June 06, 2011

Brevity

A few things have happened so far this year that leave me feeling a little bit disjointed:

1) I finally, really realized that my agent was not going to sell the novel I wrote as my thesis for my MFA.
1B) I therefore realized (for about the fifth time) that it's critical that I write another novel. Now, if not sooner.
2) I became an Editorial Assistant at Every Day Fiction, an online magazine that publishes one very short (under 1,000 words) story per day.
3) I was inundated with ideas for short stories.

It's perverse, but the more I want to write a novel, the more I end up writing short stories. In fact, lately they've been getting shorter. I've written two flash pieces this year, which is at least one more than I've written in any other years . . . combined.

There are a lot of reasons for this. The primary one, I suspect, is the abusive relationship I had with my last attempted novel, which culminated in the loss of a couple weeks' work in the Great Data Blight of 2010. Even before that tragedy I had felt at odds with the novel; while working on it I compared the project to a bowel obstruction--something painful, but something that needed to be cleared out before anything else could get by. A disgusting metaphor, I know. But a telling one too.

Having failed to complete that novel, I am shy about starting another one. When you work for months (maybe years) writing 40,000 words of a novel that doesn't get finished, you are left with nothing. If I had written the same number of words in short stories, I'd have (on average) ten stories, and maybe a few of those would eventually find homes.

I have been blaming my inability to get back into long fiction on a short attention span, and I'm sure this is also a factor. But if I'm honest with myself, I think I've become stingy with my attention (as my father-in-law says, nobody pays attention because attention is so expensive these days), afraid of throwing so much of my effort away on a project that might not go anywhere.

The good news is that I have a secret weapon. I stole it from Kevin Brockmeier, author of the memorable novel The Brief History of the Dead. He said, in an interview which I cannot now find, that he likes to write the first chapter of a novel as a short story, to test the waters before jumping in headlong. His short story of the same title (which became chapter one) was published in The New Yorker, and then again in the O. Henry Prize Stories. So, it's an approach with at least some proven success. Of course, I'm no Kevin Brockmeier, but I do have hope that using his method I can trick myself into writing a novel.

That's what I'm supposed to be doing now, while I sit here procrastinating. Tell me to go.

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