The Home of Steven Barnes
Author, Teacher, Screenwriter

Monday, March 07, 2005

Year-Long Writer's Program 3-6-05

At this point, you should be writing a story a week, or a story every other week, and sending them out. That is, if you are serious about wanting to be a writer. Most people aren't. They have a dream, a hunch, a misty wish. They think that they have brilliant ideas, and if only they had the time to write them...This is the origin of the "I have a great idea--you write it and we'll split the money" routine. No. Ideas are as cheap as dirt. EXECUTION IS KING. I've yet to meet a single person who didn't have good ideas. the world belongs to those who can discipline themselves to sit down and apply the sweat and blood to create them.
when I teach writing, one of the first things I do is ask people about their television habits. Engage them in discussions about this or that show--until everyone in the class has admitted to watching, every week. At that place I drop the bomb: every single person in the class has admitted to wasting more time every week than would be necessary to actually craft a career. IT IS NOT LACK OF TIME. It almost never is. Drive 2 1/2 hours to work? Get a tape recorder and a headset, and dictate text on the road, transcribe on the weekends. Watch less TV. We have the time--what we don't have is permission to succeed. To be happy.
the most common complaint about my program is that people's ideas come to them in long form. THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS AN IDEA WITH AN INTRINSIC LENGTH. ONLY THE TREATMENT OR EXPRESSION OF AN IDEA HAS AN INTRINSIC LENGTH. You can write about WW2 with a 2-page short story, or tell the story of a single grain of sand with a work the size of the Encyclopedia Brittanica. There is a name for people who can only write novels--perpetual amateurs. Every single professional writer I know CAN write short stories. Novels are where the money is, true, but they CAN. And almost every unpublished writer seems to think I've never heard the "my stories come in novel length" reasoning before. It is sad, and the death of more potential careers than I can say.
Let me tell you a story. Thirty years ago, I knew a girl who wanted to write. She said: "I'm working on a short story." Great, I thought. A month later I asked her how it was going. "It's getting a little long...turning into a novelette," she said. Great, I thought. Two months later I asked her how it was going. "It's getting longer...turning into a novella." Great. Five months later "It's turning into a novel." A year later "It's feeling more like a trilogy..."
Fifteen years later, I was traveling along the East Coast, and dropped in to visit my friend. I asked her how the Trilogy was going. "I got tired of, it, put it away," she said. "But I'm working on another novel. The only thing is, it feels like more than one book..."
This is so sad. This woman has blown her entire working life, years and decades of work, because she never dealt with the emotional issues stopping her from completing short stories and sending them out to be criticized. Developing that emotional armor (or centeredness) is a learnable skill. But she was never honest enough with herself, and now her chances of ever, ever doing anything with a fine and fertile imagination is virtually nil. Don't let this happen to you.
1)Write a story a week, or every other week.
2) Put them in the mail
3) Keep them in the mail until they sell.
4) Don't re-write except to editorial request.And within fifty stories, you'll be a published writer. Guaranteed.

No comments: