By Martha Reed
Writing is a curious endeavor. You spend hours sitting in a room by yourself, muttering to the walls and hoping something fantastic will connect. Every writer has a different way of getting started: I start my day by massaging the previous day’s pages as a warm-up, flexing my mental fingers and then digging in and trying to push the storyline forward. I average about a page a day. Sometimes I leap too far ahead and then I have to go back and fill in a transitional gap, but usually I find that just writing slow and steady and reworking and retyping the sentences as I go along works best for me.
I’ve mentioned writerly superstitions on the Working Stiffs blog before and I recently turned up another one that I like to call: Sending the Dogs Out to Hunt.
When I’m working on a novel, and I know I’m going to have to put in a couple of years crafting 80,000 words in the right order, the sheer size of the task can get overwhelming and daunting, so I came up with a subterfuge, a cunning ploy that cuts my fear of finishing the project right off at the knees. I always keep a short story, something small - around 7,000 words - in current play. That way, as I slog around the 100 page quarter turn and enter my new novel’s backstretch, I can think of my short little sprinter piece way out there somewhere in front of me and hope that it crosses the finish line before I do. Thinking of my short story out there hunting for a new home keeps me hopeful whenever I take a break to check the mail and every once in awhile it surprises me and finishes first.
This little trick is how I keep my writer’s balance, by keeping something fresh and active out there, and I found myself pulled up short last month when my last story got unexpectedly accepted and I had nothing else to send out. I shrugged and thought I would be okay with that – after all, I was still writing – but I was wrong, and as I started losing sleep and experiencing separation anxiety I knew I needed to come up with a replacement story pretty fast. In a near panic I dug through my very, very, very old hopeful short story folder looking for a scrap of something I had already started that I could craft into something finished and new.
(This is exactly why I tell new writers to not throw anything out – you may not need it now, you might not even like what you wrote now, but who’s to say you might not change your mind in a decade?)
I retrieved a couple of faded paragraphs that still had the power to make me laugh out loud and I started writing furiously, putting in twelve hours a day and not coming up for anything but my day job and food. After a back-to-back set of working weekends, I had two new stories eagerly waiting in the starting gate and I was ready to re-establish my balance. A quick trip to the post office and ahhh…they’re off! Now it’s time to go back to my novel and wait for the self-addressed stamped envelopes to arrive in the mail.
Good dog. Fetch. Bring it home.
PS. I love this picture but look into the dog’s eyes. That dog is not smiling.