Approaching a Nascent Story Idea

This week, I started a new story project, and am finding that, as I get more experienced as a writer, I find myself committing myself to a specific story form less and less. It used to be that I always either started a short story or a novel, and I would hold myself to the statement that I made initially. As a result, I would do everything that I could to ensure that a short story ended within 7,500 words, and I would give up on a novel far before I would decide to condense it. It took me several failed attempts before I realized how dangerous this mindset can be.

See, I don’t know how normal this is for a writer, but I am a highly structured personality. I like to know what I am going to do before I do it, and so I typically think through a lot of my stories before I ever set pen to paper. For long projects, this is obviously necessary, as there is a lot of information to keep straight when compared to a short story. However, what I am finding is that I write in a much different fashion when I declare a story “short.” Basically, I think I get into a mode more akin to poetics than storytelling, and wind up with a piece that tries too hard to be clever.

So, this week, I decided to try dropping the pretense of knowing how long a story idea that springs up in my head will actually last on paper. I know that I certainly hope it will be a novel-length work, but I’ve decided that there really is no way of knowing until the first draft is written. Even if my first draft is a novel-length work, the final, polished piece could still be a short story. That’s the beautiful horror of writing, I guess: All of the stuff that never sees the light of day.


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