Story ideas dried up during the spring of 2018. Drafts sputtered.
As a writer, I was stuck.
I tried to blame it on my adjunct teaching jobs, which regularly saw me shuttling between three institutions and helming five or six classes every semester, but I also suspected my brain simply wasn’t able to take on the stories waiting for me on my desktop. Perhaps, I thought, I wasn’t good enough to see my ideas through.
Instead of writer’s block, I feared I suffered from writer’s exhaustion.
To shake things up, I dusted off some old story drafts: Word documents that survived multiple hard drive migrations and which hid in a file labeled, appropriately, “Abandoned.” And in looking at these forgotten nuggets of prose, something came alive within me. For lack of a better phrase, I could see the story again, and so I started revising texts I had discarded a decade (or more) earlier, newly inspired by these old words. I cut a four-page story down to a single paragraph. I pulled lines from a broken heap and dropped them into a new story idea like I was scouting a junkyard for a spare carburetor.
I had a ball playing, and during this binge into the past, I came to realize that, sometimes, ideas take time to flourish. That as a writer, it’s often less about being “able” or “good enough” to tackle an idea and more about being ready to follow a thread.
“The Tired Day” was born from this awareness. As far as I can tell, I wrote the first draft in March of 2009. Looking at file dates, I let it sit until mid-2018, when I brought it back to life. I didn’t commit myself to revising until early 2019, but once I did, the story clicked. What I couldn’t see in 2009 seemed plain as day ten years later, and after rewrites and work with an editor, the story was finished.
All it took was time.
Still, if in reading this you think I am advocating that every old, crummy draft is merely a diamond waiting for rediscovery, please do not be fooled. Most files I opened in the “Abandoned” folder ended up there for good reason: the ideas were bad.
I am instead trying to say that for some of us, the inventive parts of our brains may pace themselves ahead of the grey matter devoted to composition. And perhaps, hidden on a hard drive, there is a deserted story we all are just now ready to handle, waiting for us to remember its existence.
BENJAMIN WOODARD is editor in chief at Atlas + Alice. His fiction has appeared in Best Microfiction 2019, SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, and others. His nonfiction and literary criticism have appeared in Barrelhouse, Kenyon Review Online, the anthology Miscellany: Essays By Young(ish) American Voices, and others. He teaches English and Creative Writing in Connecticut and can be found at benjaminjwoodard.com.