Whatta Waste, Or is it?
John Clark with a take on risk taking from a slightly different perspective. I’m coming around to the idea that my strongest writing is in the short story category. Sure, I’ve written a bunch of full length novels, but have only published one. In hindsight, that was far from ready, but it took years to get to a skill point where I recognized that.
That book-The Wizard of Simonton Pond, is one of five in a series that start on Earth and end up on various worlds halfway across the universe. Even if they never see publication, the effort, practice, and satisfaction that came with creating the characters and locations was worth it. I’ve learned several things from taking the time and risking all that elbow grease.
What did I learn? First and foremost, to trust my imagination. Like any body part (and I consider it as such), the effort that has gone into it made it stronger, faster, and sharper. Ponder the fact that a conversation in the locker room where I swim that revolved around caffeine intake, turned into a story a couple days later. Something similar happened when thieves stole the 75 foot rock wall from in front of our late mother’s home. I looked at my sister Kate and said, “When we’re over the shock, one of us will write a story about this. A year later, I did and it was published in one of the Level Best crime anthologies.
I also learned to listen to other people. My time as a public librarian was perfect for this. I ended up writing numerous human interest pieces for the local newspaper, as well as turning another conversation about a burial in Pennsylvania that went sideways when the grieving family discovered someone had already been buried in the deceased’s plot into a short story. Likewise, phrases and bits of a conversation often got saved so I could use them in a story.
I learned to look past the superficial when meeting people. Smiling at strangers has sometimes been the most productive thing I’ve done on a day when I had no expectations. It’s all that’s needed at times to generate a conversation that takes me and my imagination to new places.
I’ve learned to read intelligently. I read and review between 200-300 books a year, almost all of them young adult. Doing so helps me see how familiar plots are recycled by good authors. I have come to think of this as the Restaurant Approach in that writers take certain plot elements and remix them the same way chefs create different meals using the same ingredients. When I find an outstanding ‘re-hash’ it makes my day.
I’ve learned that nothing is sacred, or off the table as a writer. There are half-written stories in my head that would shock 75% of the people on the planet. They’re unlikely to see the printed page, but creating them is an exercise in pushing boundaries that may result later on, in a much better tale that won’t shock more that 33%.
I’ve learned not to toss out anything I’ve written. Rejection is situational, not personal. What isn’t selected by one entity may well be exactly what another is looking for. I’ve had two stories that were turned down, be welcomed with open arms by other venues. The first was a Thanksgiving-themed story that was rejected by the Killer Wore Cranberry competition. I found a happy home in Noir At The Salad Bar a few years later. Last week, I had a similar experience. A story written for the Flash fiction contest at the 2021 Maine Crime Wave, was selected as one of 35 stories by Money Chronicles-A Short Story Initiative. It comes with a $250 honorarium and publication nationally.
Imagine if I’d tossed either story. I encourage you to look at what you’ve written and semi-forgotten, as well as letting your imagination run free whenever possible.