Last night I finished one of the hardest stories I’ve written to date. It’s a really simple story, but it involves things I’m not familiar with, and this proved to be a real challenge. Normally I look at this type of situation as an opportunity to do research and learn new things, and it certainly was that, but because of the nature of the story – it involves surfing – it was really hard for me.
I can swim, but it’s never been one of my favorite things to do. I’d rather sit on a beach and watch the ocean instead of swim. I do like floating around on a raft, at least as long as the water isn’t too deep. So it’s highly unlikely that I’m ever going to try surfing. I did a fair amount of research, and looked at photos that made me wish I didn’t mind getting my face wet (but I still do), so I think I did reasonably well on the facts. But writing about something where I feel I know very little, and then adding in the fact that I wanted to set this in a real place that I haven’t been to, turned this story into something very challenging for me to write.
I found myself questioning descriptions in a way that I never do because I was worried I was describing the location inaccurately. I originally had the story set in a very specific place, then removed all but one reference to the location. The only thing that remains is a reference in the opening to Oahu, so you know you’re in Hawaii, but the exact surfing spot is unclear. I’d like to think I described it in a way that makes it clear, but who knows … maybe it’s better if no one figures it out. 🙂 I also found I was so fretful about the whole thing that I procrastinated like crazy. I finished the first draft yesterday morning, and had to turn the final version in by midnight.
I wrote this story for an assignment for an anthology writing workshop I’m taking in Oregon in a few months. For this workshop you get six assignments ahead of time, write all six stories and turn them in, then before the workshop the other students and a group of about 7 editors reads every story. The editors are actually buying stories for six different anthologies, and in the workshop they’ll go through all of the stories and discuss why they do/don’t want to buy each – and they’ll really buy and publish the ones they want. I have several friends who have been to this class (this is the third year) and they all say it’s a fabulous learning experience because you get to see what the editors think about so many different works. You get the assignment on a Monday and have to turn in your story by Sunday. I got today’s assignment this morning and have to turn that story in by next Sunday. Then we get a few weeks off for the holidays before receiving the next assignment. Each “assignment” is a call for an anthology, like any other you’d see.
The only negative for me personally is that in the past they started giving the short story assignments in January, so I had set aside December to wrap up the novel … and this year they started giving out the assignments in December. Ack!!!
I did get my story finished and turned in, and I feel that it was a really good learning experience. At one point I thought about switching topics, but decided it would be good to write outside my comfort zone. And it was, but I’m looking forward to writing about something more familiar for the next assignment. 🙂