Please welcome longtime WU community member, and one of the funniest and warmest people we know, Danielle Davis to Writer Unboxed today! In her own words:
Danielle Davis is a liar, a cheater of cards, and a misrememberer of song lyrics; only two of those are true. Her work has most recently appeared in Alien Dimensions, Andromeda Spaceways Magazine, and several anthologies. You can find her on Facebook, Tumblr, Twitter, and beyond under the handle “LiteraryEllyMay.”
Learn more about Danielle on her website.
Reboot Your Novel with the Short-Story Remedy
Among the interwebz, a Metric Crap Tonne of advice exists on how to avoid giving up on a novel when it’s not going well or when a shiny new idea pops up. Giving up on projects is, in most cases, a Bad Idea. So what’s the solution? For me, it required a writing compromise in the form of the Short Story Remedy.
I discovered it after, on the advice of countless accomplished writers, I tried method after method for keeping my head down and dragging my wearied self through the hang-ups of my manuscript. The advice I found contained good ideas…but they just didn’t work for me. After advice from a writing friend, I deconstructed my writing habits and tried to identify a plan that would play to my strengths and mitigate my weaknesses.
One of the things I know about myself is that I short story a lot better than I novel. And I know that it’s largely because I have many more years of short story-ing under my belt; it’s familiar territory.
When I deconstructed my actual writing process, I realized that whenever I got frustrated with my novel, I habitually fell back to my comfort zone: the short story. This always left me feeling like I’d failed my novel, like I wasn’t meant to be an author because I didn’t have the necessary commitment.
In actuality, I learned I simply wasn’t recognizing when I needed to take a break. To mitigate, I became intentional with my pauses by planning for time off to work on a new short story. That’s not giving up on my novel WIP, just recognizing how my writing flow works; however much I want to be that author that knocks out a manuscript in four months, I need breaks from my novel and I need them with embarrassing frequency (even when it’s going well).
I discovered that intentionally visiting Short Story-Ville began to further my novel efforts, rather than hindering them, and if you think about it, it makes sense:
- You learn efficiency. Short stories are like sprints—you have a lot of work that needs to happen over a relatively short distance. Long, sprawling sentences that can quietly hide in a novel make a short story drag. You have to fit a plot and a character arc (or two) into about 5,000 words or less, then wrap up all the loose ends appropriately. Further, if you do something like StoryADay, you learn to do it all in under 24 hours.
- Your eye for language sharpens. If every word isn’t serving a purpose in a short story, the story moves like a lazy river without a current. Every. Single. Part of the story has to earn its place, and you, as a writer, learn to pare down the extemporaneous.
- You get instant gratification. This is less technique and more for your mental health, but sometimes getting out of a mental rut takes a few small victories in quick succession. I know I can knock out a decent short story in about a week. When I attempted a StoryADay project, I discovered that sometimes it didn’t even take that long. The stories weren’t all gems, but at the end of the month, I had 30 short stories—30 small successes—under my belt. And that was massively gratifying.
I’ve learned that while it’s good to read writing advice, you can’t always assume it’ll work for you. I had to find what worked for me, and that meant intentional pausing. When I find my novel’s starting to feel like the writing equivalent of the Swamp of Sadness, it’s time for me to take a break and reaffirm to myself that I am made for this, that I can write, and that I can churn out publishable, marketable content.
The only catch is this: you have to promise yourself you’ll actually return to the manuscript. If you don’t, you’re just giving up, and that’s not acceptable. You started your story for a reason, and it cannot see the light of day without you. You owe it to that first spark of interest that made you go “oh now that would be a cool idea…” to return to it. Always return.
So if you haven’t tried pausing your story for a while, why not? Perhaps a short story’s inside, just waiting to be born, and you don’t know it until you experiment with it. Your novel may end up better off as a result.
Have you experimented with short stories–or any other form of writing that’s helped to knock you out of a writing funk? Share your experiences in comments.