Angst and Observations About Writing from the State of Virginia

Short Stories, Long Story.

After writing three novels, following the trajectory of most authors, I decided to ‘take a break’ and write a book of short stories. While it took me about 15 years to finish my “monster” Birdbrain, insert a painful breakup, a catastrophic national disaster firestorm in which I lost everything I owned including a house, another painful breakup but this time far more definitive because he died, my mother dying…so yeah, I have my reasons for taking so long with Birdbrain, it only took me a couple of years to finish the other two novels. But this book of short stories I am trying to finish? Holy tamales. Why didn’t anybody tell me? Turns out, it’s wrenching for most writers.

Question on Quroa: Why is writing a simple short story so goddamn difficult?

Wait — Don’t Write that First Novel Before You Try a Short Story

It took Gabriel Garcia Marquez 18 years to craft his 12 short stories (1992). His agony began when he was living in Barcelona in the 70’s after he had a dream about attending his own funeral. From there came 64 ideas but he used one of his kid’s school notebooks that later went missing. Next, revived stories, wastebaskets, more stories, again some fished out of wastebaskets, until finally he became obsessed, point being, 18 years later, he cranked his book out in “eight feverish months”.

Faulkner didn’t think it was a party. Neither did Vonnegut, Dillard, Munro, Cheever, Proulx, eeny, meeny, miny, moe…In OTHER(‘s) words, the jury is in and it pretty much sucks, because each story is like a novel in and of itself, which means you are torturing yourself over a bunch of them versus one all consuming…Like taking care of eight puppies instead of one, 15 geraniums in the hot sun instead of one, a lot of more watering, smoking five cigarettes at at time versus one, you get my drift. It’s exhausting if you are trying to do it “right”, whatever the hell this means.

And how many? Is three too few? she wondered after waking up at the dining room table. Maybe I’ll say I was just being all “arty” and stuff. “Gosh, this indie Arthur has released only THREE short stories. They must be really–well, extraordinary!” But I ain’t no Edith Wharton so I wrote another one. Four. Four should be enough. It’s not. So I wrote another one and another one, agony and agony and agony and NOW, I am on number ten! And goddamn it, it’s the last one! You just wait. I’m not kidding. It’s the last one. Check back with me in 2025. (It was the last one. Now tell me what you think? Stem and Leaf Plots. Thank you. You honor me by reading my work.)

What “Termite Droppings” and “Web Content” Have in Common.

They’re both crap though termite droppings at least have high ecological value.

Inevitably, as you get sucked further and further down the freelance writing rabbit-hole or more apt, call it a gravity/money-sucking black hole, the point being–sucked–yes, once you get to the point where writing is all you want to do, dispense of all your normal friendships immediately, go to a large appliance store and pick out a nice cardboard box, refrigerator boxes still offering the best options because like everything else in America, refrigerators have also only gotten bigger and more ridiculous (some I think you can drive). Sell your nice car and buy a cheaper, older model. Throw away your shampoo though keep the soap. You can wash you hair with Dial soap and it won’t matter if your hair is all stiff and matted because you won’t be going outside anymore. Try to bathe at least once a week, if for nothing else, the dogs; you don’t want them to get confused you are the same species.

Once you meet these prerequisites, and you can’t see the light anymore from your refrigerator box at the the bottom of your hole, you’ll start looking for freelance writing gigs while you work on (or not) your next novel(s). Inevitably you will find yourself on “writing” sites like iWriter, Textbroker, Constant Content, others. It looks pretty cool. They list topics and you write “articles” aside from that fact that they’re not and you won’t.

You have stumbled on to “web content” ‘writing’ sites, now, the sadly institutionalized model of ‘writing’ for the Internet. Thinking you can perhaps upgrade to two refrigerator boxes, you will spend all day ‘writing’ this crap, and all for $1.50; let’s be honest, this is about all it’s worth.

I knew things had sunk to a new low when I agreed to write an “article” about “termite droppings”–for $1.50. I even researched it.

It’s pretty easy to see the correlation–“web content” as in fact “web droppings”–at best, it’s writing ads, at worst, it’s vacuous, mindless dribble (the ten best ways to steep tea!), and it’s ruining real writing on the Internet.

There needs to be a distinction between writing ADS/MARKETING schlock, which is all “web content” is, and real writing or journalism.

Take heed real writers. Hold fast to your standards especially if you ever find yourself writing “the ten best ways to flush a toilet”; you’re writing web droppings, this is all. Flush it and move on.

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