My recent adventures with short stories

I have been writing a lot of short stories lately. I hadn’t written one for ages, I think the last one I wrote was the first one I sold and that was in 2007. My novel took up all of my time since then but recently I decided to take a break from it (there is still a little more to do on it but I needed to get away from it for a little while) and write some shorts. A collection of short stories by Magnus Mills, a thoughtful birthday gift from my wife, inspired me to just get on with it and have fun writing something new.

I had a lot of ideas in a short space of time, all of which got scrawled in my notebook, and I have been slowly working my way through the ideas, writing them out and seeing what happens. There have been two things that have helped me to write these stories down relatively quickly. One is when I am not sure what to type I just skip ahead in the story until I am. I have, up to now, always been a strictly chronological writer. But Kerry caught me staring at the computer screen for longer than about five minutes and demanded I just jump ahead and write a bit I was more sure of. Brilliant advice as it turns out. With that story I ended up writing the beginning, then the end, and then filling it out afterwards, stitching it together as I went.

The other is nothing new, when I wasn’t sure how to say what I was trying to say I just said it any old way and then fixed it later. It is amazing how you can struggle to phrase something one day and then the next see the solution so clearly it was a wonder it ever seemed hard. When I first started writing I had this terrible habit of wanting every sentence to be finished as I was writing it. As a consequence I wrote very little, and drove myself mad re-writing the same thing over and over again. Now I think of first drafts the way painters approach a canvas. Those early splashes of colour only look vaguely like the thing they are supposed to be, but the picture reveals itself with refinement. And in fiction terms there is something refreshing about writing that feels like it has flowed rapidly. It feels more conversational, less laboured.

I have even been writing some of them long hand in my notebook. I’m not sure why it happens but my writing almost has a different flavour when it is written that way. Plus I have the added fun of, from time to time, listening to Kerry attempt to read it. My handwriting is so dreadful that when she reads it aloud she sounds like a five years old reading from a children’s book, stumbling over the words, and occasionally getting them wrong. Admittedly, my handwriting is so bad I find the exact same thing happens to me sometimes.

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