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.