When I had an accident from having a seizure while driving I lost my license for six months. Limited public transportation and my mobility issues meant I couldn’t get to work. That was about two months ago and time is beginning to weigh on me. Maybe writing would help, and I’m open to ideas.
One that has been banging around my head for ten years is about a tween girl who has convinced herself she’s adopted, so she looks for her birth mother. She thinks she’s found her in a homeless woman and goes on a madcap tour of an imagined city’s weird, but YA, underbelly. More Wizard of Oz than Oz, the cable series, but I am not and have never been either a tween girl or a reader of YA fiction. Another that is no longer “ripped from today’s headlines” is about a serial killer who meets plump women online, murders them, and renders their fat for biodiesel. I’m fat, consider diesel cars the work of the devil , and have helped out on a few murder mysteries, so I may be better grounded there. Then there’s a reluctant PI working out in the burbs, my habitat.
I have a friend who is a novelist and I bounced a short-short story off her. “That story you told me the other day was funnier. Do more like that.”
“That wasn’t a story. It was word for word from a friend describing her mother’s death. I wouldn’t dare publish it because I like her.”
I once calculated that I’ve written the word-count equivalent of War and Peace here, and I’d like to turn that power and effort toward good rather than just wasting my time and yours. And I have four months to kill.
Just start one. I’ve got a few kicking around my head myself.
Only way to know if it will serve the purpose of killing time is to try. You might get something written while you’re at it. FWIW, I understand that YA sells much better and is the more likely to be a money maker, should you care about such things.
Sorry to hear about the seizure. I hope you’re doing well otherwise.
I tried my hand at writing fiction a couple of decades ago. My personal key learning, can you write “good” dialogue in a “reasonable” amount of time? There are plenty more gotcha’s but that one killed me. It took forever and I wasn’t satisfied with the result…
A novel may be about endurance, but writing a good short story is about trimming out all the fat and cutting to the essence. It is easy to write a (mediocre) novel; frame it out, throw in a new character every once in a while, and commit to writing a few thousand words every day. Sure, you (or an editor) will have to edit the result down to make it publishable, but there will be plenty of irrelevent asides and even whole chapters to remove without losing anything. Writing a short story means sitting down, thinking about the essentials of your story, trimming all possible characters doen to a cast of three or four, and then viciously self-editing as you draft; an editor can’t help you much here because unless you’ve written a novella-length story there isn’t enough to cleve off without cutting through the heart of the story.
So, while I think you should start with short fiction as doing so will help you hone your craft, realize that short story writing is harder to make progress with and demands more attention and willingness to be self-critical. And yes, if you feel the compulsion to write and have the time alone to focus you should do so. But, and this is important, you must finish what you write. It doesn’t matter if it is terrible, or won’t sell, or just isn’t what you thought it would be in the beginnning, your must finish what you write. Otherwise, you aren’t a writer, you’re just pissing away ideas and words to no end and you should spend your time watching Jeopardy or collecting butterflies.
Everyone recommends Stephen King’s On Writing and it is indeed worth reading, but my favorites in terms of really practical advice on the craft of writing are mystery/humor writer Lawrence Block’s series of books on fiction writing. There are plenty of other writers who write books on characterization or plotting or creating themes and so forth, bit Block is all about the nuts and bolts of actually doing the writing and making description and dialogue vivid and memorable, and while he’s not the deepest writer by any stretch, I can say that I remember pretty much every one of his stories and major characters, which is more than I can say for Hemingway Steinbeck (and I really like Steinbeck). Raymond Chandler’s The Simple Art of Murder is a really good example of simple, gripping, well-developed short stories about crime and p.i.’s.
Good luck, and let us know how it goes. And remember, you must finish what you write!
Read The War of Art. It’s a short book, written in easily digestible chunks and it will kick your ass when it comes to getting your creative side moving. “Talk me out of it” is resistance. This book will help you identify and destroy resistance in all its forms.
My difficulty with any writing project is keeping up my self-motivation. It’s so easy to be discouraged and distracted by the tiniest of things. The few projects I’ve completed didn’t get an enthusiastic response either, which further sapped me of energy.
That doesn’t sound like your problem. So really there should be nothing stopping you. Don’t expect it to be published or even read; if you have a story to tell, write it.
As others have said, to learn to write you must write. At a con one of our local writers, Michael Stackpole, estimated it takes about a million words down on paper to find your voice and learn your craft. I’m up to about a half-million now and don’t feel even close to being a journeyman yet.
[li]Short stories are a great way to learn your craft. They teach you how to plot, how to use dialog, how to create characters (in a short amount of time), and every skill you need to write something of greater length. You also can get them in front of editors more easily for feedback.[/li][li]My method is to write a first draft with minimal editing, allowing the story and your imagination to take you to a conclusion. Then you go back and edit it vigorously. Don’t rewrite things, but edit what you have. Add only when you know why and how it works in the context of the story. Cut out anything that’s boring.[/li][li]You will probably have a different method. Some writers need to outline, for example. I don’t, but if that works for you, outline.[/li][li]Listen to your characters. You have to pay attention to everything they do and say and understand how the reader will react. Write enough so that this is second nature.[/li][li]The best book on how to write is still “Techniques of the Selling Writer” by Dwight V. Swain. [/li][li]Don’t be too concerned if your personal background doesn’t fit. You’re looking for versimilitude, not accuracy.[/li][/ul]
Remember Heinlein’s five rules:
You must write.
You must finish what you write.
You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
You must put it on the market.
You must keep it on the market until you sell.
#3 is a bit controversial, but mostly because people confuse “refrain from rewriting” with “not rewrite.” Rewriting may work for you, but it’s best if you do it judiciously. There has to be a solid reason for it and you need to know why the rewriting will improve things.
You will never “fail” as a writer as long as you complete what you write, and you are (mostly) personally satisfied with what you produce. (E.B. White, author of Charlotte’s Web and the famous Manual of Style, once said that he never felt anything he wrote was truly the best he could do, but it was good enough to move onto the next story.) Although it would be great to make a living as a writer, most writers, like other artists, do not achieve financial success in their lifetime, and the goal of a fiction writer should not be to sell a story but to tell a tale. If you want to make a living at writing, write for greeting card companies, “true crime” magazines, or become a technical writer. (And if that doesn’t suck the creativity out of you I don’t know what will.) If you want to write sincere fiction, write for yourself and have not a care for what readers will think.
Heinlein’s rules were fine for him, especially in the then-lucrative market of short fiction, and were a good starting point for any writer, but I wouldn’t take any particular author’s advice as verbatim law on how to write. Every writer has their own way of working, and the only hard and fast rule is that you must actually finish what you write to the degree that you are reasonably satisfied with it and then move on. Plenty of writers rewrite as new ideas come to them or they learn new techniques of storytelling, and the only problem comes when they get stuck in a cycle of constant rewriting at the expense of moving onto other more fertile stories (which I suspect was the genesis of Heinlein’s caution).
Also realize “the market” and publishing industry is not what it was when Heinlein was alive and working, and you may find success in self-publishing or online publishing (as many authors have) versus trying to get a story or book accepted by an established publishing house, especially if the structure or subject matter is “out there”. This isn’t a new problem; Joseph Heller struggled to get anyone to even look at the first few chapters of Catch-22 until editors Robert Gottlieb and Nina Bourne at Simon & Schulster convinced upper management that it was going to be a hit despite Henry Simon’s repeated objections that the novel was confusing and offensive. (It was, of course, and that what was so great about it.) But it has become worse as the publishing industry has contracted and become more conservative in what it is willing to front publishing costs on, while the avenues to distribute self-published and electronic books have increased. So the advice you get about publishing from two or more decades ago has about as much relevance to publishing today as a comparative monologue on buggy whips.
I have no expectations of making a living by my writing, but eventually getting published anywhere would be nice. My comment on middle schools and plays got me thinking I could write one about bullying. I know from middle school bullying. I will start after lunch.
BTW, my friend the multiple bestselling author seems to follow Heinlein’s rules. Her advice to me was write 1000 words every day and in a year you’ll have a novel. I’m not actually fond of either’s writing which seems ground out factory style.