You guys, for once I feel like I’m doing it. I’m really doing it.
I’d venture to say that every creative person is at all times either a) actively pursuing their craft, or b) feeling all kinds of angst about not pursuing their craft. I lived in the angst category until now.
Truthfully, publishing a book changed everything. Even while I was working through all the tedious publishing steps, I still felt like an impostor, or like I wasn’t really living that writing life yet. But having such a huge project done, I feel free (farewell, miserable checklist!), I feel affirmed (because no matter how you spin it, I’m officially an author), and I feel inspired to go for round two. The publishing process isn’t nearly as daunting to me anymore, and I’m excited to do something completely different.
My first book was a spiritually inspiring collection of biography (Stage Direction: Stories from a Passion Play). Creative nonfiction was and will always be my first love, but now I’m dreaming of a short story collection–something fictional–something that feels like literature. I’ve been reading and studying short stories, and zoning in on exactly what “does it for me” in a short story: realism, irony, symbolism, redemption, and a strong ending. My favorites, Zenna Henderson’s “Subcommittee” and Raymond Carver’s “A Small, Good Thing” have all of these elements. Lately I have a big, fat crush on the well-crafted short story.
My plan is to write and perfect one short story per month, and if I stick to it (although having a newborn in May, and other such personal events might derail me) I’ll have twelve short stories by the end of the year. That’s enough for a short story collection. I’ll write stories that make sense together, of course–this book won’t be an awkward romance/horror/fantasy concoction–not to worry!
I fumbled through the publishing process for Stage Direction. I had no idea how to order my to-do list. I finished my manuscript, then had it professionally edited, then dealt with the cover design and the interior design. It took several months after my manuscript was complete to polish the thing into an attractive, functional book. This time I’m already mulling over the book’s title so my designer friend (Think Cap Design Studios) can get to work on the cover well in advance of the writing being finished. Won’t it be fun to add an ….and Other Stories to the world??
None of this is easy work, of course. I need mental and social fuel to stay on task. I need accountability. I know this about myself, and I don’t consider it shameful. And besides, the extrovert in me hates how solitary writing is; a group makes this lonely endeavor social, at least in the follow-up. Write something good, and afterward you’ll be able to interact with other creative people about what you wrote. That’s a good enough reward. Last summer I started attending a creative writing workshop, and it was glorious. I was nervous as heck the first meeting, because there I sat, the last person in the circle to introduce herself, and at least thirty years younger than everyone else. I was intimidated. But as we learned together, and swapped writing, I saw that I had their respect despite my age, and we were peers after all.
That group fizzled out, but meeting with other writers had given me such life. I had to find ways to fill the hole. Recently I’ve started attending two new creative writing groups that both meet monthly (and again, I’m the youngest, but that feels okay now). Their formats are different: one has a half hour of mingling, followed by a silent writing “study hall,” followed by another half hour of mingling. I think this format is kind of brilliant, even if there’s no teaching aspect. The other group often has a speaker or some teaching time, followed by critique groups: a chance to bring several copies of your latest work, distribute them to your small group, and get feedback on the spot. This group meets this weekend, and I plan to participate in the critique group and in the read-a-five-minute-excerpt-of-your-writing-to-the-entire-group…even though these people are still strangers to me. But they seem to be kind, like-minded strangers! Here’s to extroverted assertiveness!
To supplement my need to learn (which that summer writing group really satisfied…bummer), I’m listening to a ton of creative writing podcasts, too. Who knew how many podcasts were out there, or how many other writers are out there, creating the demand for these? Story Makers is my current favorite–it’s content-dense and fast-paced.
So here’s an invitation to you, if you enjoy short stories: are you interested in reading one of my monthly short stories as it’s finished? I’d love to get plenty of feedback as I go. It’s much less overwhelming in the final editing stage! My mom reads everything I write, of course, but from time to time a person needs an opinion from someone who didn’t birth them and who doesn’t love them quite so unconditionally.
Contact me if you’re interested in being a part of the process! I’m pumped.
Email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.