Sometimes it’s hard to get words down, especially during an editing pass when all of your time is getting sucked into the black hole of word hell. But not everything you write needs to be a novel, and little bits of prose can give you a creative outlet while you continue working.
I choose my timing for editing passes with a little care. I know that it can take more than a week to run through a manuscript. I don’t want to get into the nit picky details of the various edits that I do, but all of them have something in common. They all require combing through the entire manuscript at least once.
Even if I’m bouncing around the text for a block edit, I still need to cover every word and see the whole story. Doing so, in combination with hunting for a day-job and working on my property, doesn’t leave me with a ton of time for my other projects. Just like drafting a novel, my focus is consumed by one book for however long it takes to get it done, and I work on it every single day.
Sometimes this leaves me feeling a bit drained. The most creative part of the writing process comes with drafting and brainstorming new stories. And the fact that I like it so much is the reason my hard drive is filled with numerous stories of various lengths. From whole novel drafts to novellas to short stories to flash pieces and poetry.
I think about the fact that I will need to one day go through and edit all of this writing, and it can be overwhelming
Get Over Your Fears
I have a lot of stuff that won’t likely ever be published. These were fiddling ideas that sometimes ended up on Wattpad and others were later used as concepts for new books and stories. The best example is all of my fantasy stuff. I have little bits of Grimoire written for the magical system, stories of first encounters with various monsters, and the origins of certain historical artifacts that will someday show up in the greater story. I can punch these out creatively to add to the richness of my future fantasy novel without feeling constrained to the project.
The hardest part, I think, is overcoming the knowledge that you are adding more “work” to your pile whenever you write something. The Incorporated books I’m working on were drafted in 2015, and there are lots of novels and long stories already on the pile. Some of these I really want to publish, but I’m also aware of how much tweaking and work the stories need.
All I can say is, if you feel like hammering out some new story, then just do it. Flash Fiction is very dear to me, as you all know, and everything with smaller stories is faster, easier, and more streamlined. If I wrote only shorts then I could be cranking out a couple of them per day. One page isn’t very daunting, and I have a special place for a lot of these in my plan. Sooner or later, a lit mag or contest is going to be looking for an entry similar to something I have on hand. At that point, I can clean it up, put a spit shine on it, and submit. It will take a day or two in most cases.
The longer stuff gives me options as well. More stories does not equal more work. It means that when you decide to work on a story, you can choose which one you want to go with. Sometimes there’s some burnout on a story after an editing pass, and you aren’t confined to finishing that one. You can move your editing energy to another book, or just write another first draft.
Disorganized or Clever?
I spent hours last week reordering all of my story folders on the computer. Everything was so scattered that I couldn’t keep track of what I had put where. There’s that much. Combine that with stock art, little cover ideas, blurb ideas, etc, and it’s quite the mess. Some of these stories have release plans, others do not. But if I get a crazy idea to deliver a bunch of shorts, or I find an outlet for them, I have them. I love all of my stories, they’re just waiting for their turn in the queue.
The thing is, there’s so much that it can feel like a cluttered mess. As if there’s no order to any of it, no matter how organized. It’s just a huge pile of “to be finished” no matter how well I sort it. But when I decide to work on a story, I have them. When I do hit the gas on an idea (like my current 2015 manuscripts) I have everything I need right there, ready to prep for submission or publication.
Writing and drafting is the creative part, it’s the fun part, it’s why I started writing again. So what if I end up with a bunch of unpublished stuff? Now, when I look at the pile, I don’t even consider it. When it’s time to put something out, I know where to find it. (I’m picturing earlier authors surrounded by a library of stapled paper, thumbing through it while asking themselves what to work on next) If I want to write something new, I’ll just write it. When something sticks, or I see the promise in an old idea, then it goes to my primary workbench, and I hammer that little sucker out.
The best thing to do with the fear of stacking up more work is to forget about it altogether. The story moves forward, not back.
Little Draft Ideas for Editing Days
Shorts are best. They not only let you hammer out a quick ten-minute story that you can tweak and tune without eating up all of your editing time, but they let you experiment.
Every so often, I get asked why Viral Spark is written in present tense. This isn’t a common way of writing a novel, and it can be jarring to new readers, but there’s a very good reason that it’s in present tense. It’s because the original short story Bundled Complexes was an experiment in first person present as much as a playground for the city-in-a-bottle idea. The plot of that little story was kind of thin (probably why every lit mag rejected it), basically Robert winning a date with Amanda after an offering of tea. That was it. As that original concept was sponsored for the novella series, I wanted to keep the writing style of the original story. When things fell through with the publisher and I put it back out as a novel, same thing. The FPP was essential to the story at that point, a little hint of character carried over from its inception, which was a random short piece while I was working on Incorporated, oddly enough.
Poetry is another good outlet. I’m a big fan of poetic prose (non-rhyming), so I will sometimes scratch out these short descriptions or one-line stories, just for fun, or if I need to get my creative or motivation working for the day.
Flash fiction and one-sentence-stories will hone your skills, both at writing and at storytelling. Every story has a character, a conflict, and a resolution. Cramming that all into one line isn’t easy, especially if you are trying to paint an image in the reader’s head. I believe that you will absolutely see the benefits of practicing at it.
Short stories allow you to experiment with new ideas and new techniques. They can also add some depth to the story that you are writing. Hammer out a short piece about a minor character in your current work, or even a character that doesn’t appear in the book. These can make good teasers later on that you can give out for free to attract more interest in your story. If you look at my website stories, there is one in there called Discovery of 2022 FH. This story was also written in 2015, just before NaNoWriMo, and it was a contest entry (I lost). It was part of the prep work for the novel I wrote that November, called Endeavor, which is also the third book in the Incorporated series. While the short has absolutely nothing to do with the book, the main character in the story is mentioned in passing, as the guy who discovered the metallic asteroid that the crew intends to capture for harvesting. Another character who crosses paths with the rest of the series in a very minor way, but had his own story to tell.
Think about Star Trek. There are volumes and volumes of information out there about the fictional universe where the main stories take place. The amount of fan fiction probably outweighs the bulk of official releases. These little stories and ideas enrich the whole universe and give fans more to dig in and enjoy when the plethora of episodes and movies just isn’t enough. They hammered out the Klingon language. I mean, there’s tons of story there, and stuff is added to the universe every single day, creating a depth of setting that no single novel can ever hope to accomplish, no matter how thick you make it.
Don’t be afraid to write more, and add more stories to the slush pile. There might be some gems in there. More writing can enrich your current stories by adding obscure references into the text. Writing little pieces while editing will put some use to those creative juices that are fighting to get out. You’ll get more experience, more practice, and become a well-rounded writer. Even if most of it never finds a place in the literary world, and even if you never finish everything that you start.
And if you decide to do an anthology one day, you’ll have plenty of fodder to add to it, reducing the workload.