I’ll admit it, if you give me a verbal leash, I’ll write or speak it out to length. This blog warns readers that they might have to be “long-winded” in order to read my thoughts and ramblings.
I constantly push myself with my writing, and for me pushing myself means learning how to write the short version of a story or essay. I review social media and recommendations from fellow writers and friends about where I can write and what I can write, and over the last two years I have found two top muses to propel me forward:
- American Microreviews & Interviews: This online publication, updated quarterly, posts reviews and interviews limited in word count but not limited in passion about good writing. I’ve never written an interview for them (interviews can be a little bit longer than the reviews, but not by much), but I’ve been writing book reviews for them, contained in tight packages of 500 – 700 words, since October 2017. We get to pick our books to review, and as long as the book was released in hardback form within the last calendar year and no one else claims it first, then one of the editors reaches out to the publisher of the book and hopefully I receive a free copy of the book within a week or so to start reading and reviewing it. If you click on the masthead, you may find all kinds of academics in the contributor list, and then there is me, the call center management pencil-pusher who went to college for literature and is just happy to bat for this team, thanks. I love, love, LOVE reading, but writing about reading, in a way that challenges my chatty tendencies, brings me joy.
- This past December, newly unemployed, I found myself wanting to develop my fiction chops as well, and at one of the monthly meetings of Coffee with the Catapult (a once-a-month Sunday talk about what’s new in books with free coffee at one of my local indie bookstores) an anthology of micro-fiction was featured. I picked up a copy at discount, and took it home, and it sat on the shelf for a bit, until I got tired of journaling in the first week and thought I would throw in micro-fiction in my practice four days a week. I read two of the stories a day from the anthology before I write (the new one I read the previous day and a new one for the current day), and then I pick a topic (usually the next one in the list) from Barbara Ann Kipfer’s book 14,000 Things to Be Happy About, which I used to use in college when it was 10,000 Things to Be Happy About, for journal prompts. (The original has been lost in moves, but an additional 4,000 things to choose from is even better, am I right?) I try to keep the stories to the length of those in the anthology (less than 300 words), and usually about 30 – 90 minutes later I manage it, drenched in sweat and teeth ground down just a tad.
While the reviews are published, the fiction isn’t yet, but I’m just working up the muscles. I have four months’ worth of micro-fiction first drafts, which has been one of the rare feasible things between applying for jobs, going to interviews, submitting paperwork, etc in the job-hunting process. The little bites are little accomplishments; later, for a lark, after I am established in a job and finding my free time again, I can work on the revision of them on two of those four days.
One of my favorite poets is William Carlos Williams, a guy picked on in social media by the literary and hipster folks to extremes for a)storing plums in the fridge, and b)stealing them from the love of his life. (Whenever I read another one of these gems that pops up I have to physically stop myself from the eye-roll, but I guess they are eye-rolling him, so fair enough.) In 2016 there was a movie made about the influence of his poetry on a Paterson, New Jersey bus driver (played by Adam Driver) called, well, Paterson. (One of my favorite movies, I should add, but not just for the William Carlos Williams references.) Williams was rumored to have hashed out some of his poems on his prescription pads, since his day job was as a doctor; the belief was that the little space of writing of those pads kept his poems short. If you do an online search, you’ll find some truth to this; Williams’s handwriting was a bit big to try such a stunt, so if you put a group of the sheets together you have a better idea of his application.
I don’t write my micro anything on prescription pads, Post-Its, or recipe cards. Maybe it would help if I did. I get out a lined, squared, or dotted 5″x7″ notebook and start my scratch when it comes to the fiction; the reviews are written in a template that I have to export from Pages on a Mac to a one-time Word translation via email for my editor. (I’m not sure why the handwritten stuff has to be lined or why I just don’t type everything, but maybe that’s next in my development process.) More satisfying than a tweet, and far less toxic, these baby steps are how I get to forming the big stuff…someday.