I think I’ve made it, finally reached a pinnacle in my writing career where I can clearly see the next mountain range without losing sight of the valley below.
It does sound like a load of crap, doesn’t it? But, you see, that is the point. When I first began posting my stories on a writing site, I really believed that everything I wrote was golden. Quite frankly, when I finished posting my first 1000 word plus piece of work, I felt like I’d climbed Everest. How’s that for milking a metaphor to death?
Recently, I noticed that I could write crap exceptionally well. This epiphany is noteworthy. My technical skills have improved so much, that I truly can make a silk purse out of a sow’s ear. Of course, I owe the improvement to the scores of reviewers and mentors who invested in my writing, but I digress.
On top of that, I realized that for me, writing is the new smoking. This would not be a bad thing if it replaced my nicotine habit, but oh no, it is in addition to my other vices.
Some people might argue that a writing addiction is not a bad thing. Really? Let’s take a look at the foul habit—smoking. When I spent my days among civilized people within a daily structure, my smoking was restricted to breaks in the day when I wasn’t expected to do serious work. Now I smoke whenever I want and wherever I want. The freedom and lack of intrusion to anyone else has led to obsessive indulgence.
The same hold true for writing. I write at least four or five hours each day, and that is just the measure of time where my fingers are moving on the keyboard. It doesn’t take into account checking E-mail, flipping over to my gaming site, reading other people’s work or staring at the screen with a blank look on my face.
I use writing as an excuse to avoid chores and try to convince myself that it’s okay because, after all, I’m writing! Bravo for me. Where the hell did that extra twenty pounds on my rump come from? Ah yes, the sacrifices I make to sit, rooted to my computer.
But here’s where my sudden awareness sprang from. Yesterday, I spent four hours writing a story. It hadn’t hatched (hit the crisis) before I started filling up the screen, but that is often the case with me, characters come to life, plots and back-stories fill in gaps while I peck away.
Before I finally called it quits, I read it again and yawned as I noted the word count—1,400. This morning I reread the story and marvelled at my glib phrases and highly likeable characters. Damn that’s good, I told myself. Now, this was justification for blowing another afternoon hovering over the computer.
But was it—really? My second opinion was—yes. Indeed it was good writing, but it was a lousy story and had travelled so far afield of the original prompt, it would take another 1,400 words to pull together the threads that I left dangling. To indulge myself by finishing the tale would put an enormous burden on the reader.
Some stories are worth lengthy word counts, but others are simply not. How complex is the plot? Will the reader feel emotionally satisfied and entertained when he finishes my story? Will he feel the investment of reading time was proportionate to his enjoyment?
These are questions writers rarely ask themselves, but if they want to be published, need attention. Except for Internet magazines, almost every paper publication has guidelines based on allocated space. Every page has a cost association and a controlled word count. Paying attention to the publication’s usual practices will spare disappointment for submissions that do not meet the standards.
A Google search will define word counts for short stories that range from micro and flash fiction with very low acceptable mileage to the outer limit of a short story of 7,000 words before it is rated as a novella. There is a very limited market for the longer stories, and on average, most publishers are looking for work between 1,500 and 2,500 words.
From high atop my mountain, I take a third look at my story. I glance at the mountain range just ahead spiralling into the clouds and realize my story just won’t cut it. It’s not total crap, though. I create a file and put it to bed, unfinished.
♦ After a thirty year career as a sales and marketing executive, Ingrid Thomson is a top-ranked author in a website writing community and a published short story author who is working on the final draft of her first novel.
♦ This author's generous contributions help make P&S possible.