Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Why Short Stories

I recently mentioned that back in mid-July I decided to step back from my novel WIP and focus on short stories for the rest of the summer…and by summer I apparently mean summer + September. Mostly I’m doing it for the usual reasons: I can improve my writing and experiment with different styles and genres with less commitment, plus it would be nice to have some published stories to add to my query letter later on down the line. 

But I’m also doing it out of guilt and a fear of regret, I guess. Due to the move I’ve been without a job since last month (and we're fortunately in a place financially that I don’t have to panic and apply to jobs nonstop…yet) and I don’t have classes or kids or any other major life distractions. In other words, this may be the most free time I will ever have in my life, so I’m painfully aware that I need to use it well. I don’t know how long I’ll be in this position (the jobs I have applied for so far would start in late September) and I’d like to have something to show for it. Finishing a messy second draft of my novel would be nice, but completing -- really and truly completing and polishing and submitting -- several short stories and maybe getting one published would be better. I'd also like to have something concrete to show my uber-supportive husband, who is okay with my current unemployment as long as I’m using my time productively (and not spending a fortune on lattes, avocados,* books,** or one of my other vices.) I figured that it would be a while before I had a full novel ready to show him, but in a much shorter time I could share several stories with him and start submitting them to journals, the first step in trying to make writing my career.

So far I’m enjoying the process immensely. My daily wordcounts are much higher than they were in the past, I’m trying new things with each story and loving it, and for the first time I’m able to share full stories with Kyle (and soon other people) and get feedback.

The best thing about writing short stories? I can juggle more than one WIP at once without feeling guilty or scattered. One reason I’m writing more than usual is that I’m always in the mood to work on at least one of my stories, even if it’s not the one I was working on the day before. 

The worst thing about writing short stories? I can juggle more than one WIP at once :-P, so none are as finished as they could be if I had given them my complete attention. I currently have six stories in the works (not to mention half a dozen other ideas that I am steadfastly ignoring right now):

  • A dark literaryish YA that is somewhere between flash fiction and standard short story length, so I need to figure out whether to develop the plot more or pack it in tighter. 
  • Two quirky, dark psychological pieces that I quite like, though I have no idea where to submit them because they’re not YA or speculative, but they’re not quite literary either. (Maybe that just means I should polish the prose more.)
  • Two humorous fantasy YA stories with the same positives and negatives: I adore the opening scenes and the voice throughout, but the stakes don’t get high enough and the plotting in the middle needs work. 
  • A dark fable retelling that started out as something else entirely but has been pleasantly surprising me.

Anyone else out there focusing on short stories at the moment... Or trying to make the best use of a temporary free-time windfall?

*My complaint letter to the Pacific Northwest would be titled I was Told There'd be Cheap Avocados. In California I saw roadside stands with avocados for 50 cents or cheaper, and I dreamed of the day that I would live in such a magical part of the country. Then I moved to Oregon and my hopes were dashed...Seriously, you're telling me that transporting them one state to the north requires a $2-3 markup? 

** More on my continued bad book-buying behavior in a future post. 

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