Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Finding That Write Balance

The thing I struggle with most when it comes to writing is finding the right balance between short stories and novels. I invest so much of myself into the telling of either that to switch between them is really difficult.

When I'm working on a novel, it's all I think about; I live with my characters and explore their worlds, I research every aspect of their universe until I know the predominant wind patterns and what time the sun sets and how it looks casting the last of its light across the hills bordering town. I know everything there is to know; I spend a year with these characters in their world. I'm their best mate and worst enemy.

Writing a novel is a huge investment, and I find myself needing to work on it without break in order to maintain the flow.

It's the same with short stories, which I find extremely difficult to write and probably why I only get one or two done a year. But I still find myself deeply immersed in those smaller worlds, so much so that when, a month or two later when I emerge, I have no idea where I was up to with my novel and have to go back to the start so I'm confident I'm not forgetting important threads.

I really admire those who can do this effortlessly, and often wish I was one of them because there is a lot of reward in having short stories published.

My HWA mentor once told me when I raised this with her that the horror writing genre is small and because of that, we tend to get a skewed perception of each others' success. For instance, unless you publish in the NYer, Glimmer Train, Harpers, etc, it's really not going to do much for your career as a novelist. Not many people in the big houses know what Cemetery Dance or any of the genre mags are, so those credentials aren't going to do much apart from make you feel good about yourself.

There's nothing wrong with feeling good about yourself, and if novels aren't your thing, then there's certainly no problem in living in this small press world. My HWA mentor also said that it's good to write short stories because sometimes your best work comes when you're running free, and that I completely agree with.

As a writer, ideas come to me all of the time, and when these ideas have been fed and nurtured just enough, they need to be born or they go on to haunt your head, growing up into indomitable mutants suckling off your creativity. So writing shorts is necessary--although as someone who is always looking out for my next novel to write, I'm probably feeding these ideas on KFC and bacon until they're fat little buggers. Maybe that explains why I find the writing process so painful...

Sometimes though, you know when you have a short story and not a novel idea, and that's good. But then I still have to remove myself from my novel world and invest myself into this temporary short story world, and that's hard work. Back when I was doing my PhD and living, breathing, science 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, it was all but impossible to switch between science writing and fiction writing.

I sometimes think it's a bit the same with novel and short story writing.


Darkscrybe said...

Too true Marty. I think this is why I enjoy writing novellas - it's sort of in between. I feel short stories are the most challenging which is why I only write 1-2 a year.