Tag Archives: short story

August Handwriting Challenge Update

I challenged myself this month to do all my writing and editing on paper rather than the computer. On top of that challenge, I also wanted to write one or more short stories. While I’ve been busy with homework and haven’t written quite as much as I’d hoped to this last week, I did write 7 pages, front and back. I haven’t counted the words, but I think it’s between 2,500 and 3,000 words. I definitely write slower by hand than I do on the computer, but now that I’m not thinking about this in terms of trying to handwrite an entire 50,000-word novel in a month, it might not be an issue. Here are a few things I’ve learned so far in my experiment.

Use a separate notebook for each story. My notebook of choice had been a 5-subject, 8 by 11 inch, 200-page Mead Five Star notebook. Using these for mostly notes and only the occasional draft of a scene, one notebook would last me about two years before it was filled. I started one story in my current notebook, and after I’d written a few pages, I wished I’d used a separate notebook so the story wouldn’t get lost amidst all the unrelated notes.

Leave some blank pages for notes. On the second story I began last week, I started writing it in a new, smaller notebook, and I began on the sixth page, leaving the first five pages for notes, such as where I want to pick up when I sit down to write the next day, names and descriptions of characters I want to introduce, and descriptions of settings. By putting the notes at the beginning, I could use the rest of the notebook for another story or another draft after the first one is finished. I like to use every page in my notebooks.

It’s okay to write only for the sake of writing. One cause of my writer’s block is the pressure I put on myself to create a finished piece of work. When a spark of a scene caught my interest, I spent an hour working on it. It doesn’t have any structure or fit into any of my larger projects, but it gave me a chance to experiment with writing first person point of view when I normally use third person. I have several books of writing prompts, but I rarely use them because none of the prompts fit into the projects I’m currently working on. Once I actually tried writing with no final project in mind, the stress was gone, and I got a lot of words down. Besides, a writing prompt might lead to a whole story if I give it enough thought.

Through various back-to-school sales over the last few years, I’ve amassed enough notebooks to last me more than 20 years, so I’m excited to put some of these to use. I plan to use either 1-subject or composition notebooks for ideas that I think might turn into complete stories, and one of my spare 5-subject notebooks for writing prompts or other writing exercises. Once I get this new notebook system figured out, I’ll write a post (with pictures) about each notebook I use and how I use them. I’m a stationery nerd and love to see everyone’s writing supplies.

Why Novels?

Ever since I decided sometime in elementary school that I wanted to be a writer, all I wanted to write was novels. I played around with poetry over the years because I like pretty words and the images they conjure together, but I never thought of writing a poetry book. It was basically a form of journaling for me. In creative writing class, I preferred writing short stories to poems, which I dreaded having to polish into a final product to share with the rest of the class. There’s something scary for a writer (for me, at least) about calling something done, as if I’ll have to defend every single word choice.

And in those same creative writing classes, I never took short stories seriously. They were, to me, practice runs for the real thing–a novel. Although I read lots of e-books and I buy most of my physical books used, I love nothing more than aesthetically pleasing physical books. A novel is an entity unto itself, which can be bound alone, unlike a single short story or poem (unless those are printed in a gift edition or small format). I like the heft of a novel so I can feel like I’m holding a whole world in my hands. My favorite book (besides Anne of Green Gables, which I read for the first time last year), is Infinite Jest, and even at over a thousand pages, it wasn’t long enough for me. I could have spent another thousand pages with those characters. When you’re truly immersed in a novel’s universe, the end of the book is a let down when you realize you’re back to your own daily existence. I’ve never gotten that kind of immersion from a short story, although I’ve read many that I thought were clever or beautiful or scary. A few of my favorite short story writers are Neil Gaiman, Shirley Jackson, J.D. Salinger, Ray Bradbury, and Edgar Allan Poe. I probably read more short stories than novels in my English classes in college.

I’ve been having trouble writing my current book series. As I wrote in last week’s post, taking a break from the computer screen to handwrite gave me some creative freedom, but it hasn’t been enough to motivate me. The scenes I wrote in the notebook didn’t necessarily fit into the draft on the computer. I think it’s a sign of a more serious problem. While I know the major plot points of my books, I haven’t outlined as much as I should have, and I’m worried that the only way to get the story back on track is to “kill my darlings” and try to write some if not all of these books all over again–after writing a detailed outline.

I would never give up on the series because the themes and characters and settings are so personal and real to me, but I also refuse to try to polish up what I have at this point and send it out into the world as is. My characters deserve better than that. While I had hoped to share these books by the end of the year, I have more work to do.

So, what does my little digression at the beginning of this post have to do with anything? I want to teach myself to outline and think through plots from beginning to end before writing. I have a whole shelf of creative writing advice books, and using the prompts and advice from those, I plan to write short stories. I think the short form will work nicely for me because even my novels have relatively short time spans, I usually have too few characters rather than too many, and I want to be able to produce something that I can show people that won’t take another year or two.

My goal for August is to handwrite 15,000 words. I haven’t decided yet if those will all be toward one story or broken up into multiple stories. I also want to have all the plot points for my novel series written out on index cards by the end of the month so I can see what I have, what’s missing, and what doesn’t make sense. I don’t know if this month’s Camp NaNoWriMo is a lost cause for me or not. I still have nine days, so I’ll see what I can do. Maybe I’ll write a short story yet this month.

If you write short stories, what advice do you have for me? I’m good with settings and characters, but I need help creating conflict and then wrapping it up. What are some short stories I should read? Also, let me know if you want to join me for either my handwriting challenge or short story writing challenge next month. I would love to follow along with your progress and cheer you on. Happy writing!