What it means to be a short story writer

  • It means you see life in terms of rising action and falling action, peaks and troughs.  You will know more or less instinctively when you’re at the bottom of a trough.  The peak may be out of view but eventually it will appear.
  • It means every encounter, every meal, every gaze out the window, or brush of the wind on your cheek can be an enriching detail for your next story.  This means you are endlessly recording them in your memory or (more reliably) in a notebook, so that every moment is frozen, lived twice, savoured.  Mindfulness, but with a pen.
  • It means that some days the best conversations you will have will be with the people in your head.  And that’s okay.
  • It means that words become capricious things, the perfect one slipping from your mind’s grasp just when it is most needed, only to reappear suddenly and inconveniently when your notebook is nowhere in sight.  You learn that any scrap will do.  Even skin is good, as long as you remember to transcribe it before washing your hands.
  • It means you prefer pens to pencils because pencils don’t work on skin.
  • It means that if your story gets accepted somewhere you learn to be circumspect when sharing the joyous news.  Because a story about a disintegrating relationship will alarm the in-laws and a neglected child may have a teacher alerting Family Services.  Some people don’t understand that fiction is not autobiography.
  • It means you are (usually) working with a small cast characters on a miniscule canvas.  Crowds can overwhelm you, you prefer more intimate gatherings, family groups or a few friends.  Or, best of all, just two: you and your imagination.

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