I recently made it to 17,500 words on the WIP. It is now, according to the Wikipedia word-count page, officially a novella. (Maybe that’s not impressive to those word-count powerhouses out there, but let me have my moment!) What began as a short story in college (and stayed that way for quite a few years) expanded into a few more pages with character development and has now grown into a novella-sized piece with the introduction of a few mysterious and disturbing events. The closer the story gets to its climax the more I wonder about why its taken me so long to get here. Why the hell am I only now nearing the end of my first novella?
And why haven’t I written a novel or novella before?
Well, heh, I’ve tried.
There were a few over the years that reached the 50-page mark before being abandoned. It happened a couple times. As soon as I pushed past page 49, my interests went elsewhere: to a new short story idea that was so interesting, it demanded my full attention, or to some new music I chose to focus on. Around that point, I always convinced myself that I was basically throwing words into a well—to finish the project would be a waste of time because I convinced myself along the way that the story was inherently flawed, boring, or a combination of the two things.
How did I finally choose the right story to finish this time?
Out of all the short stories I have written in the past few years, this is the one that had the most set up that just tapered off: characters with flaws that begged to be explored, the introduction of complex issues that interested me, and it was set in a friggin’ factory farm—one of the most disturbing settings available. What could that kind of work to do my characters? Are they all truly desensitized? Is there something more going on, like, is the factory actually haunted as the townsfolk insist? I felt that there was something to discover raveled in those dark themes. There were questions about human nature that demanded more space than a short story can accommodate.
Those are some reasons. But the real reason, damnit, was that I finally decided to just pick something and stick it out. There were self-deprecating habits to unlearn, and it wasn’t going to happen by just abandoning story after story.
So Many Options …
Like others with commitment issues, there’s the fear of making the wrong choice. That there’s some inherent flaw that’s just waiting to be discovered or something important that wasn’t initially contemplated. There’s the feeling that there’s some better idea with better characters making its way toward you, and if you’re tied up in one project, you won’t have time for this newer, better idea.
I now use that feeling as motivation. I take those new ideas, type them up in Evernote, then tell myself that once I complete the project that I’m currently working on, I can devote my efforts to the shiny new story.
Making a Connection
A short story is its own art form.
You delve into a snippet of life and examine and obsess over it because every little word is important. You examine your character’s motivation for acting that way in that situation. With a longer piece, there’s a more intimate understanding of your character since you see him or her react in several situations. You see your character’s good side and her flaws as well, probably multiple times. Before you know it, you have history together. You’ve become invested, and there’s the comfort of returning to what’s familiar when you sit down to write. (Well, at least until your character does something crazy. Then you’re like, “who are you??”)
Working on a longer piece is like visiting an old friend when you sit down to write. It’s fun and thrilling to flirt with shorter pieces of work to establish your writing identity and discover themes or topics to explore, but sooner or later you want to settle down with that longer project for a more fulfilling writing experience.
Getting Over the Fear of Commitment
I don’t think I’ll ever stop writing shorter fiction, but at least I’m no longer scared of getting past that 50-page mark and continuing on. With the way that things are going, I think I’m improving. There might be a novel in my future. Though, I don’t think I’m allowed to say that I had commitment issues until I finish the new WIP. Onward!