This past weekend I made chutney, a spicy Indian relish you can make by chopping stuff up and pureeing it in a blender. Mint-cilantro chutney is my favorite, and homemade is oh so yummy. But that got me thinking about the word, chutney, and how once upon a time I started writing a story that included a town called Chutney.
Whatever happened to that story? It was exciting, epic, and intriguing. Truth is, I just got tired of it and totally ran into a wall with the plot, the myriad characters seemed neverending, as did problem of sticking to the point of the story: A point-less quest. The idea for the story came about after thinking about Lord of the Rings and how it was a worthy quest to take a ring that brought out the evil in people to a place where it could be destroyed. What would be an unworthy quest? How would that story play out?
What I came up with was a convoluted tale of a people enslaved, a long-lost princess, and a quest to save a despicable master and mistress. It was a long tale with some parts that were really good and others that, well, didn’t make sense. To this day it sits collecting dust in a binder in my office desk and will probably remain there until I finally decide to dump it.
One might think that a writer or author is defined by the stories they publish, but that isn’t the whole truth. What’s published is the proverbial top of the iceberg. The other ninety percent are all those stories and ideas either waiting to be finished or even destined never to be completed. Those incomplete stories tell of wishes, hopes, and dreams, plots and characters the author has visions for, but finds that either lack of will or ability defeats them. Some stories are simply bad ideas, but writers can’t let them go because something in the story touches their inner heart and soul. I have many such stories, and think about them from time to time, retelling them to myself in my head. No one will ever read them but me and God, and sometimes that seems a shame, but for a lot of artists, their art is mostly for themselves anyway, and wouldn’t mean as much to a larger audience. Much like diary entries, these stories or pieces of them remind us who we once were, how far we’ve come, and where we want to be in the future.
Then there’s those stories, unfinished at present, but ones we are planning on completing once we have more time to devote to them, time for more research, care, and attention. These are the jewels in a writer’s satchel–the possibilities of greatness that will someday be. Even with the will to complete them, time curtails a lot of these stories. An author’s life is cut short, emergencies and duties overwhelm the energy and resources they have to give to the budding tales, and other events and people demand the author’s time elsewhere. Life just gets in the way and sometimes manuscripts or poems or other works are found completed or nearly-so, unpublished and waiting away in dusty drawers or an old hard drive until someone should come across them. Most simply vanish with the passing of lives and history. Once in awhile, though, authors take the time to share these stories, ideas, and characters. They may share them with strangers on a sudden impulse, or with someone they love, telling the story out when they can’t yet write it.
I find it fascinating how my unfinished stories have changed over the years, how often the endings have played out in so many different ways depending on my mood, with new ideas popping up the older I get and the more I learn. How surprising, too, to remember a story I once was excited about, but for some reason forgot. Mostly, the forgetting part had to do with growing up. The unfinished ones I continue to hold onto are those that have stood the test of time in my mind. Those characters, storylines, and themes are crucial elements I someday want to share with the world, but I want to share them at their best, when I’m able to devote the most time and energy to them. Which ones will remain unfinished and which ones will be completed? Even more, what future stories do I have yet to envision?
Unfinished is exciting in some ways. Things are still in play, there’s still a “game” going on even if it’s under the surface. Life is not done being lived and adventures are still to be had, if only for a time. An artist is really only as good as the next thing they are working on, and we can never complete anything to perfection, so we’re always writing and creating more to try and try again. We continue on in imperfection. Never will we have our seventh day of rest because we know that even what we’ve already written or published still isn’t “good” enough. Unfinished stories, unfinished life. Exciting and tiring at the same time.