I have discovered that writing short stories is dangerous to my mental health.
I strive for balance. I’ve said this before – my dearest wish is to portion out my have-to’s (housekeeping, exercise, balancing the checkbook, doctor’s appointments, childcare), want-to’s (gardening, meditating, learning), and MUSTS (writing… also, writing) in some kind of predictable routine. I want to feel peaceful, accomplished, and satisfied in life
rather than constantly fighting to catch up with one thing or the other.
As it turns out, though, my muse is a bipolar bitch who refuses to be yoked.
After months of crippling writer’s block, largely due to frustration with my current novel, I started work in February on several short stories I had promised to anthologies. Moving them out of my mental queue would be helpful – obligations to other people always loom large in my mind. I feel guilty, and distracted from anything else I mean to do.
Plus, I figured that short story work would help me transition back into writing the novel – being shorter projects, self-contained and conscripted to a certain theme. Like running sprints to get ready for a marathon.
And I was right – come April, I’ve gotten back in the habit of writing, got the juices flowing, won my confidence back. And I think I’m ready to start the long journey once again, for all those reasons…
but also because, damn. Writing short stories is apt to kill me.
It’s like this: when I start a project, I start out slow. I like the 250-words a day challenge – a promise I can keep on any given day, doable even over morning coffee while the Kinglet eats his waffles and watches Spongebob before school. If I don’t know where I’m going yet, or need to think about a scene, I can write enough to still see the story grow, even if I don’t come back to it for the rest of the day.
Eventually, the daily wordcount gets higher. I get to know the characters, get invested in what’s happening. The project blossoms from something to play with into something I need and want to do. Then – voila – I’m writing a story.
With novel writing, this process works great for me. I can build a routine around it, writing something almost every day, feeling good that I’m chugging along, every day another step in that journey of a thousand miles…
The trouble with shorts, though, is that it only takes a few days of writing before you can start to see the end. For me, that’s where the crazy kicks in.
I think, oh, look. I’m almost there. If I push it, I can make it… just a little farther. Come on now, girl, work it. Dinner? What? No. Mommy’s working. Let me just kill of this character, finish this scene, search and replace all those -ly words, wait. This passage isn’t working, I just need to DAMN IT LEAVE ME ALONE.
No more writer’s block – now I’ve entered into a compulsive, manic creative state. When finally (HUZZAH!) the draft is finished, I look up to realize it’s eleven PM, my child has been sent to bed without a hug, my husband has slunk off to amuse himself with Netflix, my back hurts from sitting so long, and (lately) I’ve chain-smoked my way through an entire pack of Djarum specials. *cough*
BUT THE DRAFT IS DONE. Now what do I work on next? Hmmm. What about that other story…
I’ve completed three shorts since February, two for the anthologies and one I hope to start shopping soon. But I think now, for the sake of my family and my sanity, I need to chill.
Novel writing is hard – damn hard – but at least the end-game madness is a long time in coming.