Writing a short story elicits the same panicked feeling that trying to turn my long-bed truck in a tight space engenders. Terror. Anger. Shortness of breath. The sudden urge to clasp my hand over my heart to stop the pressure. But just like parking the truck, it is possible when I expend the right amount of focus and effort.
People like Laura Lippman, who posted this morning on her Facebook status that she’d whipped through a 3000 word first draft of a short story this morning floor me. (I’d hate her, but she is one talented woman, and works hard. If these things just fell in her lap…might be a different feeling.) Dana Cameron and Toni Kelner are also talented short story writers as well as novelists. If they can do it, I reasoned, so could I.
Except it wasn’t that easy. It took me about three years to finish my first novel. There was a whole lot of learning going on as I wrote that first book, starting with learning how to leave the first chapter alone long enough to write the second (Put it in the freezer under the lasagna.) and how to figure out what to do with a bad manuscript once I’d typed The End. (Put it with chapter one in the freezer and start something new.) Learning another form of writing was not even on my radar. Then a friend asked me to write a short story for an anthology he was putting together. I shared my feelings of inadequacy with him. He told me to try. He’d let me know if it was good enough. So I gave it a whirl. After whirling with the story for three months, I sent it to him. I don’t know if he was unwilling to tell me how bad it was, or if it was better than I thought it was, but he accepted it.
So I had one short story in print. You’d think this would inspire me to write several more. Nope. Not until several years later when the editor of the ACWL anthology wrote me and told me to submit a story did I attempt a second one. To my surprise this one was much better. I’d done some research for a western woman character who had been bugging me, stopping in at the Austin County Jail museum in Bellville, Texas. The woman became a little girl. She wound up having to make a difficult choice concerning her loyalty to her father that stretched her character in the right direction. That one I’m proud of.
I hope to write another one this month — not all in one day like Laura did, but I think I ought to try for one a month to see if I get any better at it.