I just finished a first edit of a story I wrote on a plane en route to Antigua from BIM.
I don’t recall ever writing on a plane before, certainly not a full draft of a story. I can’t recall why the urgency, but there it was. Correction: not so much an urgency but an openness, an unclutteredness. Which makes sense considering I’d just spent a few days immersed in the literary world – putting down all but one of my other professional deadlines, albeit unintentionally. Picking through it just now I was reminded that this is part of the unique pleasure of writing shorter pieces – it’s not about the destination. Often it’s an idea, an impulse, a certain something bite-sized though not necessarily small that you play with like a cat with a ball of yarn or even a dangling thread (mixed metaphors acknowledged but ah dey e dey).
I used to describe the difference between writing shorter and longer pieces as the difference between a sprint and a marathon but I realize now that that’s far off.
Sure, novel writing still feels like a marathon but writing a shorter piece, the writer isn’t necessarily in a rush to get anywhere, nor is the story for that matter. And they can take as vigorous and lengthy a time to get right as any novel. I have novels I’ve written in mere weeks (yes, I’m looking at you Musical Youth) and stories that took years (including a workshop and writing partner input) to edit (Genevieve comes to mind). So, clearly, the process isn’t that easily boxed up and labelled. And part of the fun I take in writing short pieces is playing in but sometimes outside the sandbox. For one, writing shorter pieces has allowed me the freedom to experiment, just because, with different approaches to storytelling and genres – noir, fairytale, farce, fantasy, erotica, you name it, things I have not dared attempt to write in book form and don’t even know if I want to. It’s an opportunity to practice until you learn to use your tools with precision like a master surgeon – and I am, for the record, still practicing hashtag not a master surgeon – while remaining open to the story’s power to surprise. I don’t know about other writers but it can be fun when a story takes me off the course I thought we were on – that’s what I mean by le surprise. I like not knowing fully where we’re going (the not knowing is a big part of what drives me to write after all) but with practice being able to trust that I have the skills to get us there or get us out of there if needs be.
It’s all a reminder that writing isn’t always destination – something you can forget with deadlines and submission cycles – but also process and play.
This is supposed to be fun, too, remember?
Want to read some of my short fiction? See what’s been jounalled and anthologized here, see my response to different writing prompts right here on this site, or pick up a copy of Dancing Nude in the Moonlight 10th Anniversary Edition and Other Writings, the entire second part of which is those other writings you might not be familiar with if all you know of my writing is Oh Gad!, Musical Youth, The Boy from Willow Bend i.e. the books. In Dancing, I share some of the motivation and process behind some of the writing, which might be fun for readers who like to peel back the curtain (I am that type of reader, too; yes, I was the girl renting the DVD as much for the extras,including and especially the audio commentary,as the film itself).
As for the story on the plane, my novels may be stalled but I’m delighted that it and other stories are coming just now (one in a dream, recently) and I’m happy that they’re not in any particular hurry to go anywhere.