Short Forms

It’s been a terribly busy week, which is why, if you’ve checked in here this week, you kept seeing that post telling you it’s Friday when it’s actually NOT Friday.

There have been performances (William was the bus driver who denied Rosa Parks her seat — he played this key role in a choral performance dedicated to the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King), and projects due (Charlie knows a lot about Venus Fly Traps),  and two of the boys are going on tour with their choirs in a week or two, which means you have to buy black pants that fit and also you have to find their passports, tasks that sound pretty simple but, in reality, turn out to be odysseys of epic proportions. Somewhere in the middle of the week someone managed to break two bones in his hand playing football, which necessitated three trips to the doctor for diagnosis, x-rays, and a very handsome black cast.

That is why, during the week, I have read a couple of short stories, and written the beginnings of two stories, and revised another one, and have not worked on revising my novel. The best novel writing requires that you stay in the world of your novel while you are writing and revising it so you remember what the weather is like, and the shifts in your characters’ emotional states, not to mention the color of their hair you mentioned 100 pages earlier.  That is simply impossible, I’ve concluded, when people go out of town and children break bones and I have to drive kids to school, and pick them up and work and do the dishes.

I know that writers don’t choose literary forms entirely because of time constraints, nor do readers chose poems and short stories because they don’t have the concentration necessary to stay with a novel, but I do think the reason I am writing this post this morning, and not working on my novel, or even on a short story, is because it is 6:45 a.m. and William is sitting on my bed writing, in very competent cursive handwriting, a report about Jimi Hendrix’s life and the only thing I can do while he’s asking me how to spell England and counting out the number of paragraphs left to write and losing his pen, is this blog post, about how you fit what you write and read into the life you live.

I will be so happy when school is over and summer arrives and there is time to stretch out and read novels, not to mention edit them.

16 thoughts on “Short Forms

  1. That’s why I started 100 Proof Stories — time constraints were getting in the way of my writing anything longer, and I needed something that would keep my hand in fiction. Now that I’ve relocated to the West Coast, even though there’s so much to do-see-explore-experience, I’m trying to make sure that, no matter what, I carve out time to write.

    Oh, and by the way, give William big props for picking Jimi as the subject his report. I like it! I like it!

  2. Oh, you’ve just made me feel so, so good about the novel that isn’t happening. It’s just not possible to remain in/with it with all the other things going on in my life right now. However, ghost stories seem to be writing themselves these days. Now I understand why and will feel much less guilty and maybe start to enjoy all those ghosts instead of feeling they’re an intrusion on/procrastination technique for the novel.

  3. Writing around the edges of a busy life – that’s what we are doing! I have to admit, I’ve been writing my novel in one hour increments and it is in NO way ideal – I definitely forget the mood and tone, details mentioned pages ago, that sort of thing. But I’m also convinced my life isn’t likely to get any less busy anytime soon, and so I must keep at it. My novel will be written in the hour and a half I have before getting ready for work, the occasional evening I’m not too exhausted to collapse into bed, and weekend afternoons. It would be so much better if it weren’t so!

  4. It’s so true about fitting the writing into your life, and you seem to do a great job of it!

    Your post reminded me of a story about an author (and I wish I could remember who!) who wrote on the commuter train to and from New York City. Such small spurts of time, yet over the long haul he finished his novel — and it went on to get published and make his name! (I do wonder how he kept the details straight–must be one of those people with an insanely good memory.)

  5. I’m so glad to hear I’m not the only one who forgets the hair color of one of my characters…it does become hard to keep it all straight, especially when juggling the necessities of real live people who seem to be constantly clamoring for something all round you.

    Be patient…summer days will arrive very soon, hopefully bringing some peace and quiet with them!

  6. Grace Paley chose the short story form exclusively, except for some poems, because novels were long and life was short. She was not only a mother but a radical political activist, saving the world for her children and the rest of us. I was never at anti-nuclear protest without seeing her white fuzz of hair.

  7. I love this post, its detailing of daily life, its honesty. I love the image of William sitting on your bed finishing his report while you blog away and yet remain available. I love that your boys are singers, and that you are rounding up black pants and passports. (This is one of the most familiar scenes of my life!)

    You are a very fine writer, Lily. One who can conjure up memorable detail, scene, character, story even in the ‘tossed off’ short form of blog post. Thank you! Jacques

  8. Oh how I sympathize, Lily — life is rich & full, and any and all writing you manage to get done, and share with US, is simply a gift sometimes. So thank you!

    And I’m so sorry about the broken hand — ouch!

  9. I once renamed one of my characters without even realizing it until 20 pages later.

    Summer has begun for us here and I’m finding it a wee bit easier to stay in the “world” of my writing.

  10. Short stories are among my favorite things on earth, so I won’t be sad that you’ve been working on some. But I hope you find the time you need to work on what most compels you. It’s so hard, isn’t it? My nest is not empty (with a hubby and pets…and also dust bunnies. do they count as inhabitants?), but the days of juggling so very many things—and so very many children’s things—are certainly in my past. Yet even I can’t find the large chunks of time I need to write or to compose. How much more difficult it must be for you, with so much going on. As others have said, please do take heart in knowing that everything you do find time to write (including each and every blog post) is simply lovely and very much appreciated.

  11. Hello dear Fiona, I’m about to go downstairs to my little office and get to work — it turns out there’s a lot of time this weekend, and all during next week and I’m thrilled about that! (Yes, dust bunnies count. They need a lot of attention, I’ve heard.)

    Yogamum — I have so much trouble with names. I’d love to hear what your character’s morphed from and then into.

    Dear Marie, Just from looking around, I see that it’s so easy to get busy — to say yes to things, to be a perfectionist being two of those ways — that you don’t have much left for the things that aren’t negotiable, or you feel squeezed when you do. The answer is not to moan and to try your best to stifle the urge to volunteer. At least that’s what I try to do. In the end, spaces of time open up — I’m about to head into one, in fact. Yay.

    TJ– Why, thank you. That’s a lovely thing to say. I think singing is one of the most wonderful things a person can do. Choral singing, in particular, is a really powerful experience — the communal creation of beauty doesn’t occur that often and when it does it can’t help but be good for the soul.

    WR — I love Grace Paley, and love her all the more for her commitment to making the world work better. Thanks for that reminder.

    RR — I’m sitting here, with the window open, and it’s the loveliest Friday afternoon turning into evening. (It’s 5:00.) My favorite time of day. And in the summer, there’s something so magical about knowing that it’ll be light for hours. It feels so full of possibility. Yay for summer.

    Lisa — that’s pretty much how I wrote a lot of my first novel — on the BART train from the east bay into San Francisco (lucky for me, I get off at the fourth stop after we come into the city, which makes the commute a 25 minute commute each day — that’s a lot of writing time, as long as you get a seat). it’s difficult, though, to revise on the train. I have a timeline I keep wanting to spread out, and papers on the floor and it’s just too unruly to get that on the train. So now I’m writing stories on my commute, which is fun, even if it’s not novel writing. And I think writing in that form is good for my language skills.

    Courtney — it will get written — you’re totally right. Most people have to do it like that, and there’s something honorable about just keeping at it. But more than honorable, it’s fun to do when it’s going well, and worth working through when it’s going badly (because on the other side of going badly is going well again). xo

    Dear Emily — You’re completely right. Enjoy those ghosts!! xo, L

  12. Oh Oh I empathised so much with this! I’m late commenting because I am also a slave to that school trip thing, and have had to buy shoes, and then return them when they don’t fit (sheer impossibility of getting child to shops) and so on and on endlessly. This kind of chaos has just as bad an effect on academic writing. I realised sitting at my desk yesterday that I had argued one way in one paragraph and then shot off on a completely different direction in the next one. THAT took some fixing, I can tell you!

  13. bl–
    thank you for “Prevailing Mood: Meh.” which oh so sums up some of my days. I *do* like “meh.”

    Somewhere in this wonderful complex that reflects your wondrous mind, is your astonishment at hearing advice that writers not use metaphors. (Or was it similes…?) Just wanted to add my own astonishment last night upon reading Stephen King’s very strong, very long, manifesto about writers not using adverbs. He says Never.

    I’m not sure I subscribe to either bit, but I find myself trying it out, then learning how much harder it is and how much more rigor it takes to describe something in and of itself, without relying on the metaphor/simile/adverb context/echo. I find its kind of fun as a challenge, in case you tire of sudoku or crosswords or bidding a small slam.


  14. I enjoyed the image of you trying to write while answering random questions about Jimmy Hendrix and spelling words for your son. A perfect metaphor for what it’s like trying to maintain a creative life while carrying on all the other “stuff” of life. I used to spend hours writing every night but had to make a choice between painting and writing and so now my only writing is on my blog… and speaking of short forms of writing, I’ve started a new blog, I’m writing and illustrating a daily postcard to someone real or imagined, alive or dead, asking questions and then “chanelling” their response and creating a postcard of their reply to me. You can’t get much shorter form than postcard writing, don’t you think?

  15. Jana, Postcardaday is wonderful! You are not the only woman who dreams she is waltzing with Bill Clinton. And yes, you are right, he does not like skinny women. Or, closer to the truth, Bill is a fan of all women, which is why so many of us dream about him.

    OP — Stephen King! I need to read that manifesto. I need to see you too. xoxo, l

    Litlove, At least you see you’ve done that! The fixing is a bummer though, but sometimes that is Just What Must Be Done.

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