Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Carousel Revelations on Writing the Short Story

So I was riding the carousel earlier today with my kids at the zoo, and the inevitable urge to write a story about a haunted zoo popped up, as it has for the past three years, every time I go to the zoo.  

It's a setting inspired story, really, so I've been circling the idea for a few years now, not really knowing WHAT I want to happen in the story, just that I've wanted to write a "haunted zoo" story for some time, now.

And I had a revelation. 

Yes, I know.

Regular readers of this blog will probably think: "Oh, great. ANOTHER revelation about his writing career. Like we haven't heard THAT before." My only defense is two-fold, I suppose:

1. I over-analyze things. And probably always will. That's just the way I am

2. I've only been pursuing a writing career seriously (and by seriously, I mean submitting for publication) for the past five years.  So honestly, I'm still trying to figure this all out

Anyway, here it is, really simply: I started thinking about writing a short story about a haunted zoo. And, as I always automatically do, I thought: "This would be so much better as a novella."

And then, I actually got DEPRESSED thinking about trying to meet a 5,000 and under word limit.  It felt tedious. Like a chore. Something I had no desire to do, whatsoever.

And then I thought: "If that's the case, why do it?"

There's lots of things writers need to do that's not "fun". Setting a committed writing schedule. Sacrificing time and energy and freedom. Rewriting. Accepting critique. But we endure those things in pursuit of something we want, and usually the things we want, we really like, too.

I just don't want to write 5,000 word and under stories. I don't. And it's not even a matter of style: "killing your darlings", "cutting the fat out", "kill every adverb" etc, etc. When I think of writing stories 5,000 words and under, I don't get excited. 

I get depressed.

There's something wrong, there.  That MEANS something. 

So why? Why PUSH myself to write short stories if I don't really want to? If I DREAD the prospect of doing so? It's obviously not my forte, or my strongest point, so...

Of course, as this revelation lightened the load on my shoulders, gave me a sense of peace (and I'm not joking here, it did - peace on a broken down carousel), it also presented a sobering reality:

1. this really narrows the market. Not many places accept stories in the 8,000 - 10,000 range.  Those that do, don't pay a lot. Or, they're on the other end of the spectrum, and will be very hard for me to crack. 

2. so I go on splurge and write a slew of novellas - who's gonna publish them? No one, right at the moment. I'm not exactly sought-after. Publishers aren't lining up at my door, asking for novellas.  And I'm certainly not in the financial position to take the self-publishing plunge.

So what does this all mean?

If I say "Screw 5,000 words an under, I don't feel like writing stories that short", I'm either going to have to wait for a decent anthology accepting that length, or try cracking into the really GOOD publications that accept that length, or be okay with writing a bunch of novellas that won't see the light of day for awhile. Or, maybe forever.

And I guess I'm okay with that. Because, as has happened more and more over the past year, I've just fallen in love with the writing. Because that's the only thing that matters, in the end. The writing. The story.  If it needs to be 8,000 words and not 3,000 words, so be it. If it needs to be a novella, so be it.  Whatever the story needs to be.

Which doesn't mean I'm going to slack on my Bradbury-maxim of reading one short story a day. Whether or not I make it as a short story writer, I've got some AWESOME editing opportunities coming up, and I want to at least be a short story editor someday (read: want to be asked by good publishers, not throw an anthology together with a micropress publisher). So I still need all that short story reading, desperately.

And I'm not going to abandon short stories.  Just remove this admittedly self-applied pressure to become a short story writer.  I seem to do okay with solicited stories (like I'm ever going to see many of those), so even though this is like waiting for my lottery number to come up when I only have half a ticket, maybe I just need to sit, be patient, and wait for solicitations (yes, I know, tongue-in-cheek) instead getting myself into a vicious submission-rejection-submission cycle.

Waiting. Being patient. 

Something I'm getting a lot more used to.