I’m plagued by short story ideas lately.
Have written two of them, actually — a short one set in Brooklyn called “Non-Zero Probabilities”, in which the laws of probability go haywire; and a novelette currently called “Pirate Jessie”, though I’m not sure I want to keep that name. The latter one, a steampunk espionage historical lesbian romantic adventure, was for an anthology invitation. (No, really.) Have other ideas, though, circling ’round my head like gnats. It’s as if, after six months of doing only novel work, my shorts-producing brain cells have revolted, demanding quick hooks and triple pay for overtime.
Here’s the problem, though:
- On Thursday I’m going out of town, to visit my mom; she’s not likely to leave me much free time to get writing done.
- By Monday, I need to turn in the first-pass manuscript of 100K (kind of a pre-ARC), which really means I need to finish it by Wednesday and drop it in the mail before I leave.
- By August I need to finish the revision of Book 2, now that I’ve received my editor’s notes on what works and what doesn’t.
- By the end of the year — seven months, roughly — I need to finish Book 3. I’d hoped to finish it much earlier, but… well… see below.
In this context, I know what’s going on with the short story attack — procrastination. My work ethic is solid enough that I rarely just futz around pointlessly; I’m really good at procrastinating in “productive” ways. So instead of vacuuming the cat — which I actually kind of should do, NukuNuku is shedding — or the usual writerly avoidance mechanisms, I write new shorts. Or I revise unsold shorts. Or I update my submissions spreadsheet and prepare new subs to go out. Or I work on my job search, since I’m looking for another part-time position right now. Or I write blog posts (self-promotion) or reviews (cross-promotion) or I do research. Or I go to the gym to work out. All very useful and necessary for my career… so that I feel less guilty about not hitting my wordcount for the day on Book 3.
So I think I’m going to have to womanfully resist the latest short story ideas. I gave in twice already; can’t let the damn things take over.
That said, it usually means something when I start procrastinating like this. I’m a little past 30,000 words on The Single Shining Star (Book 3). Generally by the 30K mark on a book, I’m eager to keep going, generally because the ideas have grabbed hold of me and I want to hurry to get to the Good Parts. The fact that I’m struggling so much at this point reflects my growing dissatisfaction with Book 3. It’s too slow-paced, covers too many parts of the world that we’ve seen before, and ultimately just doesn’t capture the feeling I want the book to have. They’re good words, but they’re not the right words. And I think I’m going to have to scrap them and start over.
It happens. Discarded 30,000 words on one of my older novels once (Dreambile, for the handful of you who’ve read it). But once I’d done it, I felt free — and that sense of freedom encouraged me to make a radical change in the plot and tone of the story, which IMO resulted in one of my best novels yet. (Sadly, unsold thus far. But one day…!) I don’t view those discarded words as months of lost effort, though that’s what they are in a practical sense. I view them as practice, so that the end product could be that much better.
After all, I wrote The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms twice, literally scrapping the whole completed first version of the book and reworking it from scratch. What’s 30,000 words lost compared to 120,000?
So I’m declaring a moratorium on short stories for myself, at least until the end of the summer. If the ideas are sound, they’ll keep. And in the meantime, I’m going to re-prioritize the things I absolutely have to do (like job searching) so that they’re not competing with my writing time… and I’m going to confine my procrastination to looking at Star Trek macros, like a normal writer. (Um, profanity warning on that last link, ya’ll. But soooo worth it.)