Shorter, Shorter, Shorter

I’ve been fighting a bad case of pneumonia for the past couple weeks. I caught it sometime in New Orleans during General Assembly, probably due to travel stress. I missed a week and a half of work because of it.

So I’ve had to prioritize. For a week I didn’t have the energy to sit up in an office chair. Yesterday, a church service left me winded and pale. The most I’ve been able to cook on the stove has been eggs and turkey sausage. If you ever doubt Spoon Theory, just remember the last time you came down with the flu or any other medium-term illness.

I’ve had to prioritize my writing as well.

This year, it seems as though I’ve written nothing but short stories. I write monthly articles for The Daily WTF, of course. This weekend I wrote a short piece for a contest, and earlier this year I wrote and workshopped a story called “Juicers,” which I’m finishing up this month. Also, I recently sold a short story to an anthology (more details at a later date, I promise!). Frequently, I’ve been revisiting “brain dump” files for potential story ideas.

There’s also a not-so-trivial uptick in personal responsibilities. I start my term on my church’s Board of Trustees in September, which could take up an hour a day. I’m also considering how much time to spend outside of work on training, research, and side projects for my career. Developers are sharks, if sharks lived on carbs and caffeine and complained about other people’s code.

And there’s that damn novel, sitting at 80%, but which I can’t quite seem to gel. It’s got problems, such as an uncanny resemblance to a popular Netflix show involving supernatural events in a rural town, and I don’t know how fixable it is. But an overhaul would certainly take another six months to a year for limited benefit.

I wonder if I’ve been writing against the stream this whole time. For most of my life, I wrote longer, novel-length works. I didn’t pick up short stories seriously until around 2010, despite enjoying anthologies and mosaic novels. (Foundation, by the by, is practically a shared-world anthology by a single author, with two tie-in novels.) Short stories allow more room for invention, and as a writer who used a dozen voices in my first draft of Altars and Acolytes, I love invention perhaps too much. There’s also my lengthy revision process, which requires me to sit on a manuscript long enough for me to see it with fresh eyes. Doing that with novels takes years, but short stories can be turned around far quicker. Hell, I was accepted to Viable Paradise on the strength of a short story I wrote, inspired by a particularly bad episode from my college years.

My writing process might be better suited for short fiction.

I’ve gotten much better at writing short stories since 2010. Once I grokked that a short piece isn’t just an opening chapter or an episode of a TV series, when I discovered how story acts are supposed to work, and after learning how to use words more effectively in the flash-length pieces on The Daily WTF, my stories got better. I would be remiss to mention the help I’ve received: I had many awesome beta readers over the years, and I learned a lot at Viable Paradise and, more recently, Paradise Lost.

Every story you write has an opportunity cost. Knowing your strengths as a writer can help you direct your energy more effectively. The stories you choose — some might say the stories that choose you — happen through some combination of passion and skill-matching. How do you match your skills and your passion to your writing projects, and what kinds of stories does that lead you to tell?