I have not written on here in so very long – although I have updated the publications off and on. I will return to this, but for now you can find me at Gryphin Literary and Typehouse Literary Magazine!
Most people have heard this short, six-word story, usually attributed to Ernest Hemingway. The way I first heard the story behind it was that, when challenged to write a super short story with a beginning, a middle, and an end, he scribbled this on a napkin and handed it over. This story has fairly well been disproven by Garson O’Toole of The Quote Investigator, who wrote a blog post on the possible history of this legend, a very interesting post at that.
Advertisements closely matching the abbreviated text above did appear in classified sections over the decades. Here is an example published in 1906. Intriguingly, this section of short ads was labeled: Terse Tales of the Town:
For sale, baby carriage; never been used. Apply at this office.
In 1910 a newspaper article about a classified advertisement that was thematically similar and twelve words long was published:
Baby’s hand made trousseau and baby’s bed for sale. Never been used.
The article is great. You should go read it after this.
However, I don’t think that the fact that Hemingway didn’t actually write this lessens in any way what it can teach us. While I know authors who are masters of the story story art, I also know authors who feel that a short work, commonly known as “hint fiction” “drables” flash fiction” and other things, (which can be indeed 6 words if an author so chooses) isn’t “really a story.” They argue that you can’t really tell a story in that short of space.
I tend to disagree with these sentiments. As an author who both writes and reads short works, sparse wordage can convey emotion that is just as intense as a longer piece. Think about it – how haunting it is to think of a pair of little baby shoes, for sale for unknown reasons, although the instant reaction is the death of the infant. There is no lack of emotion, and we get exactly what the author is trying to tell us.
It is a challenge to write this short – every word must count in a way that isn’t as critical as in a longer piece.
“I didn’t have time to write a short letter, so I wrote a long one instead.” – Mark Twain.
Writing short is like putting together a puzzle, where every piece has an exact place to go. One wrong piece and the composition of the whole thing is off.
As the author of stories from under 25 words to novels I don’t think any particular length of story is the best. I enjoy reading and writing them all, but recognize the challenges that come from writing short work.
I don’t make new year’s resolutions, but I set a goal for myself of mailing a submission every day for the month of January. The reasoning behind this is two-fold. One, I simply want to get my submission number higher, and this is a good way to do it, and two. I’m hoping to increase my habit of submitting on a regular basis. I set myself two guidelines for this. One – if I miss a day, which will happen, I have to make it up. Two – I can’t work ahead, or “bank” submissions. If I submit extra, great, but I can’t go ahead and do the following day’s early*. So far I have missed one day, which I have made up, and have a total of six submissions for five days. Now to just maintain the numbers for the month.
*I count the day ending at midnight for this, so I can submit one day’s before midnight and the next day’s after midnight – a concession I made because of my schedule.
Time for my yearly year-end round up on my writing. This year I sent 59 submissions, received 37 rejections, have 21 pending and had two stories published (one was accepted last year). I finished my short story cycle, worked through some major road blocks on my third novel, and wrote several short stories. I started teaching homeschool fiction classes, taught some adult poetry workshops, and, oh yeah, graduated with my MFA. All in all not too bad of a writing year, although I’d have loved the submission rate to have be higher (and my acceptance rate too!) but hey, I think I did ok 😉
All other thing being equal, would you rather read a book that’s hard/challenging/rewarding or light/enjoyable/easy?
Actually I would have to say both. Generally I enjoy books for the quality and reward of the novel itself, and that can be either an easy or a challenging read. I don’t feel that a book has to be hard to make it worthwhile, there are lighter books that are rewarding reads. That being said, there are light and fluffy books that I read when I need a pick me up, and I call those my candy books – not good in large doses, but sweet and tasty in small amounts!
Yes, that crazy time each year when writers attempt to write 50,000 words in the month of November. That equals approximately 1667 words a day, and as many hours as it takes the writer to put out that amount of keystrokes. There are many people who achieve this goal year after year, and then others who never do, but keep trying again year after year. It’s not a contest in the traditional sense; rather each writer competes against themselves, trying to reach that mythical number that equals a short novel.
Personally, I have attempted NaNo several times, and won it twice. There are many writers who criticize NaNoWriMo as being a waste of time, that there is no quality writing being turned out, because after all the goal is quantity rather than quality. I disagree however that there is no quality writing – rough drafts are bad – they just usually are. The important part is to get it out on paper, to get it written down. Then you can go back and work on it, make it quality, make it “good” writing. What I wrote in my attempts was rough and jagged, but there was good stuff under there. One of my “winners” I put a lot of time and effort into revising and it is now a completed novel. All writing is good writing, because even if you never “use” it, or make it into a finished piece you learn from every bit of writing you do.
Since I am not able to actually do NaNoWriMo this year I will blog about it through the month, and talk about some of the things I learned and took away from it in my years of attempting to reach that brass ring.
I find that in my own publishing career I run into the question of what to do with works once they have been published. If they are still online to attract readers, than it is easy to leave them there. They also serve as an accessible way to show someone your work, either by giving them the direct address, or linking to them on your website, as I do. But what if it was published in an old print magazine? Or a website that is no longer in existence? I know some people retire their story and leave it be once it has been published, but I’m not a fan of that. For example, I’ll use three different scenarios I’ve come across.
- One is a story that was published in a medium market in 2003. The story has been out of print for eight years, and the magazine no longer exists.
- One is a story that was published in an online pay to view site that went out of business and the work is not longer available.
- One is a story that was published in an online site that was up for a good while and then went out of business.
All three of these I chose to try and have reprinted elsewhere. My logic behind each one was similar – the piece in the print market is no longer available anywhere, as are the two online pieces. With both of the online pieces they were up for a good amount of time, and a significant amount of time passed before I submitted them to other markets. One has been published, and the other hasn’t yet.
I tend to feel that the more accessible a piece is, particularly if it was published in a small market, the more it can benefit me as a writer. It’s like being able to pull out a résumé on demand, and offer someone samples of my work. And of course the more visibility you have the better.
I should say though, I spend just as much time researching second markets for my work as I do for new market submissions. Having a piece reprinted in an unprofessional manner, or in a sloppy-looking format hurts more than it can helps your career. I don’t feel that having a piece reprinted is an act of desperation to get it into public again, rather it is a matter of finding the right place to give your baby some sunlight once again.
“I write for the same reason I breathe … because if I didn’t, I would die.”
Well, when you submit as much as I do you are bound to screw up, and I do, and this time I did!
I have a story out to a magazine that bumped it up for a second reading. All well and good. But I was looking through my rejection letters and realized that I submitted it to the same market last year where I received a personal rejection to it. Oh no!
So then the question was do I write and tell them I realized what I did, or wait and see how they responded? They are a super-fast market and I knew I would hear within a day or two.
I sent them a note apologizing for the mixup, and hopefully they won’t blacklist me. The market just looked like a good fit! Hopefully they have a good laugh over it and no hard feelings. I’ve made this mistake once before, oddly with the same story, and the editors were not happy with me at all – that time I didn’t know until they pointed it out to me. Not a good thing to annoy editors.
The funny thing it I use Duotrope religiously, and somehow missed in the tracker that it had already went to that market – and I am usually very careful about double-checking so I don’t do this.
Ah well, I’ll laugh at myself and hope the editor does the same.
What’s the hardest/most challenging book you’ve ever read? Was it worth the effort? Did you read it by choice or was it an assignment/obligation?
The hardest books I’ve read are ones that I haven’t yet finished. There are three: Don Quixote, Les Misérables, and Anna Karenina. (Sense a theme here?) I was not assigned any of these three for school, but was intrigued by them and chose to take them on. I still own them all, and I will finish them as they are like a red flag being waved in front of my face.