Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Short Stories. Why? Why? Why?

Why do we write short stories? It seems like a crapshoot when the only ones who really read them are other writers. Right? Ask the average reader (who has no interest in writing) and they don't give a lick about the short story. They want novels. Something they can really sink their teeth into and will keep them engaged for hours, sometimes days.

Yet, we writers continue to dabble away at the short stories. Why? Why? Why?

Some writers just love short stories. They love the form. They love the conciseness. They love the fact that you can more easily play around and practice different things. They love that there's only one or two characters that they have to worry about figuring out. And short stories are more accomplishable. There's satisfaction in completing a piece. And being able to start a new project.

Then there's other writers who want to write a novel. But they've started and stopped more times than they can count because it's so darned daunting. Plot turns and twists, interesting characters, that have to carry over 300 pages. Ugh. Even thinking about it sends me into a sweat.

These writers are writing short stories for some of the same reasons as those who love the form. Practice. Developing characters. Developing plot. And the joy of actually finishing something. Novelists are also told that if they want to publish a novel, through a publisher or getting an agent to do the work for you, you need to have established credibility as a writer. Write and publish short stories. Submit. Submit. Submit. Learn to handle rejection because it's inevitable.

I would urge any writer with the hopes of writing a novel, to first practice the short story form. Find your own writer's voice, feel that sense of accomplishment when you do the final edit of a story. Find a market. Get rejected a few times. Get the story published. All the while working on more short stories. Never stop writing. That's the key isn't it?

That doesn't mean don't work on the novel, too.

I'm writing a novel. I also write short stories. Sometimes the novel is overwhelming and you need something to fall back on when you just can't deal with your novel characters anymore or you get stuck on a plot point. If I didn't write short stories as well, I would likely stop writing and maybe or maybe not get back to the novel. As in any big task, you sometimes need to step away for a moment to try and regain perspective. Turning to other forms of writing is a great way to do that.

Like stopping to catch your breath during a long hike. Or stopping for lunch or a drink of water.

On a side note...I heard a couple of great pieces of advice last night.

First, when you find that your character is boring or indifferent or disinterested in their surroundings, not engaging with other characters, or always angry or whatever, write then doing something they really care about or engaging with something they really care about.

I'm not sure if I totally agree with the second point. To have someone looking at your work frequently to keep you on the right track because there's nothing worse than spending a ton of time on a particular scene to make it great and then find that it doesn't even need to be there. While I do think this is great advice, I think it pertains only to later drafts. The first draft is yours and yours alone as you're working through the story and trying to figure it out. But later drafts, absolutely, showing it to people frequently is beneficial.

Writing is not as solitary as many are led to believe.

Thursday, April 2, 2015

The Midway Point

This past Saturday there was a write-in and I wrote. 12 hours of bleary-eyed writers, writing and editing and jabbering about writing when the fingers didn't want to work anymore. And there was food. That glorious nourishment some writers forget to do, because..well...they're writing. It rained that day. The first real rain of spring in Calgary. Couldn't have asked for a better day to be buried inside, lost in the words of our respective stories.

In that 12 hours, I wrote a little over 2600 words. Finished a scene in the novel that I really wanted to get through. I did it. Yay, me. Though compared to others who wrote, I came in somewhere in the middle as far as word count was concerned. Some of those writers have lightening fast fingers and pumped out more than 10,000 words.

Holy crap! That's about all I could say.

Wait a sec, let's go back a touch. I started this particular novel in February. Somewhere in the middle of the month, maybe. I can't quite be certain of the exact date. I committed to writing about 1000 words a day. Some days were better than others. So in almost two months, I can comfortably say I'm almost half-way through the first draft. As of today!

Half-way. It's hard to comprehend. And then there's this thing...this subconscious part of me that suddenly stalls right around this point. Maybe that's why I'm writing this. Because I want to make sure I am aware that I know what I typically do in an attempt to do something completely atypical of me. It's like saying, "hey you, I see you and I know who you are, so snap out of it and stop feeling sorry for yourself and just write the damned thing."

I want to believe it will be different this time. I have to learn not to be too hard on myself too. If I go a day and don't write, so what? If I write only one sentence, so what? If I take a break and read a book, so what?

I think about whether I might lose interest in my character, have the energy leak from the story until it goes stagnant. These are my worries. And I'm maybe not alone and I'm maybe just spouting bullshit and I should just keep writing. Keep going. Don't worry. Write and let the rest sort itself out.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

Writers Are Strange

As a writer sometimes these phrases just slip into your mind, you don't know where they came from but they're just there. Random. Uninvited. Obtrusive sometimes. The gunk between my toes. That's the sentence that came to me. Dangling in front of me like a pair of dirty panties. And of course, I think a lot about things in terms of metaphor and how they relate to writing or something I'm doing. Mostly it's writing. So when the sentence emerged, after my initial shock and horror at the weirdness of it, I wondered, how I could make that about writing. And then I noticed the stain on my shirt from dinner two nights ago. And it occurred to me that I often forget about some of the simplest things. Like personal hygiene. (When I'm writing.)

It brings up an interesting point. When I'm in the zone, writing so crazy-like that if I came up for air my eyes would be bloodshot, and drool would be crusted to my chin, I don't shower as often as I should. It's not that I don't want to shower. I simply forget. The story takes precedence. Until of course my husband or child is begging me, almost dragging me to the bath.

I write in a frenzy, bed hair remaining through the bulk of the day. Only when I sneak outside for a smoke break and someone walks by do I suddenly realize I must look a fright. Or I drain the 17th cup of coffee and realize it's cold and tastes like ass.

I like to call it my lived-in look, just like the crap scattered around the house, too lazy or too involved (in the story) to care what's falling apart around me. The dirty plates piled on the table because the kid is too lazy to put it away herself and she probably asked me hours earlier to get her some lunch and when I didn't respond she pulled out the peanut butter jar and started eating it with a spoon, and then forgetting the spoon she used her fingers and smeared it all over the cat so now there are peanut butter cat prints all over the floor, the wall, the scratching post, the table, in the bathtub.

Okay, not really. I'm exaggerating some.

But I suppose it's one of my quirks of writing. I never gave it much thought until recently. But it's true, when I'm writing, I forget some of the simplest things.

And everyone has them. Weird little things they do or don't do when they're in the middle of a story. I always think of Johnny Depp in the Secret Window, loping around in his housecoat, hair a mess, sipping coffee and just looking anxious.

It's the mind of an artist.

What's your inner writer weirdness?