Be Brave… A Lesson Learned

Since the beginning of July I have been rewriting stories I wrote years ago, back before I really knew how to write or even cared. For me, writing was just something I did when I had nightmares and didn’t wish to have them again. I had no intentions of ever pursuing a writing career.

Obviously, things have changed…

And to be completely honest, what I wrote five years ago sucks compared to what I wrote four years ago and is appalling compared to what I write now. In order to make some of those older works publishable, I need to rewrite them.

As I stated in the opening paragraph, I set out to correct the many mistakes I have made in the words I wrote so long ago. As of this writing I have rewritten two stories and am almost two thirds of the way through a third one.

That may not seem like much, but in that same time period, I also wrote a novel titled, Cory’s Way, which I hope to one day get published. I’m not really sure what genre the novel would fall under. It’s not my usual horror, per say, but it does have a couple of horrific elements.

I started all of this after reading Stephen King’s On Writing, a book I gleamed many important lessons from. One of those things is quite simple and something I had never thought about before: To write bravely. In other words, don’t be afraid to tackle a story. No, no, no. I’m not talking about being afraid to write a story because of its content, but more along the lines of looking at a story and not being intimidated by the possibility of its length and scope or even how much time it may take.

I admit that every time I tried to write a novel over the last couple years, I froze up. The very thought of writing something so large didn’t necessarily intimidate me. It did put a mental road block in place and there was no way around that. Let me see if I can say it the way my friend John Miller once did:

Writing is like relationships.

Flash fiction stories are like one night stands. You get your sex, then move on. No strings (or emotions) attached. Just kind of Wham Bam Thank You Ma’am. Flash Fiction stories are more or less quick thoughts jotted down. Glimpses of stories that could be grander in scale. No strings (or emotions) attached.

Short stories are like dating. You put more effort in to the other person, trying to impress them and hoping for a second, third and fourth dates and who knows what from there. With the short story you put more effort into crafting the story, giving a little more details and character development, getting attached, if you will. even getting a little more emotionally involved.

Novellas–that happy place between short stories and full blown novels–are relationships. You’ve dated enough to realize that you might just like the other person and you want to take that next step. It’s going steady and putting all your marbles into the other person’s marble bag. With the novella you’re making more of a commitment, but not THE commitment. You’re saying, I’m really going to look into creating the characters and scenery and the plot. You give the story more of your time, your heart and a fraction of your soul.

The novel is like marriage. This is full blown commitment, ’til death do ye part, brought together by God and let no man break the binds that God has created. This is like the holy grail of relationships. You are saying, babe, I’m yours and yours alone. It is supposed to be forever. Key words there: supposed to be. When writing a novel you are committing yourself to a long term goal of conflicts and resolution, plots and subplots, multiple character development, scenery and details and many, many (oh so many) words. I have quite a few failed novel marriages. I could give Elizabeth Taylor a run for her money.

I’m not afraid of commitment. I’m happily married and have a job I’ve been at for 7 years now (the previous job I worked at for fourteen years). But, when it comes to writing, I like the short story. Anything below novel length I’m happy with. The moment the word novel comes into play, I freeze up, much like men who are terrified of marriage do when the woman mentions it. I run from novels as if it were the alter that threatened to steal away my freedom.

I never realized that until reading On Writing.

Part of me thought, “I can write ten short stories in the same time it takes to write one novel.” That part of me is correct. It also bellowed, “You’ll never finish a novel so why even start? You’ll be wasting all of that valuable time writing something you’ll never finish.”

Most of the time that would be true.

I realized then that my problem wasn’t that I could write ten short stories in the same time span it would take to write a novel. It was that I was afraid of losing that time to an incomplete task. I hate when others waste my time and even more so when I waste it.

The day after my birthday I sat down at my computer in the bedroom, a blank document open and the cursor blinking. It laughed at me, telling me I wouldn’t get ten thousand words in before I scrapped the idea. The cursor was wrong. I sat down, not intent on writing a novel, but intent on tackling a story that had novel potential. My goal was to simply write the story. If it turned out to be a short story I was fine with that. And if it turned into a novel, I was fine with that also.

Thirty days, 64,000 words and 225 pages later I wrote The End on the last page of the story. It had turned into a novel after all, albeit a short one. I had conquered the beast, that hideous dragon that stood between me and a novel.

Don’t click that mouse yet. There’s more.

I realized I avoided rewriting stories for the same reason I avoided writing novels: I didn’t want to waste my time rewriting something already written. Not when I could put my efforts into something new and better and… This is a stupid way of thinking.

Editing a story is one thing. Rewriting it is another matter all together. It’s starting over and keeping some parts of stories and scrapping others. In order to start rewriting, you have to view a story differently. It’s a different mindset. Just like writing a novel is different from writing a short story. It’s a commitment.

I have wanted to put out a short story collection for a while now, but so far I have no takers. That’s okay and I understand why: all the collections I had submitted had no real theme, nothing really tying the stories together in one book. I scoured my computer of almost a thousand short stories and novellas, most of which I had written since 2004. I came up with a list of forty or so stories that I thought could fit nicely in a collection. Then I started trimming the list down by rereading the stories and determining if I liked it enough to add it to the list of possibles.

In my mind that list was going to go through Hell. Each story was going to have to convince me to rewrite it, to make it better, to consider it for a golden ticket. Hey, this isn’t Hollywood, but it is A.J. Television where reality is a nonfactor and imagination is everything. For me to actually rewrite the pieces, they were going to have to stand out.

At the moment, four stories have made the cut and none of them are under nine thousand words. Three of those four stories were previously published and two of those have been completely overhauled. The endings aren’t the same, the characters are more alive and the situations are more thought out. Yes, situations, not plots. Life is not a series of plot lines. Life is a series of situations (You guessed it, I got that from On Writing as well) that we put ourselves into and get ourselves out of. Shouldn’t stories be the same way?

I’m happy with the two finished pieces and the third one looks pretty good as well. One of those four stories I didn’t have to rewrite at all, just kind of clean behind its ears a little and make it presentable. By the end of the year I should have somewhere between ten and twelve pieces completely rewritten, something I thought daunting before, but not so much now. I hope to be able to shop this around at the beginning of next year, and I already have a title for it: Southern Bones.

For the first time in my writing ‘career’ I am excited about rewrites and novels, something I never thought would happen.

Before I let you go and get back to rewriting Yellow May, a cool little story (well, big story) about a world covered in mold and what it is capable of doing to folks, I must make a confession. While reading On Writing, the part where I sat back and thought awfully hard about how I write came, not in the middle of a portion about actually tackling the story. It came in a part of the book about writing what you know. Not lecturing, mind you, but writing what you know. In that part, King mentions another writer, John Grisham. John Grisham knows lawyers and he writes quite well about them. It was in the middle of King mentioning Grisham that I sat back and did my deep thinking.

What you know makes you unique… Be brave. Map the enemy’s positions, come back, tell us all you know…

The epiphany: I was my own enemy; that it was myself, my mentality, that kept me from writing a novel or rewriting my short stories. I’ve mapped that enemy’s position and even cornered him against the wall in my head. I have my gun trained on him as I sit to write. If he so much as twitches… mentally, he’ll get it and he won’t like it when he does. No, no, I’m not going to kill him. Maim him maybe. I want to keep him around and look at him when I start to get wary of tackling a writing project. Besides, I need a punching bag every once in a while.

I’m sure that’s not what King meant, but for my interpretation of those words, it’s made all the difference in my writing…

Now, I’m off. I have stories to tell and, hopefully you’ll come along for the ride…

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