Fiction Workhorse Recap

I give myself these projects because I’m not in an MFA program with actual assignments. And if I didn’t make up assignments (ex: sestina, Postsecret flash fiction, one more page in the notebook), I would probably just go on thinking maybe someday I’ll write that thing about a thing. And it’d be brilliant when I did. But I know better: between here and brilliant is a lot of workhorse.

In five weeks, I managed just over 18,000 typed words total, a thousand of which are wails and whines and a couple of thousand more of which are stutter starts. Some of those stutter starts might find their own finish, someday. Two of the starts are third or fourth goes at stories that are kicking around upstairs, looking for a way out, but unwilling to be rushed. One week isn’t enough time and five thousand words not enough space for either story.

Here is what I gleaned:

Knocking out a story without pretense is fun. I like to start stories with the idea that someday readers (like, hundreds or thousands) will read the piece and love it because in the turn of ten or twenty pages, they are transported / connected / entangled. Up front, I demand a lot from an itty bitty five hundred word start, putting immense pressure on everything that follows. Such an unfair and un-fun way to draft! Telling myself that all of these stories were only practice gave me no obligation to consider revision or submission.

Still, I like to practice revision too. One or two of my Fiction Workhorse drafts will give me that.

My 1000-5000 word parameter is on the low, low end of short fiction. During the first two weeks, I was reading a lot of published short fiction and noticing how long most of the pieces are. For one-a-week, 1000-5000 is easily done. I spent between three and five hours writing each draft, including light edits. More hours if you count headspace.

Working on a story in my mind before going to the page is a great strategy. The challenge from one week to the next was dropping the previous draft and its characters and finding a new story. I took a day or two after finishing a draft before starting the next, but that time wasn’t wasted. I was looking for what might turn into my next draft: BBC, news, podcasts, overheard conversations. When an idea came, I let it sit for a day. I’d go to my notebook and write a few notes, but not much more. Then, if I came to a turn while drafting, I took a break from typing and l played out a scene in my head. Try visualizing a scene a few different ways before choosing the better option to write. Take notes on the other possibilities if you want to revise later.

Fiction Workhorse was a good time. I almost missed writing another short fiction piece this week. Almost.

One of my next assignments: tell variations on a single story, after “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood or “The Breeze” by Joshua Ferris.

Multiple Choice

When I was kid I read the Choose Your Own Adventure series. I didn’t fall in love with the books themselves but with the idea that I could go back to page 49 and decide to turn left instead of right. This may have completely screwed up my perspective on decision-making. Real life does not allow for so much page-flipping. But if Choose Your Own Adventure messed with my concept of linear living, the series also revealed a storytelling truth: You can go back and end it differently.

Isn’t “Happy Endings” by Margaret Atwood a kind of commentary on storytelling flexibility?

I’m not giving a complete analysis here. Not at all. I like the story though. The last time I read the piece I thought about Choose Your Own Adventure plus Multiple Choice. I want to try writing a multiple choice piece that tells a few stories, that opens characters to left and right at once. I want to write that because I can’t live it like that. I want the chance to go left and then the chance to go right, without left wrecking my chance at right.

Times like this, I see the appeal of reincarnation.

What I tried today is a baby practice of the kind of form I’d like to experiment with. I wrote a five questions multiple choice test. It goes nowhere, for all the directions it contains.

Please fill in the corresponding answer bubble completely.

  1. When your wife tells you she’s pregnant
    a. Cry because she’s crying and it will mask your panic
    b. Openly panic because the economy is shit
    c. Rejoice for children are blessings and your quiver is three shy of full
    d. Secretly hope it’s a boy this time
  2. Offered a promotion at work, in exchange for your sleep
    a. Take it knowing the raise will cover requisite gallons of Starbucks
    b. Do the math on minimum hours sleep necessary
    c. Realize your sleep is well in the red anyway
    d. Ask if refusing means you’re magically given eight hours a night
  3. The vacation you plan for your family is
    a. A road trip to your birthplace, calling it family history
    b. Two weeks of camping, mosquito bites and burned wieners
    c. One barely affordable trip to Disneyland because they’ll love you more later
    d. Staycation!
  4. After you leave your in-laws you
    a. Are silent the entire two-hour drive home
    b. Realize you drank too much to drive and hand the keys to your spouse
    c. Pray thanksgiving at marrying into such a lovely bunch
    d. Hope the kids appreciate your sacrifice
  5. On Saturday morning you have two early morning hours to yourself. You
    a. Get on the bike you’ve been meaning to ride all summer
    b. Spend thirty minutes thinking how the kids never sleep this late
    c. Make coffee and drink it while it’s still hot
    d. Go online to read the Times but get lost googling coworkers

Go write your own multiple choice test about anything. Have fun making things up.


P.S. Massive pain to format multiple choice on WordPress. Any ideas?