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Are You Tethered to the Wrong Story?

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Please welcome Harper Glenn to Writer Unboxed today! Harper’s with us to share the story behind a work-in-progress, and an illuminating moment that changed everything.

Harper was born and raised in Georgia. She’s a lover of vintage brown paper, old cast iron flat irons, cracked mirrors, white sage, old cemeteries and writing dark #OWN narratives. She’s represented by Katie Shea Boutillier with The Donald Maass Literary Agency.

Learn more about Harper by visiting her website [2], and by following her on Twitter [3] and Instagram [4].

Are You Tethered to the Wrong Story?

“Nothing ever goes away until it’s taught us everything we need to know.” It’s a cliché quote, quoted different ways, by many wise people. Nevertheless, it’s true—true in life, true while writing. But let’s jump out of the intro. And I’ll explain how holding onto the wrong WIP taught me to write the right one.

Autumn 2014, I was sitting outside a cafe somewhere in North Carolina, staring at a ginger-haired man rocking a larger than life beard. My imagination whirled. And later that night, my creative genius sat pensive behind my fingers and typed. We created a fictional character: a red-headed woman named Prue, who stalked and killed men with beards. Much like the fictional character Dexter, Prue had murder guidelines. Every man she killed must have red hair, a beard, and documented criminal cases. Prue was a librarian passionate about books, who secretly wrote a novel about her killings. Prue was my hero, a vigilante, protecting lives one cremation at a time.

“This is THE BOOK,” I’d thought. “It’s marketable. Prue’s gonna get me an agent.” She HAD to.

Because– Well, let’s go back.

Spring 2012, after completing my first manuscript, I queried over 65 agents, received over 40 rejections, garnered 10 partial requests, 3 full requests, and one R & R, but had no offers of representation. Attended my 1st writers conference: The Dallas-Fort Worth Writers Conference in Texas.

Between Fall 2012 – Spring 2014: I completed 1 NANOWRIMO, wrote 5 screenplays, and 2 manuscripts. I had 9 uncompleted manuscripts (word count ranging from 4k-25k). I queried over 50 agents, and had  12 partial requests but no one wanted the full; there were no offers of representation. I attended The New York Pitch Conference in NY. I got a few bites at the conference, but I chickened-out and didn’t send the manuscript.

Summer 2015, my wife and I separated. I stopped planning. Stopped writing. And after a year of depression, procrastination, no planning, no writing…I woke up. And wrote again.

Only things were different now. I was different; so was Prue. After my divorce, Prue became ruthless. She didn’t know why she was killing anymore—knocking-off men with black beards, brunette goatees, and yellow mustaches for no reason. And she didn’t care. Prue was a mess; I was a mess. We were two fast trains on opposite ends of the same track, and reality. We crashed. After the collision, my creative genius got into bed, hid its face, cried, fell asleep. I crawled into bed behind it, hid my face, cried, fell asleep.

Fall 2016, I woke up. I’d had a dream. In the dream, a young girl walked toward a forbidden bridge where a boy stood amazed, staring at her.

“What are you doing?” the boy said.

The girl wiped her tears. “I wanna see duh water.”

“You need to go back.” the boy looked over his shoulder.

“Why?”

“They’ll hang you if they catch you.”

I woke up electrified, with chills, excited about the world I’d dreamt about. Who was this girl? Who the hell was this boy? Who was this “they” the boy referenced? And why the hell would they hang her for crossing a bridge?  Why was she crying?

This dream sparked my creative genius. But Prue wasn’t having it, she wouldn’t budge, wouldn’t stop killing. I’d grown tired of her. I wanted to kill her pages. Didn’t want to write her story. But night after night, she drove me insane—she talked, yelled, and cried, kept me up most nights, typing, dictating her mind. And so, I pushed the fascinating dream aside, and continued Prue’s story.

August 2017, I attended the Writers Digest Annual Writers Conference in Midtown, NY. Lisa Scottoline was the Keynote. At the end of Lisa’s speech, an attendee asked something about writing a book that wasn’t fun. And Lisa said something like (I’m paraphrasing): “If it’s not fun, stop writing it.”

Was Lisa, right? Could it be that easy?—that simple?  And more so, if Prue wasn’t fun to write anymore, why was I still writing her? And could I really stop writing a story I’d poured so much time into…so much life into?

Returning home from New York, I was on fire. I tricked Prue; told her I was writing something for fun. That I’d come back to her story in a few days—but I never did. I kept Lisa’s words in my head and thought about the two kids on the bridge. I finished the first draft of the new story in just under three months and danced. I knew this story was different. Writing it was organic. It felt like home. It was home. And just like that, six months after I typed “The End” to the WIP about the teens on the bridge, I found an agent interested in representing their story.

Writing the wrong WIP taught me many things. It forced me to take a long hard look at the pressure to succeed I’d placed on my writing—that each story written, whether it garners representation or not, is meaningful. Writing the wrong WIP persuaded deeper writing; it gave me the courage to write characters and storylines that both scared me and bought joy.

So if you ever find yourself tethered to the wrong story, acknowledge it by accepting it for what it is, and what it’s teaching you about yourself, and writing. Allow it to help you discover the right story, the courage to write it, and later to query it. Because sometimes, writing the wrong story leads to something that’s exactly right.

Writers, have you forgotten why you’re writing your work-in-progress? What keeps you tethered to the work? Have you ever set aside a project for lack of joy, or a deep sense of being on the wrong track? What tipped you off that the story had to go into a drawer — or a fire? Do you ever think you’d revisit it? What, if anything, did the experience teach you about the fuel you need to receive from your WIP? The floor is yours.

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