09 April, 2010

Art of the Short Story

When I wrote my 50,000th word during last November's NaNoWriMo, I earned myself a CreateSpace proof copy of my book. In the middle of the month, when I strained to find time and inspiration to continue, this reward kept my feet (or in this case, my fingers) moving ever forward. It won't get me too much closer to The Dream of being a best-selling author but it does - technically - get me part of the way there by being a published author.

The problem is, there is a limited time to receive this reward and despite having written just beyond 50,000 words, the novel was nowhere near an end. My motivation to complete it, however, was ... at its end, that is.

If I haven't mentioned this before, I'm a terrible Closer - a fact that drives those near and dear to me absolutely, insanely bonkers. I'm really good at starting, but that's little consolation when what you've started sits in a closet for two years, waiting to be completed.

I had this idea to make these reusable grocery totes from fabric that had always captivated me when I'd wander the aisles at Joann's or Hancock Fabrics. I didn't need a pattern; I'm actually pretty good at fashioning things like that from scratch. I made a decent amount of money a few years back creating "poster pouches" for the die-hard Phish poster collectors who had to run in and grab the show poster and then worry about its safety for the remainder of the show. So I created these long, slender bags that held poster tubes of various sizes. I lined them with vinyl to help resist water and covered them with cool fabrics like corduroys and interesting patterned cotton and sewed a shoulder strap on so they could be comfortably worn throughout a show for those people who were just too nervous to lay their paper booty on the ground. I created the pattern from scratch on a scratch piece of paper that I've long since lost and went and bought a whole bunch of different kinds of fabric and vinyls and went to town. I created the first one in about four hours and got so I could do one about every three hours.

I don't know exactly how many I made but we sold all but two of them for barely enough money to cover the fabric and supplies, much less labor. It wasn't a very lucrative business given the time it took, the money spent and the limited client base, most of whom only needed to buy one. My husband convinced me to create a wider, longer pouch for tapers but again, limited client base and even more money for more fabric. That may be the one project I started that I actually chose to finish rather than finished without ever making a cognizant choice.

What I'm getting at is I have a short attention span. I'm like a puppy. I jump from thing to thing with a wagging tail and when I grow bored, I jump to the next thing. Or I take a nap. Taking on a novel was a huge thing. My mistake, I think, was making my goal 50,000 words rather than actually finishing the novel. I made my goal, I didn't need to continue. But that's not entirely true. I really did need to continue.

So I have this free proof copy I can use, but I only have till July 1st to claim it. I have an unfinished novel that no longer interests me and a few short stories that keep me happily writing. What to do.

Why not use the proof copy to compile my short stories? I have many. Some will never see the light of day, even with this proof copy - they were practice stories and read as such. Some of them, however, are actually really good. I'm a good writer, better even than I am at creating bags. But I am a short story writer. Besides the 50,000 words I threw together in November, the longest thing I've written before is a 100 page novella that bored me around page 60. Somehow, I persevered and completed the novella but never completed the idea - it was intended to be a series of novellas with a common character.

The beauty of the short story is in its compact nature. I can get in, right in the middle of the action and end it within 25 pages. If I have an afternoon and inspiration (and the ability to block out Facebook and the various other online distractions - the Leechblock add-on for Firefox is great for this), I can write the entire story. Or if not in one day, certainly two or three days is no problem. Because it doesn't drag on, because there are a limited number of words to go from the beginning to the end, the story is all action. There is no need to describe the banister which has been in the family 107 years and polished to a sheen by the sliding asses of generations of rambunctious boys and girls. If a description of a non-essential element of the story goes beyond one medium-length paragraph, it can be edited.

So I started with a story I wrote a couple of years ago. I have no idea where it came from - it evolved from a name that popped into my head. That one is definitely in the proof copy; it just needs a final edit for schlock and it's done. Then a story I wrote a couple of weeks ago inspired by an email I received from myself. That one will need more editing, but it's sitting and I'm forgetting for now. And another story I started a couple of days ago - again, I had a name in mind and wrote a sentence with that name in it and the story began. I found a couple of really old stories on my website that I think I can put in as well; they need a little updating and a lot of editing but they're still really good stories, even from so long ago.

The goal is to get nine stories. I know Salinger already did Nine Stories but nine is my number and I don't have to call it the same thing. But it will be the same thing. Nine stories. I read Salinger so easily because I write a lot like him. So why the hell not.

I just need four more. By July 1st.


Danielle Filas said...

I am so with you on the puppy powered scattered non-closing thing, girl. I'm in exactly the same boat.

Go for it with your NINE! Love it!

Peter Von Brown said...

As you know, I am exactly the opposite. I 'must' write big things and I finish them. That's not self-praise, for I am loathe that I am a terrible short story writer. It's very difficult if you ask me. So rejoice in your ability to create compact worlds, Ninth Lizard of the Words. :)

[demit] (dammit with an accent)