Short Story Writing has Ruined Me


I never set out to be a writer. It just happened.

It started small. A short story once in a while. Nothing major. I could control it. I can stop anytime I want, I told myself.

Then I entered a contest in a local weekly paper. Write a story in one hundred words or less. It won “Staff Pick” and was published. I titled it “Mona Lisa Smile”. It was very esoteric. Just a conversion between a man and a woman. Was “Staff Pick” another word for sympathy vote?

It didn't matter. It was heady stuff, seeing my words in print. Oh, damn. Now I was hooked.

I wrote a short story about dragons and submitted it to a fantasy magazine. It was rejected for being “too science fiction”. Dragons? Really?

Oh, well.

I tossed it into the growing pile of short stories and forgot it. I studied the writing and publishing professions. Took a writing class. (Meh.)

In the end I ignored all the advice. After all, I was my own best fan. I wrote what I wanted to read. I wrote because my muse would not shut up until I put it down on paper or later, on disk. I wrote because that was the only way I could resolve the puzzles of the universe. I had questions. The answers would just bubble out of my subconscious as I wrote. Like magic. (Best not to dissect the magic goose, just accept the golden eggs, I thought.)

I learned as I went. I found my voice. It was lyrical, that voice. Short stories are like alchemy. A few words can become pristine, sleek worlds – bubbles, complete and whole inside their unique universe.

When the juices were flowing, wonderful things happened on paper.

But I started noticing the down side.

Movies with bad writing. Dialogue that was painful to listen to. “Who is writing this shit?” I thought. Turns out, no one. Who needs a writer when the director or the producer has delusions that they can write. How hard could it be? Look at Picasso. Random lines. Anybody can do that, right? Just hand them a paintbrush. (True story. When I was working in an art store someone actually said that to me as they were buying a couple hundred dollars of paint and canvas. They never came back for more. I can only assume that they found out how easy it is to turn brilliant pigments into mud on canvas.)

I wrote my first novella. I wrote it in under a month but I suffered in the rewrite over that first sentence, the first paragraph, the first page. The words had to be as sleek and pristine as any short story but they also had to be a hook that would drag you through my watery world all the way to the ending - that perfect last sentence.

Oh, gawd! I had become my own worst nightmare – an editor.

I wrote a book.

Reading was my last true pleasure. It paled. I found myself picking up a pen and making notes in the margins or crossing out words or whole sentences. Some books just got thrown in the recycling, half read. I could read the first paragraph on the first page and know exactly how much I was going to love or hate a book. I would read a trilogy and could tell exactly when the author had written himself into a corner and just began writing random drivel. Contextual errors drove me crazy. I had caught myself making all these mistakes and forced myself to re-write over and over again until the music ran clear in my head so I knew it could be done.

I have fine-tuned my tastes when it comes to literature. Now, when people recommend books, I try not to let them see the pain behind the polite smile. Unless it is brilliant sci-fi, I probably won't enjoy it all that much. I do not believe dystopian futures are entertaining. I do not like zombies except in the comedic sense. I do not understand steam punk. I do not find S&M or bondage entertaining. I abhor torture porn. I like a good love story but I do not think many people understand that sex and love are not the same thing. Stories with male and female gender roles reverse is not feminism. Solving the “what if” takes a lot more imagination than that.

Sigh. Now you can understand. I am a writing junkie. And like any wizened, old junkie, it takes a lot to get me high these days.

WritingJD LakeyComment