I submitted the sixth and last short story for the anthology workshop last night. Hooray!!! Now the writing is done, so it feels like a break…but there’s plenty of work left to do. By the time class starts in a few weeks I need to read, or at least attempt to read, all of the other short stories submitted by my fellow students. There will be somewhere around 300 stories total. I rarely have enough time to make it through my monthly book club book, so this is definitely going to be a challenge! But in the meantime I’m giving myself a night or two off from school so I can make progress on my novel.
Part of what’s interesting about this writing workshop is that you do all the writing up front, with zero feedback. You don’t get any information about how well your stories worked until you’ve written them all. I expect to learn a lot when I go to the workshop, but here’s what I’ve learned so far.
1) Writing a brand new story every week with new characters, a new setting, and where research is required, takes a lot of time and energy.
That doesn’t mean it isn’t fun! But doing this for multiple weeks in a row is a little draining. I probably over-complicated things for myself because all six of my stories required a fair bit of research. This ranged from something simple, like: how could someone actually build a secret room in their house and not have other people notice it? To something complex, like: which stagecoach routes in the early 1870s were likely to be attacked by Indians, what types of Indians would they be, what tribes were likely to take white people captive (and, most importantly, not kill them), which regiments of the U.S. Cavalry would be in the area, and what nearby mining town might have a saloon. Whew!
Don’t get me wrong. I love researching stories and coming up with new characters and worlds and plots. But having to google something new every page or two – after doing a significant amount of up-front research – gets old after a few weeks.
2) I had already learned this, but these past few stories reinforced the point: I need to take better notes when doing research.
Once again I found myself googling a few things that I’d looked up in the past. In this case, these were details I looked up years ago, before my recent epiphany. So I can’t be too upset about my lack of organization since back then I hadn’t run into this. But it did serve as a reminder that having a quick reference for details I might use in more than one story is a very, very good thing.
3) I need to be more careful with adding setting, character, and sensory details.
I am quite aware of this when I write, and I do work hard on it. I can get even better, though. For example, I woke up at 2am or so last night and thought: Ack! I forgot to describe what kind of clothing the protagonist was wearing!
This may not seem like a big deal, and it’s likely most other people wouldn’t notice this information is lacking. But I know, and I believe the story would be a tiny bit richer if I’d put in a few more details.
I’ve thought about putting together a simple checklist to help remind me to cover clothing, setting, etc. I may give that a try for the novel. I know I have most of these details written, but I bet there are a few I’ve missed that I’d like to add.
4) I tend to add more setting, character, and sensory details in as I make my final passes through the manuscript, and I need to factor that in if I’m writing to a deadline.
This one is, of course, related to #3. Because I tend to write sparse drafts and fill in the details later, I’m pretty good about catching things like making sure to describe what a character is wearing. While writing the stories for this class, however, I kept forgetting to factor in time for this phase.
5) I like to write happy endings, or else humorous unhappy endings.
I already knew this, but one story in particular reinforced this. My interpretation of what the editor was looking for meant that my story should have had an unhappy ending. I just couldn’t write it that way, so I decided to write something that fit my style better. I like what I wrote, but because I agonized so much over this I had to rush at the end, and I feel that I could do a better job. Which is perfectly fine – if the editor doesn’t buy my story I’ll tidy up the parts I’m unhappy with. The important thing is that it was a reminder that I should be true to myself. (Which I was, just in a hurried way.)
6) Pushing myself out of my comfort zone is fun.
Doing these assignments for weeks in a row was a bit enervating, but I enjoy doing this type of thing on occasion. Over the years in writing classes I’ve written stories I never would have come up with on my own.
I probably learned other things as well, but these are the major points.
And now I’m back to the novel for a night or two, then I will be reading like a banshee. 🙂