For the record, I don’t like short stories.
I’ve written about 10 of them over the course of my writing “career” thus far, and almost all of them are flops.
Not because the writing is bad per se (although some of them were written while I was still in high school, so neither is the writing deathless prose). Rather, they don’t work because they aren’t really short stories at all.
They’re novel back stories masquerading as short stories.
That just seems to be the way my brain works: my stories come to me novel length.
(If my WIP is any indication, my stories come to me trilogy length.)
Tori Amos in concert in Vancouver, July 2014.
How do you choose a favourite song from an artist who’s been recording for over 20 years?
I own every studio release that Tori Amos has produced. I can’t say I love all her albums equally, but as she is my “life soundtrack musician” – the artist whose music has played in the background of most of my life, scoring every major turning point and encoding my memories such – I’ve been able to find something to love about all of them.
Which doesn’t make picking a favourite song any easier.
(Neither does the fact that she’s also recorded at least 100 B-sides/non-album tracks, both original tunes and some amazing covers. And that her sound is constantly evolving, covering everything from pop piano ballads, rock, electronica, gospel, cutesy piano ditties, classical, and even musical theatre.)
Most writers, I’m sure, have heard tell of characters who seemingly develop “minds of their own” and “take over” the stories they’re part of.
Maybe it’s happened to you.
Whether or not this phenomenon even truly exists was the subject of the second-most contentious discussion my writing group has ever had.
(The most contentious, unsurprisingly, concerned plotting vs. pantsing. But that’s a story for another day.)
One writer from my group absolutely believed that characters can come to life, and that them doing so is a quasi-spiritual experience for the writer – a channeling of the divine, uncontrollable inspiration that exists all around us.
A writing of the story through us rather than by us.
As writers, we often believe we were born to write.
I certainly have early memories of my writing life. My first “novel” – a masterpiece inspired by the cartoon Jem and the Holograms – was “published” in grade three. I haven’t really stopped writing since.
“It’s in my blood,” I’ve heard writers claim. “I couldn’t not do it.” And I find, for the most part, that I agree.
However, I’ve never been one to champion Nature as the sole determinant of anything. Especially after reading a recent blog post by literary marketing expert Dan Blank about an artist’s chain of influence, which led me to examine my own early writing influences.
The only three cell phones I’ve ever owned (2008, 2012, and 2014 respectively).
My first one. Seeing as it’s 2014, I figured it was time.
I never had much use for a smartphone before now.
Some people who don’t know me that well assume it’s because I’m tech-phobic.
Nothing could be further from the truth. Thanks to the influence of both my retired military technician father and my computer-savvy neighbour in university, I’ve long felt comfortable playing around with technological devices.
I don’t hesitate to experiment with unknown commands and menu options to discover firsthand what they do, and regularly troubleshoot problems through either my basic understanding of operating systems or with the help of suggestions found on online forums.
Jack Nicholson and Morgan Freeman in The Bucket List (2007).
A fellow writer friend once told me:
“When I finish and publish my novel [a long-standing project of hers that’s faced many setbacks along the way], my life will be complete.”
“You mean, that portion of your life will be complete,” I clarified.
“No,” she persisted, “I mean I’ll have achieved my life’s greatest goal.”
“Until you come up with the next great goal, that is, right?”
My friend, after all, is only 37 – a bit early to peak in life, if you ask me.
For many writers, the writing and publishing of a novel – whether traditionally or via self-publishing – can take years: years spent finding the time, finding the motivation, finding one’s voice and message, and, of course, finding the skill to effectively convey it all.
No, it doesn’t involve an awesome vacation, but more on that in a bit.
I’m having a “working summer” this year. This isn’t unlike how I often have “working weekends”, during which I get caught up on all the errands, chores, and other adult-life necessaries I didn’t do during the week because I was busy writing.
Full-time jobs are hell on both writing time and fun, relaxing weekend time, though I guess we all need to suffer a bit for our art.
But I’ve currently got some BIG tasks that need doing.
Hence the working summer.