I’ve started writing fiction again recently – and I’m finding it unbearably hard. REALLY unbearably hard. I have about 3 “Great” Canadian Novels started (actually, though I’m a staunch Canadian, I prefer them to be called 3 “Great” American novels – sounds much better for reasons we all know too well) and they’re all dying of neglect. Number 1 is all mapped out with 2 chapters done and yet I myself was so bored with it that I couldn’t imagine anyone picking it up to read voluntarily (hmm, could have made great high-school English reading requirement material), Number 2 is in the infancy of a really compelling 2 paragraph introduction which I read over and over wondering how I can go on writing in such a clipped, no-nonsense way when I’m mostly the opposite of that and Number 3 is written in little bits here and there, in this notebook and that hard drive – that to collect them all would make a great novel in itself.

I was going to give up and go back to my forte of writing short stories but when I tried that too recently, I totally stunk at it as well! While doing my degree in creative writing, I had no problems sticking to the job of churning out amusing little tales with wistful endings and being the only Muslim and practically the only non-Caucasian in the program, I had the monopoly on exotic settings/characters which wowed my fellow aspiring scribblers and profs. They wanted to know more all the time and so I delivered more – fast and furiously, often seizing upon anything in the room I was writing in as my muse. Green Peppers! Mustard Seeds! Hijabs! Mom’s Old Blue Frilly Suitcase! They all figured prominently in my stories and somehow caused my supervising professor to think my writing was fit for publishing. Nah, I didn’t dare send my stories off because I knew real good fiction comes from the authenticity of life as you’ve lived it mingled with the freshness of your perspective. You know, like when Jo of Little Women and Anne of Green Gables begin to write real good fiction (sigh, my writing heroes sure are impressive).

So here I am. I feel like it’s time. I’ve reached a point of authenticity. I hope I have a fresh perspective. And what am I turning out? A short piece of fiction with 3 characters who can’t stand being in the same story. No matter how much I’ve tried to wrestle them to fit together, they keep straying. I’ve never been much for drafts and my successfully workshopped stories were all one-draft creations but I’m appalled to say that I’m working on the 7th draft of this one story and still it STINKS! The daughter in the story is elusive and clipped and no-nonsensical (hmm, is there a common theme running in my characters here?), the father is too obsessed with the state of his soul, the mother is wistful and lovely beyond words (and she really is getting beyond words) and they all want out to tell their own stories. Oh yeah, to complicate matters, flitting in and out are also a horse-loving Southern woman who drives an old jalopy with embarrassing bumper stickers pasted all over, a newly-arrived visa student who speaks in formal, cliche-riddled prose while trying to woo the no-nonsense girl in totally informal ways and a homeless woman who torments the dad with her silence.

For some morbid reason, I won’t give up on this story. And for some morbid reason, I won’t let the characters out of the story. Maybe I should just give them more space and let them roam a whole novel. Shudder, I wonder where that would end up…definitely not as a “Great” American, er, Canadian Novel.