I forgot to mention that I managed to complete the first draft of a short story on Saturday morning. I celebrated with an impromptu walk around a local lake followed by meeting with my writers’ group. I’m not planning on editing it, or starting the rewrite for a while. I think I’m going to let it sit for a month or two so I can get some distance from it.
After my writers’ group, I sketched out a few thoughts for the next story that I will start writing tomorrow morning. This one involves the Saturnian moon, Titan. So, with the TV on in the background (with one of my favorite writing inspiration shows, “Castle,” playing), I’m reading up on the interesting geology and chemistry that is found on that far off place. I didn’t get any writing done today due to an early morning meeting with my tax preparer, but I have confidence I’ll get some more words on paper in the morning.
A couple of years ago, I set a goal writing a short story every month. I didn’t know then if that was even possible; I just wanted some kind, any kind of goal. Now I’m beginning to think that it’s possible. Two weeks to write, and then at some date in the future, another two weeks to polish and get ready for critiquing. Of course, this will require me having a backlog of ideas waiting. Good thing I always carry around several different means of taking notes. Hi, Siri! 😉
I outline my writing. There, I said it. I know, it’s a dirty secret, but sometimes you just gotta come clean.
There are a lot of writers who never outline, who would rather be forced to watch educational TV programs for babies for hours on end. Me, I tried the outline-free way of writing, and it really didn’t work for me.
I like to know where I’m going. I like to know how I’m going to get there. And I like to know the steps I’ll be taking along the way.
This doesn’t mean I feel straitjacketed by my outlines. They are merely road maps, and I’m always open to taking a different road if one comes along that is more interesting than the one I had planned. When that happens, I cheerily throw the outline away and pull out a fresh piece of paper (or open a new file in my writing software).
But an outline forces me to think about the work as a whole, from the prelude to the closing curtain. It makes me look at the problems in my idea and find solutions for them. They may not be the final solution, as my subconscious brain often comes up with something better as I’m working on the details of the prose in the first part of the work, but having any solution at all is better than simply winging it. And the outline gives me an idea of how long the piece is going to wind up being. If the outline takes up the better part of a page, I know it’s going to be a good-sized short story. If it takes up the better part of a notebook, I’d better be thinking “trilogy” or more. 🙂
That said, the outline for the short story I’m currently working on is five medium-sized paragraphs written long-hand on a single sheet of paper, one paragraph for each of the “acts” of the story. There is still a major part of the story I haven’t figured out yet, so that part of the outline is somewhat sparse. My goal tonight is to figure out what to put into that hole in my outline so I can really start writing it this weekend.
I had a good night writing last night. As I responded to a writing prompt, a workable short story came together in my mind. I got most of the first act written before bedtime, and at some point this morning I want to outline the rest. If I can complete it this weekend (possible with the three-day weekend) I’ll be ahead of my goal.
I cannot express my joy at having a workable short story idea come to me so easily. It’s always been such a struggle. It would be great if I could figure out what made it possible this time so I can make future attempts as successful.
There are so many ways to approach the quest to become a published author. I’ve received all manner of conflicting advice, both from other writers I know and from books on writing from various well-known writers. In the end, it all seems to boil down to “do what works best for you.”
I don’t know how useful that advice is to someone who doesn’t yet know what works.
I’d like to think that I’m a very pragmatic person. I want to do what is going to be the most effective thing to move me forward in my quest. At this stage of the game, though, without knowing much about what will work, I’m in an experimental phase.
The writers’ group I used to belong to in San Diego, the Penny Dreadfuls, helped me to understand something about myself and my writing to date. I learned that I tend to think in grand plots, story within story, projects that just won’t fit into the space of a short story. Since then, I’ve made various attempts at starting a novel, making progress, and I keep running into roadblocks. I often just can’t get the plot to hang together well, or my characters just won’t gel in my mind. Sometimes, even when I have a fully formed concept of a character, I just can’t find a name that fits. (I believe that the name is an important aspect of a character, and don’t take naming them lightly.)
I’m not taking well to being continually frustrated by this. So, I’ve decided to switch gears. I’m going to try to make progress on the short story form. I know, I know, I said I don’t think in short story scope, but I think I need practice in getting an entire story told, soup to nuts, before I’m move back to writing novels. It’s not a bad plan; many other authors have followed a similar path to publishing, writing stories for various magazines and anthologies before breaking into novel-length work.
So, I’m spending the rest of June and all of July working on short stories with the goal of having written one in rough draft form by the end of July. My goal is to write something that I will eventually submit to magazines. To do that, I’m working on writing practice (nearly daily) using either my own prompts or ones I find in the most excellent book, “A Writer’s Book of Days” by Judy Reeves. I’m also reading stories from the kinds of magazines I hope to submit works to, in the hopes of understanding the kinds of stories the editors are likely to buy. (I did say I was pragmatic.)
I’m working on brainstorming into a notebook, writing longhand with some beautiful fountain pens (for some reason, the act of writing longhand, while less efficient, gives me greater freedom to be creative), capturing ideas that might make good short stories. Some time in the next week or so, I’ll pick the one that looks most likely to lead to a complete work and start writing.
If I do finish the work by the end of July, and I’m extremely lucky, I’ll be able to persuade some of the people in my old writers’ group to critique it for me. That would be super-awesome.