Earlier this year I resumed writing fiction. I’ve wanted to be a writer for longer than I can remember. I wrote a few short stories, received a few favorable comments from friends. I took one story to a writers’ group a few years ago, and watched them flay it to shreds, not so much for the story itself but smaller errors. Or least, that’s how it seemed to me. I don’t think I returned after the third meeting. It was a long drive, I told myself, and maybe they were right. Still, I wrote a couple more stories, and even 35,000 words of a fantasy novel, but maybe the writing group experience disillusioned me. I quit writing fiction for many years.
Ideas still came to me, and I wrote a few of them down. Often these ideas appeared as titles, either made up, or snippets stitched together from something I’d heard.
Last year my father sent me a very nice pen for my birthday, and said he hoped it would help write a book. A short while later a friend who I hadn’t heard from in years wrote me, and remembered I had mentioned I was writing fiction. Was I still writing? The universe appeared to supply me with strong hints. I am older now, and have fewer pretentious, but I still felt the need to create fiction.
On January 24, 2014 I sat down and wrote a few words. Each night I returned, and after three weeks I finished a short story. I started another one, writing a few words every day. I showed the stories to no one. I went through this purely as an exercise, a way to scrape off layers of rust. In two months I finished six stories and a novella, four of the pieces set in a sort of shared alternate universe, the other three in different genres. Then I started a novel.
I always thought I would write only science fiction and fantasy. The modern writers that I admired (i.e. not dead) tended to write in these genres. Perhaps I tried to emulate certain favorite writers: Ray Bradbury, Jack Vance, Tim Powers, to name a few. I let the ideas and stories dictate the genre, and so I wrote one sf story this year, and one horror story. The rest I am not sure where they fall. The novel that I started on March 21 was a mystery novel, a complete surprise to me. I read mysteries years ago, but currently only read two mystery writers: Gunnar Staalesen in Norwegian, and Ian Rankin in English.
I worked from a vague outline and a specific setting, and found that characters presented themselves and the story evolved. On May 30, just over two months and ten days after I started the novel, I sat in an airport lounge and wrote 1,200 pages, including the words, “The End.” I typed the last two words just as they announced that my plane was boarding. I had written the first draft of a short novel, just over 61,000 pages long.
Writing is a matter of applying your rear to a chair and typing one word after another. I wrote my fiction in various location and various times: late at night, in the car at my daughter’s soccer practice, on a wobbly camping chair in front of a tent on a boy scout campout, in an airplane squeezed between two people whose elbows invaded my small seat, in hotel rooms when traveling. I’ve written every day for 135 days now.
I know the next steps include painful revisions, even more painful outside critiques, then if the stories stand up to scrutiny, query letters to find them a home. I’m not sure how to approach that next stage. I’m letting my novel percolate in the back of my mind, or maybe just receded from my immediate memory, and I am currently working on another short story. It’s almost scary that this week I came up with two more novel ideas for the same character as in my mystery novel, to go along with a third idea that I actually came up with while halfway through the novel, and then in half an hour six short story ideas – but then, ideas are easy, putting them to paper takes time and effort. I almost feel that this short novel was a warm-up, a prelude to the real thing. Maybe that’s just an excuse to ignore the edits and revisions, as writing for the sake of writing seems so much easier.
We shall see.