by Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo
I recently set a goal of writing one short story a month—even if it’s just the bones that end up on the paper. The stories don’t need to reach their perfected and fully fleshed-out ends within the month, but at least become a full first draft. I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the importance of building a stockpile of work, an accumulation from which to cull submissions and release my voice. In the years I’ve been writing, one of my challenges, especially since my children have come along, has been the completion of short pieces. Sometimes, time itself is the culprit and during other moments, it is the distraction and calling of a new story. And then I always find myself drifting back towards the novels I have in progress. Whatever the particular reason on a given day, it is not a lack of ideas, but one of follow-through, and I want to put an end to it. So I made a list of all the unfinished and not-yet-begun stories that I have banging around my hard drive.
I think I’m a novelist at heart, but I also think it is important as a new writer to get shorter work out there for the sake of exposure. Short stories are not necessarily easier to write than novels, but they can help hone your skills—your ability to take an idea from start to finish, which in the long run will benefit your work, no matter the length.
Several things appeal to me about short stories: they narrow in and capture moments; they’re spontaneous; and you can drop in abruptly and drop back out as suddenly. They’re about singular feelings and ideas into which you can really delve. You can explore a theme and not lose sight of it.
How do you write good short stories? Begin by reading good short stories. Alice Munro, Jhumpa Lahiri, Louise Erdrich, Amy Bloom, Ellen Gilchrist, among so many others. Find you favorites. (These are some of mine.) Follow their leads and seek the magic in their work—untangle it. Then, create your own.
If you want to write short stories, next you become a collector. Think of gathering ideas—a collection you keep. Pretty things in a clear glass jar. A collection of ideas gleaned from personal experience; ideas borrowed, stolen and glimpsed. From the depths of your dreams. Include in your acquistion everything you’ve ever read: that which moved you, stirred emotions in your blood and bones, prose so good you read it twice (or more) and simply marveled. Don’t forget to collect that which bored you, felt clichéd, implausible, or not right in some way—don’t forget these so you’ll remember not to write them, too. Continue adding to your collection—a phrase that comes in those moments before sleep captures you, an overheard bit of conversation, a metaphor, ordinary and remarkable things that catch your attention. Collect—even if you don’t know why. Someday it may become clear why you noticed it and the collection might spark something that you wouldn’t have imagined without the combination of a collection. Use it all as a means to unravel your understanding of the human condition and translate it into your work.
This week is about ideas and I am thinking about ideas from my collection: driving lessons a young woman gives to her horrible boyfriend’s wonderful mother, a woman shopping at the health food store with a life-sized mannequin, cleaning on Good Friday, squash pie.
For my first month of this short story commitment, I’m going to chronicle the writing process here on The Writer’s Life in a short story project series, with the publishing of the completed story here at the end of June. I will write the story from scratch, piece by piece and walk through the process of creation as it unfolds in my mind.
Join me and share your ideas or story when we’re through!
Melissa Corliss Delorenzo
Melissa Corliss DeLorenzo is a writer, reader, yogini, mom, homemaker and the Associate Editor for Her Circle Ezine. She loves to cook and take long walks with her kids and is a woman who wants to meaningfully exchange and intersect with other women writers. She holds a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature from the University of Massachusetts and a Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Naropa University in Boulder, Colorado. She is at work on several novels. Melissa lives in North Central Massachusetts with her family.