Not all writing is created equal, I’ve found. I have worked on many varieties of wordsmithing throughout my studies and my career, and each version has different needs and offers different things.
The three most common (traditional) projects I work on are short stories, novels, and plays.
Short stories are like bright ideas that appear in a flash and stay for a while, playfully and periodically lighting up on my computer screen at unplanned moments. I have a lot of fun with short stories. They feel like snacks between meals, and I take my time with them. I like how compact they can be, like a booklight that folds up into a convenient size for luggage. I bring my short story ideas with me everywhere, and I play with them whenever the mood hits. Though they may take a long time to complete to my satisfaction, they rarely become tangled messes or require elaborate outlining. For me, short stories are pure fun.
Novels are different. These are writing experiences that feel like boring through dark tunnels, seeking precious light at the end of long and twisted journeys. I love working on novels. These aren’t just my snacks or my meals; they’re the entire kitchen and dining room, and the bread and salad and wine that go with the entrée. A novel is a commitment to time and energy and love. It can get scary and frustrating and even impossible without a good plan, but the payoff at the end is emotionally rewarding. Most authors, published and un, will agree that the success we feel from finishing such a novel is wonderful beyond words.
For both novels and short stories, I find that I need to see my paragraphs on the screen in order to understand how they work together. In other words, I don’t think I could dictate fiction to someone else to type out for me. Somewhere along the way I would get lost without my visual cues. In addition to that, I normally read a page or two aloud to myself as I work on first drafts and revisions just to get a different sense of the flow. This helps me hear words that might be off or misplaced, when my eye would have failed to notice.
Plays take me somewhere else entirely. When I work on a play I am both closer to my characters and farther away from them. It’s as if they’re half in shadow, half in sunlight, as I explore their feelings and reactions, but I keep an almost equal distance between the entire cast. It’s a tough act to perform, like juggling apples and bananas and oranges all at the same time. I have to handle each one properly and fairly, but I can’t hesitate too long or everything tumbles down. The theatre is one of my first true loves, and I cherish every minute I spend considering questions such as, “Will this set be possible or practical?” and “How can I get this actor off stage to change costumes?” in addition to the normal plotting questions that come up when working with fiction.
I also have to read my work aloud when I write a play, of course. However, I do it differently. If I don’t have someone else around (my husband, my brother, other friends) who can act, I sometimes have to record myself reading the lines into a microphone. For some reason I can listen to my words for short stories or novels aloud as I speak them, and I can feel my way through the proper flow. But with plays I need to sit back as an audience member and listen to the way the words sound from there – and that requires either willing friends or a recorder.
Sometimes (right now) I’m working on all three at once. This might seem overwhelming and potentially confusing, but it works for me to be able to change gears every day or two. I like to have multiple projects going at the same time so that my stories always feel fresh when I return to them.
What about you? 🙂 Are you a writer or a reader (or an audience member)? Do you have a preferred format to write or enjoy? What does it mean to you?