Do I write a novel or short stories?
Congratulations to Sharon Bala and Darlene Naponse on their Journey Prize short story nominations!
I’m lucky to have a connection to both of these writers — one’s a friend from high school (Hi Dolly!) and one did a master class with me a few years ago (Hi Sharon!). We featured Sharon in the spotlight here. I’m wishing both women good luck and fortune: it’s wonderful to see them up for the prize this year.
I’ve also been thinking about the Amy Hempel forgery that disrupted the Journey Prize this year. I encourage writers to learn from the writers they love: Lesson 7 of The Story Course is, in fact, called Influence. It’s a big part of what we get to do, as writers — learn from what we read.
But there’s a difference between influence and plagiarism. Gah. We’ll be discussing this in The Story Intensive, to be sure.
Here’s something awesome: Trish, Laura, Ryan and I made this for you this winter. We’ve never made anything like this before, but I’ve been imagining it for (literally) the past 7 years!
3 clues: it fits in your pocket, it doesn’t need a plug, and it can take you absolutely anywhere. You have until November 10th, 2017, to get your hands on one.
Today, I answer a question from a writer who’s writing her first novel, wondering how and if she’ll ever write short fiction again. Read her question and my answer, below.
Hi Sarah Selecky,
Happy New Year! I did your Intensive twice it was so good: first time with Shannon in 2014, second time with Daphne in 2015. I am about 30K in on my first novel (YA).
Confession: I eagerly read your daily writing prompts, then file them in a separate folder on my gmail account. I don’t write anything about them! I am stopped and don’t know why. I can’t seem to write any short stories, no matter how exciting the writing prompt is… It’s all novel and has been like that since I started it. I am enjoying writing the novel and learning how to do it, but something’s missing.
My question to you is this:
How to get started again on short stories? How to juggle the time and thinking of the long, slow reveal of a novel with the tight short story? I don’t want to lose my short story touch. I would love to put together a short collection of my short stories…but that seems like a pipe dream. It seems to be all novel these days or nothing gets written on anything else. Did you find when you were working on your novel that this happened to you too?
Dear Dawn, It’s totally normal for the novel to be taking your energy right now — that’s just sort of what novels do. I haven’t written a short story in four years! I miss it too, but I’m also enjoying what I’m learning through novel writing.
Resistance sometimes shows up as worry. Try not to worry about what you’re writing: remind yourself that it’s just resistance. Stay curious, and trust your process.
Your novel can be a container — everything that happens, everything you observe and learn and write, can go into that container right now.
In writing, nothing is lost!
Everything we write creatively is worthwhile. There is nothing to fear, or lose, or miss out on.
While I wrote my novel, I stayed connected to my beloved short fiction world by reading story collections. Right now I’m reading Both Ways Is the Only Way I Want It, by Maile Meloy — her stories are fantastic! You might also like to give yourself good short fiction to read right now.
Let yourself stick to your novel until you finish it, and then see what happens next. When you practice patience and trust, you develop more self-confidence, which will serve you well as a writer.
Self-confidence will remind you that you can’t do this wrong. There is no wrong, as long as you’re writing, and feeling some joy, challenge and creative learning.
By all means, incorporate more of what you love to write and read into your novel. Pay attention to your yearning for short stories, and follow that yearning where it leads you and your characters.
If you find yourself resentful of your novel for keeping you out of touch with the writing you love, then change course. Either stop writing the novel, or turn the novel into something you love writing.
You don’t have to juggle the two forms, unless you love juggling them. Look at Ali Smith for inspiration — she alternates. She writes a novel, and then a collection of short stories, and then repeats the pattern.
The aim, quite simply, is to feel good when you’re writing. Try not to let your thoughts get in the way of feeling good about what you’re doing.
You love writing! Remember that you love it. Then do it for love (not for end result). This will melt away a great deal of struggle and worry, I promise.
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