I’ve been thinking about length a lot. Or numbers, maybe. The number of words in something and how thinking of the number of words in something changes our entire approach to it. It’s just a number, the number of words you put down, and it shifts process. I don’t know why this seems like such a big deal to me, but it does.
When I approach the process of writing a novel, I am slow. It is slow. I take my time. After all, what should be the rush if it will take me months, if not years, to complete? Why hurry to write one page if this one page is a mere fraction of what there is to write? Why rush if this one page will likely be cut in the end? Novels require patience.
If you are a fiction writer, you will inevitably be asked when you plan to release a novel. If you don’t have an answer to that question, or if the answer to that question is, “I have no idea,” or “never,” other writers will look at you strangely. There is an expectation, for fiction writers, that your primary ambition is to produce novel-length work despite a professional education system (the MFA system) that, for better or worse, focuses primarily on the craft of the short story. The short story, while fairly popular in literary magazines, often seems beleaguered within the greater context of the publishing industry. There are lots of notions that the reading public is not interested in the short story and as such, there is less need for a genre for which there is not a significant audience.
Most of the advice about finding an agent implies that if you don’t have a complete novel draft or one well underway, you shouldn’t even bother with seeking representation because short story collections don’t sell. This mantra is repeated over and over although there is ample evidence that it is, indeed, possible to publish a short story collection. Certainly, publishing a story collection is more challenging, particularly with bigger presses, than publishing a novel, but I read collections regularly and don’t foresee that changing anytime soon. I cannot be alone in enjoying short story collections and finding them abundant. Nothing is ever as dire as the rhetoric implies until, of course, you have written nothing but several short story collections and they are sitting, quietly, on your hard drive, gathering virtual dust.