all along, at the top of the page, and then suddenly realised I’d done that before, and did a search for the title. For some reason, I’d not thought to try that before…

And there it was, waiting for me. I polished it, deleted some words, rewrote others, added an extra hundred words on top, and subbed it. Exorcised.

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