90% Vapor


One way that writing is strange: the best feeling in the world is the feeling you have when you finish writing something you love.  The worst feeling in the world is right after that, when you have no idea what you’re going to do next.  When you question if you will ever writing anything else that will be any good at all.  Or anything else at all, ever.  You think: Fuck, maybe that was it.  Maybe that was all I had.

So sometimes when I’m in the middle of a story, and I suddenly see its shape, I see where it needs to go and what kind of story it is and how it matters and what it takes to be beautiful (whether I can execute it or not), I think: just hold onto this.  Because finishing the story will be great, and selling the story will feel wonderful, okay, but this here, this moment, is unrepeatable.  It’s intimidating: am I up to the task?  Will it be what I imagine it to be?  And is it actually as good as I think, or am I just trapped in my own little bubble of relevance, and what matters to me–what makes me stop everything I’m doing so I can write down a note or a line of dialogue–isn’t anywhere close to meaningfully intersecting with what matters to everyone or anyone else?

I have no idea.  I’m just sitting here right now with pages and pages of notes on a story that is 90% vapor right now, but I kind of love that 90%.  And I want to write the story, but at the same time I like this weird liminal space that I’m in, where it’s all just potential.  Some of it is that I have some confidence I can write the story.  But a lot of it is that I just want something meaningful to work toward, and I know it’s meaningful.

Makes me wonder if all writers are like this, and if it ever changes.  Last fall I wrote “Grandfather Vampire” and I was so happy with the story, with the crazy richness of it (to me).  And it’s getting published and even won a prize, which is great.  But almost immediately I was left thinking “So that’s great, but now what?”  Not that I didn’t appreciate things, but the appreciation only carried me so far.  The need to be doing something I love, and being immersed in it, is a lot more powerful than any need to be recognized for it.

Anyway, just a thought I had today.  This thing, being in the middle of this story: not a bad place to be.

About the author

Tom Howard

Tom Howard is the author of Fierce Pretty Things (Indiana University Press, 2019).

He received his MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Fierce Pretty Things won the 2018 Blue Light Books Fiction Prize, and his individual stories have won the Ninth Letter Literary Award in Fiction, the Indiana Review Fiction Prize, the Robert and Adele Schiff Award for Fiction, the Carve Magazine Prose & Poetry Contest, the Tobias Wolff Award in Fiction, the Innovative Short Fiction Prize, the Willow Springs Ficiton Prize, the Rash Award in Fiction, and the Robert J. DeMott Award for Short Prose.

He lives with his wife in Arlington, Virginia.

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By Tom Howard


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