Monday, May 28, 2012

The Short Story - A Gift or a Chore?

Some people plan to write short stories. Some people also plan out their short stories, much like they plan out a novel, thinking about characters, plot, setting, etc, before they ever put pen to paper or finger to keyboard.

I am not one of those people.

With only a few exceptions, my short stories have been gifts from my muse that have come almost fully formed from word-one to The End. Some novelists are similarly gifted. Alas, I am not one of them. Novels take much more advance planning and thought.

The first short story I had published in a major magazine was titled A String of Pearls, and my muse woke me up one night with the story. I stayed up for several hours writing it all in longhand - have I mentioned my writing career started when dinosaurs roamed the earth? This was also when a bunch of little kids roamed my house, so it was several days before I could get back to the story and see if what I wrote in the middle of the night made any sense.

It did. So I typed it and sent it to Lady's Circle magazine. They published it, and I was thrilled. Now, these many years later, I reworked the story a bit - we do learn and mature as writers after all - and published it electronically. It has a new title, Making it Home, but the essence of the story remains the same.

The three stories in my collection, The Wisdom of Ages, published by Books We Love Publishing, were also gifts that came in one great creative surge - not at the same time, mind you - but they needed very little tweaking after that first effort. One of the stories, Maybe Someday, won the Page Edwards Short Story Award a few years ago, and that is one I am particularly proud of. That story came to me when I saw an old black man sitting under a mimosa tree watching traffic pass on a country highway in Texas. I wondered what he thought about as he watched the cars pass, and my muse provided the answer.

One of the few short stories I've written that did not come from my muse is The Visitor. As part of a writing class I was taking, we were asked to adapt a fairy tale or nursery rhyme into a new story. I decided to play around with "Goldilocks and The Three Bears" and came up with a story about a family who is camping in the Rockies and has an unusual visitor, and, no, it is not a bear.

By far, that story was the hardest to write and took a lot more time. It also took a lot of editing. Not that I didn't do a bit of editing here and there with the other stories, but none of them needed as much work as The Visitor.

My friend, Jory Sherman, a renowned novelist and poet, has said that we are all connected to a large creative spirit that feeds us all when we open ourselves up. That creative spirit feeds those writers who can write an entire book with very little editing needed, and I am sure it is where my short stories came from.

What about you? Have you had these magical moments of creative lava just flowing and flowing? Do you wait for those moments, or do you keep on writing every day whether it is lava or just a bit of ash?

  Maryann Miller is a novelist, editor and sometimes a short story writer. To check out her editing rates visit her website.  When not working, Maryann likes to take her dog for a walk and work outside on her little ranch in East Texas.

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  1. Maryann, I have also been visited by the muse - or shared in the universal creativity - several times.
    I responded to a writing prompt some years ago and, instead of writing justone short story, I wrote six of them, all theme related.
    Like you, I didn't have todo much editing on those stories; they just flowed. It was a fantastic feeling!
    I have had that flow at other times, but not to the same extent as that time. However, most of my short stories are written in one go.
    My first novel was written with very little planning; I just wrote it as it came, However, my second one is proving difficult. I think my creative spirit has gone to sleep, or my mind has shut the door to that universal creativity. Do you happen to have a pry bar to open it? :-)

  2. Thanks for sharing your experience, Linda. It is quite a thrill when those stories just flow. I'm looking for that pry bar myself lately. LOL

  3. In my creative moments, the lava has already hardened and my pen is more like a pick-axe ... so there is much labor, sweat and swearing involved ... but I'm usually happy with the results.

  4. Deirdra, thanks so much for the lovely award. We are so glad that you enjoy the blog and visit frequently. The blog has received a few awards recently, so we should make a page for them.

  5. Good for you, Maryann! I actually did have a short story come to me in a dream, almost completely written, many years ago, but I don't normally write short stories.

  6. Wow, Ladies Circle is big time!
    I wish I could dream up an entire short story,but my muse is not that cooperative. I always have to play a guessing game with it, wondering what will happen next.

    Morgan Mandel

  7. Maryann, I, too, have had moments of great inspiration, (a visit from the muse, if you prefer). Unfortunately, they often came when I simply could not stop to commit them to paper (or hard drive). Or they've appeared in the middle of the night, and I was so sure I'd remember them in the morning — which, of course, I did not. I should've gotten up and written them down as you did. Next time...

  8. Maryann, I'm curious: Did you end up liking "The Visitor" more, because of the extra sweat equity, or did you trust it less?

    Another question: You mention that your stories were published. Are they still available for purchase anywhere? I"d like to check them out.

    Other than flash fiction, which I edit a lot to get the perfect balance of words within a limited count, I've only written one short story. It was on a Christmas theme because I was asked to be the featured reader at my large writing organization's annual Christmas party.

    It came to me as you said, almost fully formed, while I was out on a long walk, and I wrote all 3000 words in a sitting when I got home. Funny thing was, when I left for the walk, I had no clue what I would write about—I only knew I didn't want to miss the opportunity! It has never yet been published and needs a bit of editing still. I should get to that and resubmit!

  9. I tend to wait until an idea hits me or a character comes to life in my head, then I sit down and begin to write. I've written really short pieces and also long ones.

  10. Heidi, I don't normally write short storied, either. Not by design, anyway.

    Kathryn, I don't think I liked The Visitor any better than the others. I think I was pleased with myself for completing an assignment as opposed to waiting for my muse to talk to me. LOL All the stories are available for Kindle, and The Wisdom of Ages is also available in paperback. The links in the blog post connect to the e-books.

    Linda, I tend to not get up at night like I used to for the stories or the dreams. I'm getting too lazy in my doddering years. LOL

    Morgan, I was duly thrilled to have that story published at Lady's Circle. They published a few other stories and features as well.


The Blood-Red Pencil is a blog focusing on editing and writing advice. Some of our contributors are editors, some are authors, and some are writing sheep. Yes, sheep.


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