Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Writing Short

I'm a writing fool.

I finished a novella yesterday, which was great fun. Unfortunately I can't tell you much about it. Stay tuned.

I celebrated finishing said novella by having ice cream for dinner. Don't judge: it was 86 degrees in my house at seven o'clock last night. (For more of why I don't just buy an air conditioner already, see this old post from last year's hot season. Still true this year.) I had a chocolate shake from McDonalds. With a cherry. Mmmmm. It was delicious. It was 750 calories. That's dinner.

This week I'm also working on a short story, which has brought a few things to light:

1. It's been a long time since I've written a short story. Like, more than six years. This blows my mind since writing short stories used to be what I did best. That's what I was trained in, after all. I have written two separate collections of literary short stories. I also got my publishing start with short stories; in fact, it was an old short story of mine that brought my agent to me. So writing a short story again feels like visiting a past version of myself as a writer. A ghost of the writer I used to be.

She's more concise than I am.

2. Writing short stories is hard. Before I'd written any novels, back when I was simply a proud short story writer, I used to tell my students that good short story writing was actually harder than good novel writing. You have to be ruthless. Economical. Smart. You have to make an arc fit within the span of fifteen or twenty pages. You're not free to ramble about the way novelists do. Every single word has to count.

Then I wrote a novel. And another. And another. Today, if somebody told me that short story writing is easier than novel writing, this would be my response:


And then I would quite possibly slap him/her.

Short story writing is not easier than novel writing. You don't have to keep 1400 pages of story straight in your head all at once. But short story writing is hard. It requires an intense focus. It's like a fast sprint, whereas novel writing is a marathon.

3. I am rusty at being ruthless. I find this odd, since my writer's brain is in good shape right now. I've been bench pressing more than 1000 words a day for quite a while. I'm fit. But this week as I sat down to write this story, thinking to myself, this will be easy, I can do it in an afternoon, I'm sure, I was struck by how lazy I've become when it comes to word count. I'm used to writing horizontally as opposed to vertically, which means that I often just let myself go and write whatever strikes me, focusing on getting something down and fixing it up later. (As the writer Chris Offutt used to say, "When I write, I throw in everything but the kitchen sink. . . and then I throw in the kitchen sink and turn on both faucets." Yeah. That's me. Sidenote: Is Chris Offutt that guy in the rocking chair on the credits of TrueBlood? Because I swear that's him.) Writing this way allows you more surprises, more discovery of the story as you go, but it's also less meticulous than writing vertically, when you don't leave a sentence until it's as good as it can be.

Writing horizontally also makes for chubby drafts.

This is the part of this blog where, if my editor was reading this, she would snort and point out that my last draft of Boundless was close to 115,000 words.

It's not fat. It's big boned, I keep telling her.

So this writing a short story is good exercise. I'm slimming down.