A short story writer tries to get the long form habit

I’ve never succeeded in writing a long-form story. Oh, I’ve got several unfinished might-have-been novels sitting in file folders — some old enough that we’re talking about real, cardboard file folders — but I’ve never actually been able to finish one.

Woman writingAnd I’ve been very resistant to even trying one. More than once, I’ve been told that a short story was actually not finished, that it was only the beginning, that it should be pulled into a novel. My reaction was always, “No, that’s the end. It’s done. Time to go on to the next thing.”

I’m not sure why. I’ve joked that I simply don’t have the attention span to finish a novel; and that may not be far from the truth. Or it could be that, as an editor, I am simply too picky to be able to complete a long first draft. Or I’m just so damned insecure about my own work that I can’t write for more than about 4,000 words without giving up on the whole thing, and so I simply limit it to that.

Or whatever.

Well, I’ve made what may be a very good move — or may be a huge mistake. I’ve committed myself to a week-long workshop this coming September in which several writers will be getting together to work on and critique novel-length works. And as a result, I’ve got to have something novel-length — or, at least, something partially novel length — to offer up for critique.

So I’m forcing myself to learn to write quickly. Without going back as I write and tweaking each phrase, each paragraph, and then going back again. Without telling myself every other sentence, “God, this is awful; I’d better start over — no, this isn’t working — that is so incredibly miserable;  try again — oh, hell, she wouldn’t do that, delete that… Maybe I should try this other story instead…?”

Because I’ve got a deadline. I’ve got to get a lot of coherent words down on the page. And if I keep stopping and trying again, it will never happen. And I’ll end up sitting in a workshop where several other people have managed to put together manuscripts made up of several thousand words and will have expected me to do the same — and feeling like a complete and utter twit.

Wish me good luck. I think I’m gonna need it.

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