If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you’ll know that I’m prone to long periods of not writing fiction. These tend to be accompanied by self-flagellation and an existential crisis: if I’m not writing, who am I? Then comes depression (or sometimes that happens first), which makes it even harder to write, and round and round I go.
The only way to break the cycle is to start putting down some words.
This, obviously, is easier said than done. It’s intimidating, especially if you’ve been away from the blank page for a while.
In the past I’ve tried fanfiction, though it’s not normally my thing, or played around with a completely different genre–not to try selling, just to play with. This time, since the beginning of the year, I’ve gone through several different stages. It’s working, so I thought I’d share…
1. First I resurrected my own blog. It’s not fiction, and doesn’t completely fill a need for me in the way writing fiction does. But I do blog with an audience in mind, and putting together coherent opinion pieces or travel posts is good practice in writing down the words, finishing a piece, and shipping.
2. Then I branched out from non-fiction and started writing the smallest possible thing every day. On some days, they were fragments of stories that didn’t and probably won’t go any further, but mostly they were haikus. I’m not trying to become a published poet, so I was writing just for me. That was good. Even better was the feeling of the full writing cycle in miniature: concept, draft, reach THE END, tweak as necessary (17 syllables!), declare it finished. The finished pieces started to pile up. Tiny though they were, those mini successes mattered hugely.
3. A bit later, I started a new “story ideas” file. This is a simple Word document where bits and pieces of ideas go. Once my notes on a given idea are longer than a few paragraphs, they get their own file, but until then, they all live together. It’s easy to scroll through them and add a thought here and there every couple of days. Since I hadn’t had any story ideas at all for a long time, this was a great improvement.
4. At about this point, I ran across a call for submissions in my genre–for flash fiction. They wanted pieces no longer than 300 words, written to a specific theme. I thought: I can do that. I’d never written prose that short (the haikus probably helped!), but I thought: the deadline is two months away. I can write 300 words in one sitting–that’s not intimidating.* In two months I can write and edit multiple stories, practice the form, experiment, and pick the one I like best. I spent some time playing around with ideas, as in #3, and when they started to solidify, I’d write them. As it turned out, I only wrote two before I ended up with a story I really liked — though I had to cut 83 words to make it fit. (I sent it off, but the results aren’t out yet. Cross your fingers!)
* I’m also dealing with some health challenges that limit my wordcount, but even on bad days, I can still manage 300 words. I wanted to to prove to myself that this would be enough for some kind of writing output. And I did.
5. One of the ideas I came up with for #4 didn’t fit the theme very well, but I liked it anyway, so I wrote it. It came out a little longer than 500 words–just as well I didn’t have to cut it down by half! But again: write, produce a completed piece, edit.
6. I tried resurrecting a novel that needed work, not looking back at all my old notes and stuff, just starting a fresh new draft from the beginning. That didn’t work so well. I wrote somewhere under 3000 words and stalled. Still too intimidating, I guess.
7. But I was still tinkering with #3, and that produced an 860-word story. Still flash fiction by some definitions (some flash fiction markets accept stories as long as 1000 words), but getting longer.
So since the beginning of the year, I’ve written and completed four stories and some random number of poems. Sure, they’re short, and some of them are still in edits, but it’s 100% better than not completing anything.
I’m cautiously optimistic. Maybe I’m not yet ready to tackle a new or resurrected novel, or return to the world of City of Hope and Ruin, but I am enjoying writing short stories again, so I’m going to keep doing it. And I’m going to start submitting them to short story markets, which I haven’t done in a long time…aside from the one in #4, and the shorts I’ve published through Turtleduck Press–there’ll be a new one up on this site on June 1, in fact.
No goals yet. Just one foot in front of the other, one story and then the next. Write. Finish. Repeat.
Wish me luck.
Final note: This post is for you, the blocked, the stuck. But it’s also for me…next time. To remind myself that it’s a cycle, and that I can make it move.