The Lost Manuscript

My first attempt at free, creative writing came in fourth grade when I wrote an epic space novel on wide-ruled notebook paper in pencil or, when allowance would allow, magnificent erasable ink pen. Even at that age, I had an unhealthy office supply fetish.

The cast of characters was wide, consisting of myself, school friends and frenemies (you know, kid drama—where friends and frenemies are somewhat of a fluid social amoeba). And when magic or muscle was called for, I’d throw in the occasional wise teacher along with some slightly plagiarized and/or outright stolen characters from whatever movie or TV show I was watching at the time. Warner Brothers could have so put me in jail.

The plot? There wasn’t one. I can’t remember what the characters’ goals were. Were we escaping something, or trying to find something? No clue. I only remember that the characters came and went whenever the mood struck me.

In a fight with the best friend? Alien kidnapped her (ETA on the rescue depended on what happened at school the next day).

Teacher grumpy that day? Send her through the wormhole. Bully Boy acting up? Well, even at ten years old I wrote some people out of the plot. Permanently.

I remember my mom being proud of my work. She took it to her office and made copies to pass around to her friends. And after that, probably a couple of years later, I think I stuck it in a cardboard box with academic awards and various other elementary mementos and I forgot about it.

At least I thought I did.

Until the basement flooded. I panicked remembering that notebook paper manuscript was the only thing I really cared about in that box. But after pulling out drenched certificates, report cards and photos, I realized it wasn’t there. And I also realized it wasn’t a good idea to store anything in a basement in a cardboard box.

Lesson learned: Buy plastic totes.

I don’t think I finished the story. I think it fizzled out. Looking back, I wished I had stuck with it. Maybe if I’d finished it, I could remember what the story was really about. Not to mention the sense of accomplishment it would have brought. Maybe I wouldn’t have put off writing seriously for quite so long. Like decades. Okay, now I’m beating up my ten-year-old self. Poor kid.

Lesson learned: Finish things.

Maybe I didn’t finish it because I was showing it to too many people. A “Hey, look how many pages I got done this weekend” kind of thing. And when your work in progress is floating out there, unfinished, there’s no big reveal. There’s no mystery or buildup. It’s like that friend/frenemy amoeba, just a blob of scribbles on paper, ever morphing but never really accomplishing anything.

Lesson learned: Keep it secret till it’s done.

That best friend that was repeatedly kidnapped? Once in a while we would collaborate on a chapter or two. I’d spend the night with her and we’d sprawl out on her bed, surrounded by pages of the manuscript and the SolarQuest game (Monopoly with planets, basically. We’d play that until we ran out of money and game parts, then we’d make our own bits from construction paper and keep going—geeks, I know).

She’d read the last several chapters and then start with ideas of her own. Some were good, and I agreed with them. Some rubbed me the wrong way. Like when she’d write my secret crush into a scene and he was sitting next to her on the spaceship. And when I got home, I’d have to take those pages out, rewrite the setups with new beats, new settings, new dialog—and another abduction.

Lesson learned: Shelve creative collaboration—stick with board games when it comes to friends. And keep it secret till it’s done.

And finish the dumb thing already.

Okay, now I’m beating up my middle-aged self. And I deserve it.

My current work in progress, which is turning out to be quite the chore, is teaching me these lessons all over again—except the “buy plastic totes.” Replace that lesson with “buy quality storage drives—and use them.”

The story is one I cooked up several years ago, started and put down. Started again and put down. I’ve got so many more ideas that are “better” than this particular one I’ve spent so much time on. But the characters are calling to me, “Don’t leave us dangling like this. We’ll behave, we promise.” And the sting of giving up on it simply to move on to something more exciting is eating at the back of my brain.

And, doggonit. I’m gonna finish it. If nothing else, it’ll be good practice. I’ve learned a lot since writing chapter one, and I could go back and make some of the dull parts shine if I wanted to.

Or not.

Because what I perceive as dull parts at one point did shine. Those parts were the best I could do for where I was in my learning and writing level at the time that I wrote them. And if I start fiddling with it, the story will never be good enough because I’m always learning and upping the skill level—this manuscript will turn into an amoeba. Ever changing but never really going anywhere.

And if I keep fiddling with it, I’ll never get free to explore any of those “better” ideas.

So I’ll finish it.

Because my middle-aged self needs that sense of accomplishment. Finishing is something I can control and not waste those lessons learned.

Because that ten-year-old little girl would be thrilled that I did. It’s something she’d like to have read.

And because I refuse to have another lost manuscript.

Thank you for hanging out for a bit. Check back on the first Friday of every month for a free fictional short, and be sure to visit my Amazon page.