I realized I titled several recent and forthcoming posts as questions. But unlike an author writing a character, my audience does not have any insight into my thinking to answer. Also, unlike many of those posts, I’m not sure I know the answer to this one.
Long time readers (those of you who’ve been with me for all of 2-3 months) may recall that I have an idea for a sci-fi novel. I’ve jotted down notes about this novel — characters, major plots points, settings — but haven’t written anything yet. In the interim, I’ve written 12 short stories and children’s picture book manuscripts, all of which are out for submission. I also have three more short stories in various draft form. Long time readers also will know my first writing goal is qualifying as an Active Member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. There are a couple ways to qualify. I selected publishing three short stories in a SFWA-qualifying market, but another way to qualify is by selling a novel to a SWFA-qualifying publisher.
Am I pursuing SFWA membership through short story sales, and writing those stories, as a way to procrastinate from writing my novel? Good question. I’m glad you asked. I don’t think so because I’m not certain I know how to write a novel, though that may be procrastination-inducing self doubt right there. I’ve long believed I needed to start with short stories to learn how to write. Don’t forget, before last year, I’d never done this before. I don’t have an MFA, and I never took creative writing at any level. Overall, I think I’ve succeeded. I believe my writing has come a long way in less than a year. I attribute that not only to the amount of writing I’ve done in that time but also to the books about writing I’ve read in that time. I couldn’t imagine having focused on my novel, written half of it, and then realizing I needed to go back a fix so many rookie writing mistakes. Actually, I can, and it involves crying. But that’s essentially what I’ve had to do with several short stories. However, revising a 1000-6000 word short story is way less depressing than fixing a 100,000 word novel. So I plan to keep plugging away at short stories (and children’s books, which are more for my kids) until I feel comfortable tacking the novel. I’ll get there, but I believe I still have plenty to learn.
BUT (I bet you thought this blog post was over) am I procrastinating finishing one of my short stories? In Post #10 – Inspiration, I mentioned reading two different calls for submissions and being inspired to write new stories for each. Well that’s happened two more times since then. I’ve written one of those subsequent stories already and am in the process of finishing the other. The submission deadline for that last story is one week away. Not my best idea—to decide to meet this deadline. The idea for the story is awesome—and funny.
Before and while writing these other stories, I’ve worked on a sequel to an early story. I’ve had the idea for this story since last year, even before I’d finished writing the story to which it’s a sequel. At some point this year, I opened the file containing the first couple of lines I wrote back when sometime and realized since then I’d jotted down numerous notes. It’s eerily similar to how the file with my novel’s notes looks. That realization motivated me to finally tackle the sequel, and I made great progress. In fact, I’m maybe a scene or two from completion; I estimate another 1000 words at most. I could knock that out in one or two sittings. So why haven’t I?
Another fine question. Thank you again for asking. This is the part I don’t know. Ostensibly, it was to write these other stories matching calls for submissions with approaching deadlines. This sequel has no deadline. Maybe, I’m afraid I don’t know where the story is going. That was true for a long time before I got past those first couple of lines. Since then, though, I’ve pretty much had the story mapped out. Indeed, the missing one or two scenes are in the middle of story, and I intend them to plug a couple of information holes. I already know what info to plug in, so it can’t be that.
I think it’s a combination of two things. First, it’s true these newer stories have approaching deadlines, but I think it’s more that they are shiny and new. Usually, a story loses that shiny, newness once I complete the first draft. Somehow, I think my sequel story lost that shiny, newness even before then. Part of that I attribute to reason two.
When it was time to go back to writing the sequel after each interruption, I couldn’t just pick up where I left off. I’d need to reread the entire story and get back in that mindset. Unlike a story I’ve completed multiple drafts of, meaning I’ve edited it who knows how many times, I don’t know my sequel story well enough to jump into the middle and start writing. I need to re-immerse myself in that world. I need to get back into my characters’ heads. All of that takes time, probably more time than I have to devote in a single sitting. Anything more than a single sitting, I risk being distracted by life—or another call for submissions.
I do have a cross country flight coming up, where I’ll have a chunk of time on the airplane to devote to knocking the rest of the sequel out. That is if I’m not working on my shiny, new story with the deadline one week away.