Go Long, or Go Home
By Kelly Ford
Even after a year in the Novel Incubator program and a stint at Sewanee Writers’ Conference, I have to confess: It’s hard to write.
It’s not that I don’t want to write. It’s not that I don’t write. I’ve written several versions of this blog post. I’ve rejected them all:
Blog post 1: Too depressing.
Blog post 2: Luxury problem.
Blog post 3: Posts must contain more than one sentence.
Blog post 4: You cannot upload images of your cats and call it a post.
Blog post 5: As much as I would like to publicly shame that person, I will not publicly shame that person.
Blog post 6: Not everyone watches Friday Night Lights. Writing a post in the voice of Coach Taylor could confuse the uninitiated.
The more blog posts I wrote for this column, the more frustrated I became. Maybe because there was a deadline. Maybe because it felt like homework with its theme guideline and minimum length of 500 words. Over eight years, I’ve written over 1000 pages for my novel.
What is my major malfunction?
In the middle of blog post #6, I had an epiphany, the kind our characters are not supposed to have: Blog posts are like short stories.
Back when I worked at a large travel company that produced brochures, I finally got my “big break” – an opportunity to move up from proofreader to junior copywriter. After several agonizing hours crafting a caption for a photo of a Divi Divi tree in Aruba, I decided to forego that break and move into account management instead.
During the housing crash of 2008, with no job and no prospects, I finally signed up for a Grub Street class after years of lusting over the descriptions but not having time to attend. Did I sign up for the Novel in Progress class that would have helped me with my novel in progress? Nope. Short stories. Every single week, I encountered the same issue: What do I write? Even with a weekly prompt, I couldn’t hone in on one idea and ended up writing five options. Every time, I’d return to the first option at the last minute in my panic to meet the deadline. Only after two short fiction classes did I finally learn my lesson: I hate writing short stories.
Armed with this knowledge, I stopped trying to wrestle my short stories into submission. Without the constriction of word counts or literary journal submission dates, the words flowed. The anxious voice in my head stopped shouting: What do I write? What do I write? What do I write? When the invitation to join the Novel Incubator program arrived, I had a full manuscript ready to go.
How thrilling to meet other writers who prefer to go long. We share the trials of cutting yet another scene, another chapter, another character. When I meet other novelists in the wild, it’s like meeting a fellow member of the secret society of masochists, people who sit for hours alone, years at a time, talking to the same imaginary characters, placing them in the same proverbial trees and throwing rocks at them. During the conversation, one of us inevitably whispers, “I hate writing short stories.” Sometimes we nod knowingly, other times we high five.
This is not to say that I don’t love a good short story or that I don’t respect the great care and skill it takes to craft what Stephen King calls “a kiss in the dark from a stranger.” Even more extraordinary to me are those writers who appear to straddle both forms with great ease. I’m not one of them. Still, I haven’t abandoned the twenty or so short stories that sit on my hard drive. My stubbornness will catch up with them one day.
For now, I’m a novelist. Luckily, there’s a program for us.
The Novel Incubator is Grub Street’s year-long intensive course in the novel for writers with a completed novel manuscript, taught by Michelle Hoover. Deadline for applications is in February.
Kelly Ford received a Literature Fellowship Grant from the Somerville Arts Council and worked on her novel, Cottonmouths, while participating in Grub Street’s year-long Novel Incubator program and at Sewanee Writers’ Conference. She can be found tumblin’ at www.kellyjford.com.
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