I write a horrible story (also known as: trunk stories, what are those?) 1

It happens sometimes. It kind of has to, if you think about it. Not everything you write is going to be wonderful. In fact, particularly when you’re starting out, more of it will suck than will not suck.

The difference for me is that normally, when I hit a story that I just start hating, I stop writing it. Then delete what little I have written, often while doing my best Bela Lugosi laugh. Unfortunately, since right now I’m the Clarion Write-a-thon’s bitch and I’m on a strict timetable, that wasn’t really an option. So even though I’d decided that this story and I weren’t going to be friends by about word 1500, I kept plugging away at it because I was past the point of no return. I needed to finish this thing or risk missing my goals.

Writing something awful that you hate is a uniquely bad experience, I think. I discovered all new levels of procrastination, trying to avoid engaging with this story. I eventually had to unplug my router so that I’d have to focus on the task of just ripping the bandaid off and getting it done.

This all, of course, segues nicely into the question what the heck a trunk story is. Since this thing I just finished is, without a doubt, a trunk story.

I was very confused by the term when I first started submitting stories to magazines. There are quite a few that say something to the effect of, “And don’t send us your trunk stories” actually in their guidelines. I figured that if I didn’t know what a trunk story actually was, I probably shouldn’t worry about it.

Well, yes and no.

My little writerlings, the definition isn’t really a set one, so here’s how I think of it. Trunk stories are stories you know aren’t good. Stories that don’t quite work and you can’t seem to fix. Stories you no longer believe in. Stories that taught you something valuable about the writing process but have no outer redeeming value. Stories that are effectively a waste of an editor’s time.

I know this is a weird place for us as writers. We are always and forever our own worst, nastiest critics. But at the same time, you still need to believe in the stories you’re trying to sell. You need to believe that they are the best you have to offer, and they are worth fighting for and taking rejection after rejection over. If you find yourself thinking, “Well this story is crap but maybe publication X will still give me a penny per word for it,” stop. It’s a trunk story.

There’s no shame in having trunk stories. I have a sub-folder in my writing file literally titled, “The Trunk of Awfulness.” That’s where all my bad stories go. It’s also the place for stories that I think are all right, but not something I believe in enough to keep throwing them at editors.

I think part of the process of writing and writing a lot is learning to recognize earlier when one of your stories is just not going to work. It sucks a bit when you’ve invested a lot of time in something and then realize that it’s terrible.

But also think of it this way – every story you write teaches you something. And if you’re writing terrible stories, it also means that you’re going to write good ones too. I suggest that, like your rejections, you consider your trunk stories a point of pride. It means you’re working damn hard.

One comment on “I write a horrible story (also known as: trunk stories, what are those?)

  1. Pingback: Did Hemingway “Write Drunk, Edit Sober”? « A Writer Begins by Darius Jones

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