A Process Post
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.
And yet, despite the overwhelming task of putting pages down that I know may or may not be used, creating characters who may or may not have any impact on the narrative, words and phrases that I love but must eventually be erased/deleted because of their preciousness, despite all of this, somehow, I keep on writing. You keep on writing. Sometimes, writing a novel feels like I’m Prometheus, not during the fire stealing phase but the eagle eating my liver every day phase. Or, maybe a better analogy is Penelope, weaving and unweaving. Because that’s what novel writing can feel like: a constant deletion.
But this is kind of a lie. This is what I hear other people say about writing novels. And sometimes I think their suffering is what my process should be like. Like maybe they’re more “legit” writers because they suffer while writing. It’s all part of the myth, right?
Because for me novel writing isn’t suffering like Prometheus or Penelope or any other dead Greek. When I write novels, I write daily. I know that over time, there will be an accumulation, and all I have to do is be diligent. For me, novel writing is about diligence. Diligence is actually more important than patience. You just have to keep on. The other trick: I only write for two hours a day. I don’t understand people who write for hours on end. After a certain period of time, it just comes out junk, and for me, that magic time is two hours.
But back to numbers: I’ve been thinking about numbers because I recently wrote a short story. I don’t really write short stories. It’s not a medium I find particularly comfortable. (This is funny because I just published a collection of short stories, by which I mean, I know how to write them, they’re just not my preferred form.) Short stories happen too quickly. Before I know it, it’s done.
Except unlike novels, stories don’t necessarily require diligence. They require patience. Stories do not require that constant returning-to that novels do. Sure, it can take a long time to write a story, yes, but if you sit with a story for long enough, it happens. You just have to be patient with it.
For me, short stories are painful. I am not very patient, apparently.
Maybe it’s because I write novels by hand and short stories by typing. Maybe that’s the difference, but whatever the reason, the number of words in short stories is too constricting. (Ha! This from a writer who’s all about constraint!) So what about the numbers makes it so difficult? I will sit in front of my screen for an hour, barely making a sentence appear. Nor is it that I don’t know what story I want to write.
And then I think maybe the sentence functions differently in a story than a novel. Does it?
Well, whatever, I’ll stop now. But I’ll ask you all this: Do you approach different forms differently? And how so? (I’d like specifics please.)