Wednesday, January 02, 2008

Behold, An Unnecessarily Lengthy Resolutions Post

That’s right, it’s the resolutions post! Oh boy! What Joy! Everybody dance!

First things first. Jim Van Pelt, who is rapidly becoming my hero, has a list of resolutions he wishes he had made when he first started writing. This list is truly excellent and some of the best advice I’ve seen out there, and so, as we in the legal community say, it is adopted and reinstated herein in its entirety by reference. And linkage.

Now to my own resolutions They’re very simple this year. I resolve to write a novel. That’s it.

The big deal here is that I’ve decided to shift my focus away from short stories. Why? Well, I’ve been thinking a lot lately about why I write, and in particular why I write short stories. The way I see it, there are four reasons to write short stories. First, to make money. Second, to build name recognition. Third, to hone your writing. Fourth and finally, the love of the art form.

The merits of the first two can be dismissed pretty much out of hand. If you’re really in the short story business to make money, you’re an idiot, because there ain’t any. As for name recognition, it takes a lot to get there, and honestly, if you’re ultimately aiming for a market outside the bounds of the relatively small segment of the populace who read short fiction zines, good luck. Most mainstream people have never heard of Asimov’s (though they have heard of Isaac Asimov) or F&SF. Selling short fiction is extremely difficult, grueling work. This we knew coming in. But I never before really faced up to the rate of return on that investment… frankly, it’s pretty miserable.

So that leaves honing the craft and the love of the artform. As for the former, I’ve learned a lot from writing short fiction, but in some ways almost too much. As I focus more and more on selling short fiction, I’ve become obsessed with those writing commandments of which I was speaking earlier, and primarily the drive to create a tighter, 100% conflict driven story. But looking more and more at novels, and talking with Carrie the novelist about it, I’ve realized that novels don’t engage that skillset in the same manner that short stories do. And in the process of trying to write a novel (I actually did pick it up this weekend, go figure), I’ve found that the effort to make it tighter has been a hindrance more than a benefit. Point is, you can learn writing and hone writing for short fiction, but if your goal is to write longer fiction, then there comes a point at which you’ve gotten what you can get and now you need to focus on learning how to write longer fiction.

So finally, there’s the love of short fiction. Well, I still have that. But I don’t need to sell stories to celebrate them… that’s what the Story Game is all about. So in reality, I lied a little about writing a novel being my only resolution. I also resolve to follow through with the goal I set in September to write a short story every month, but I’m no longer writing those stories with the goal of publication in mind. Now I’m doing it to keep myself fresh and writing and because I enjoy it. Story Game stories will count toward that goal, but if I do happen to produce a story I think is salable, I will definitely continue to try and sell it.

So finally to the actual resolution itself: writing a novel. I used to view short fiction as my one and only true love, and novel writing as an unfortunate consequence of wanting to make a living writing and the low pay-rates for short stories. Not anymore. As I’ve developed as a writer, many of my ideas have grown, and I’ve found a short form to be a little constraining for them. So I’m going to try and grow them now into novels.

It also occurred to me that one thing that drew me to short fiction was the ability to write a ton of different stories. But thinking about novel writing, if I actually sit down and crank those suckers out, I can tell a bunch of different stories that way too. I guess I always thought that a novel would have to be a huge epic story, and I didn’t want to give up the little fun ones. Now I realize I can still write the fun ones… not every novel has to be Dune or Lord of the Rings.

Anyway, this post is growing out of control, but let me finish it by explaining why my goal is so simple, and without any of the frills of “find an agent” or “submit a partial” or whatever. The reason is that I gather very strongly that very few people’s first novel is actually something worth printing. It takes a go or two to figure the form out. I’m enlisting for that first go at it. If I’m going to succeed, I need to learn how to do what I want to do, so I might as well go ahead and set aside the time I need to do it and do it right without the pressure of trying to make it something salable.

This is year three of the Ten Year Plan. I’ve been working on selling fiction for two years now. Frankly, I think I’ve made some good strides-- many people, even those who are the biggest sellers in the world right now, didn’t make their first sales in two years, let alone pro-sales, so I feel good about that. I could also be doing better. But there’s plenty of time to go to do this thing the right way, and it’s a learning year. So let’s get out there and do it.


At 8:49 AM, Blogger Carrie said...

Yep - that's a big reason I started writing novels too. In college I wrote short stories and personal essays, but then I realized that I'm too verbose, couldn't write that tight (where very single word choice is significant) and that my ideas got bigger.

I'm also with you in that I thought novels had to be these epic convoluted plots -- but FHT doesn't feel that way.

At 8:28 PM, Blogger Patrick, The Space Lord said...

I'm with both of you. I always think of novels as epic, but that's because that is primarily what I have read.

I started my 10-15 year plan* thinking of building a name in short fiction, but for me the problem was, I was never a fan of short fiction. Even then, a published friend and short fiction writer said to me, "if you don't read it, why write it?"

The thing ShortFic does do for you is let and editor or agent know that you can write publishable prose, but beyond that, you still have to sell them on your novel, and they'd figure out the writing part on the first two-five pages anyway.

So, I still sometimes think of writing short fiction, even though it is so foreign to me. But I am aiming for novels.

*I've always thought of writing as a retirment career, I just plan on retiring by 45.

At 9:52 PM, Anonymous Jodi said...

It's about time you tackled the novel - I've been waiting to read it since you were 15 years old. Happy 2008!

At 11:23 AM, Blogger Jp said...

Hey Jodi, good to hear from you! Drop me an email sometime and let me know how life is going!

Patrick: I think you're dead-on about short fiction. Unless you have really built a huge name, it's really not going to help much at all. And making a huge name for yourself is about a 10 year endeavor anyway. Might as well skip straight to the novels. I now write short fic just for myself... if it's publishable, great, if not, well, I'll publish it on The Story Game site anyway, so there (not that The Story Game is full of the rejects from my "to-publish" pile... there are definitely a few stories I wish I could have marketed on there).


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