True story: until about a few weeks ago, I had never actually written a fictional short story from beginning to end (not including high school assignments). I’d written a lot of great beginnings with a few twists. Then I’d get lost in my own twists, not knowing where to go, and into my drawer of journals and half-written novels the story would go.
Part of it was that I didn’t really know how to write a short story. I’ve read hundreds of them in my lifetime, but this summer I went back and read old favorites and new discoveries, trying to see them from a different perspective. Then on one of my tag sale stops, I stumbled on a dog-eared copy of a book called “How to Write a Short Story”.
Little of the advice in the book was new, but it did contain one little nugget that I’m still mining. The gem that caught my attention was a writing prompt that suggested taking 5 objects in the house and writing the histories of each of them. The exercise (which I’m still using) helped me see where my sweet spot really is.
Once upon time, I thought I would write science fiction or historical fiction or even romance because I devoured books in those genres. I wanted to write something big that would change lives. Each time I tried to follow any of my favorite authors down that ambitious road, however, I got lost.
Then came the blog, and, instead of writing about adventure or heroes’ journeys or history or the glamorous life, I ended writing about my family. They were close at hand, and my two boys ooze inspiration, even on the days I can’t quite identify the stuff oozing from their backpacks. Even when my first post on the subject garnered a really positive reaction from our writing mentor, there was always a nagging doubt that this isn’t what I was supposed to be writing (It’s as unelevated a subject as you can find, and the internet abounds with mommy blogs).
It wasn’t until a cleaning marathon and its resulting discovery in the attic helped me use that ten cent prompt to write my first short story that had a beginning, a middle, and and end that I finally came around to the fact that family is exactly about what I should keep writing.
I’m never sure when I hit the ‘Publish’ button if something I’ve written is terribly good or just terrible. I was even less sure when I left some of my stories with a friend who is giving me feedback as I print out and finish them. But I do know that I’m having a good time writing them because I finally got comfortable with the age old advice to write what I know.