Wednesday, March 23, 2011

I Finally Took The Dive

It has officially been a year since I started PRODIGAL. The book I now refer to as "the novel that will not end."

Not that I haven't finished it. I finished it last June. Then I took a few weeks off to let it sit and gel, and then started revisions. One revision led to another, to another, to another until in November I decided, "Enough is enough."

Until January when I decided "enough" does not necessarily mean "good enough" and began revising again.

I can honestly say I'm loving the revisions. I can't even believe sometimes that the chapters now are the same chapters I wrote last year. They are, I hope, dramatically better. I credit great critiques, my MFA program, and my super-star advisor for that.

But still, because I'm doing it through school and sending only 20-25 pages every three weeks, I hate to get too ahead in case I get feedback that will throw it all on its head again. That, and reading two books a week and writing another paper a week and there really just isn't that much time to zoom ahead.

It is starting to feel like it's dragging on forever. While I love revising, I'm starting to miss creating. I'm getting the teensiest tired of these old characters and ready for something new.

So I decided to do what I swore going into the MFA program I wouldn't (because it never even crossed my mind to think about doing it or not doing it before the program): I decided to write a short story.

You'd think that would be easier than writing a novel, right? Not so much.

First off, I was scared of it. It's been 20 years since I wrote short fiction, and I had no idea how to do it anymore.

Also, I have no idea how to do it anymore. Did I just say that? Well, it bears repeating, because a short story is an ENTIRELY DIFFERENT beast than a novel.

I've been stewing about it for a while now, gestating a few ideas. I even sat and wrote a brilliant first five pages and then stalled out, having no idea where the story was going to go from there. I knew the technique I wanted to use, but not the content. So I let it stew some more.

Yesterday as soon as the kids were on the bus, I sat down and started hashing it out. Let me tell you, for people who think writing isn't work, it IS! It hurt my brain. I struggled. I wrestled. I wrote and deleted, researched, talked it out, batted ideas around and then dismissed them. Tried outlining and gave up. And then wrote some more.

And wrote. And wrote. I took a break for dinner, because that apparently is what families - especially kids - expect, and went back to writing. Obsessively. Until midnight I wrote. And I finished.

12 pages.

And I LOVE it!

Well, it's probably not the best short story in the world. It needs serious revisions probably. It's not life altering or anything.

But oh how good it felt to write something new, and to like it!

And, still on a high at 6:30 this morning, I got a call from someone who heard from someone else that they'd read my book, Some Kind of Normal. Her friend had recently lost a daughter to complications of type 1 diabetes, and she'd found my book, bought two copies for her other children who were having a hard time coping with the death. My book is healing their family, she said. It's allowing them to talk. To not feel so alone.

It's that kind of thing that makes me keep going.


  1. I think short stories are really hard to write, so kudos.

    And that must be such a great feeling to know that you're helping people with your book. I can see how it would help people heal.

  2. Good for you! Sometimes we just need a little spark to get things blazing again. :-)

  3. I love that feeling! Can't wait to read it!

  4. I haven't written short stories in simply ages. I used to write them all the time (I probably have close to two hundred stashed in the closet), but I can't honestly say that I miss them. Breaking free from the short story and moving on to the novel format was like discovering a whole new world full of wide open spaces to explore. At this point in my life anyway, I just find short stories too... constricting.

    But I'm glad they're working for you!

  5. WOW! For both, the story and the family who read your book, but mostly for the second. Man that almost makes me cry.


  6. You like revising?? More power to you! I like it best when it's over!

    Congratulations on the short story! I can so identify with feeling that need to create something new - that is my favorite part of the process.

  7. lisa - Creating something new is sometimes overwhelming to me. I think, especially in a novel, it's because it's such a large scope with so much to juggle. And I need to have things planned out to write or I get five good pages and the rest goes into a sort of chaotic purgatory from whence it's difficult to be rescued. :)

    I really do love revisions. I think there's something about already having that bond with the characters. But I am getting tired of being mired in it. Something on the side has done me good. :)

  8. That's wonderful to hear something like that about your work, Heidi. I'm so glad that family found your book.

    And good for you battling your way through the creation of a short story. My short story writing is what inspired me attempt my first novel (which I'm taking FOREVER to revise! Ugh!).

  9. K.W. - 200 short stories?? Wow!! I'm impressed. :)

    I haven't written them since college, had no desire to write them at all. Went into grad school rebelling against them. But it was a fun exercise for me to get me being creative - and practicing some of the things I'm learning - while still working on revisions. Since there just isn't time right now to start a new novel, it seemed fun.

    I definitely can't see staying with it long, though. I need more pages! :)

  10. You EVER want a reader for ANYTHING, you just let me know...