False starts

Words are clunky, character’s voices inauthentic, stories banal. I have four stories in progress–one that might be an erotic novella, one flash fiction, two others with opening paragraphs that are promising but going nowhere. I know this stasis, this floundering, this ennui is a common problem when writers finish a major project, but that does not make it easier to bear, especially since my recently finished project was my first novel, a novel that is pending agent responses and that I am currently worried is terrible but from which I nevertheless have to move on.

Claire Guyton, a writing friend of mine who graduated from Vermont College of Fine Arts a semester or two before I did, had a cool project one year. She called it The Daily Shorty, and her goal was to write a short story every day. Every damn day, Claire would force a new story onto the page, and her thought was that at any point she would have a whole slate of nascent stories to expand, link, or polish into something more. Most of the stories she wrote would be considered micro or flash, but all were complete stories. Some days they came easily, some were a grind, but she did it. For a portion of that time, Claire was the assistant editor of Hunger Mountain and had received a Maine Arts Fellowship, so writing fiction and writing about writing fiction was her full-time job. Claire is still engaged in the writing world, and you can find her fiction, writing tips, and other good info on her blog, which she calls Daily Shorty.

Since I dislike all of the stories I am trying to write, I am turning to Claire and her project for inspiration. During her Daily Shorty year, she would challenge other writers to try it for a week. I did, and one of the stories morphed until it became a central narrative piece in my novel. Another story premise keeps coming back to me, although I cannot find where I saved the original.

The thing about writing a new story every day is that each and every story is only that day’s story. The next day, I can abandon it and write a whole new one. Or, since I am not holding myself to Claire’s standards, I can choose to edit/revise a story from a previous day. But I must press on, fingers to keyboard, uninspired though I may be.

I am afraid I’ll have a bunch of half-stories, a series of false starts with promise but no execution. And I might, at first. But that will be better than what I have now. If I have learned anything, I have learned that few things are more inspiring than actual forward movement. Rumination without a specific story in mind yields second-guessing, distractibility, even desperate hand-wringing, at least for me.

To write each day is one thing, but I need to be published as well. I will commit to submitting a new piece to at least 10 journals each month so that I have a constant stream of work going out (and rejection notices coming in). On top of that, I will submit each piece up to 20 times (after 10 rejections for any given piece, will submit to another 10). By the end of 2018 I will have a minimum of 12 stories sent out into the world and somewhere between 120 and 240 responses. Maybe one of those stories will turn into my next major project.

I have thought of other paths, other avenues in the literary community I can walk to stay engaged, but I think pursuit of those grants, graduate assistantships, fellowships, and gatherings would better served if I had more recent publications to validate my work.

So that’s my plan. I will write, submit to journals, repeat.

Unless I get an agent and have to (get to!) work on the novel some more. Then all bets are off.

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