A weekend in the writer’s bunker
My wife and I have been together for 10 years, married since 2008, and during the course of our relationship we’ve learned that sometimes we both need a break. Writing requires a degree of solitude and isolation that can try the patience of any partner, and so I never mind when she wants to drive over to see her mother in Montgomery for the weekend. It gives me the chance to crawl into my writer’s bunker and work on my craft.
I’m having a birthday party on June 1 in Little 5 and gave myself the task of reading a short story. Writing has a surprising variety of metrics, including word counts, readability indexes and the aesthetics of how text appears on a page. Most of my short stories are 20 pages and 10,000 words. That equates to an hour or more of reading time. So that’s not going to fly at most readings, much less a hipster shindig.
The optimal word count would be less than 5,000 words, which equates to approximately 30 minutes of reading time. I’m reading two books right now to help me master this self-imposed assignment. I’m referring back to my “Writing Fiction for Dummies” book, which is an invaluable source of practical advice about writing. I also downloaded the book “Great Short Short Stories” to get a better sense of how other writers have tackled this problem.
At the moment I’m working on the outlining process as it’s described at the end of “Writing Fiction for Dummies.” It’s tedious work, but one meant to reconcile any potential plot holes and provide details that make the characters real to the reader. Few people have the talent of being able to compose perfect stories without the aid of systems developed by other writers. Too many people believe writing doesn’t have to follow any specific rules to be successful, thinking that unimpressed readers simply don’t “get” them.
I made a conscious decision to avoid high art when I began getting serious about my fiction writing. Readers want to be entertained. That doesn’t mean talking down to them, but it does require a commitment by the writer to make a sincere effort to meet the readers halfway. Readers need details. They need to care about the main character. They need to stay engaged with the story.
Fiction writing reminds me of sorting out a complex grocery list. The details are at the store across town. The character sympathy is at the Farmers Market somewhere. The twist ending? You’d have to fly to Europe for that. Each story is an act of gradually assembling it all, stocking as you go. That way you don’t have to run all over creation when you want to write something else.
My fiction kitchen has the bare essentials in it now. I’m looking for the rare ingredients that you’d only be able to taste when you have a meal at my table. I feel like with enough work and patience, I’ll be able to make that leap as a writer someday. And when I do, I’m fairly certain I won’t make any money from it.