Sunday, August 31, 2008

The Short Stuff

With the new semester starting in the next week (and having already turned in my first workshop submission to be discussed on day one) I’ve been thinking again about one of the major benefits you get from workshop: that strong hard push to work on short pieces, even while you might be totally involved in, say, a novel or some other big project.

Now, it’s important to point out that a lot of people bring novel chapters in to workshop, and that’s fine if it works for them. Personally, I only bring in a chapter of a novel if I’m trying to make that chapter work as a stand alone short story. I just think it’s too hard, as the reader, to give good feedback when you’re only reading a small portion of a larger work, and it’s too hard, as the writer, to get much out of feedback from a person who doesn’t know the whole story.

I’m at a point right now where I’m pretty preoccupied with book length works. I’ve got my thesis, which, once I get some feedback from my committee members, I’m going to be working on more revisions of soon. There’s my new novel, which I’m pretty much totally engaged in right now as I work on the first draft. And there are a couple of different children’s book projects, too, which I’m just doing as a fun side project but I’m having a really good time working on. This summer I’ve had to kind of force myself to keep up with my short stories, in the midst of all these other larger projects.

So I’m excited about going back into a workshop environment. Workshop takes the choice out of my hands. I feel more comfortable, now, setting personal goals that revolve mostly, or perhaps even entirely, around my book length projects because workshop will force me to spend time, as well, on short stories. I can’t get away with not working on those because it’s homework. And I’ll be in a position where I’ll be kind of refocusing my attention on short stories, too, because I’ll have people reading and responding to my short pieces. I’ll be looking at my stories in a new light and they’ll be pushed back to the front of my mind. I’ll be excited, again, to go back and tackle them.

And I think it’s really important, when you’re in the early stages of a writing career, to work on those shorter works, whether you’re finding ways to break up and publish small portions of a novel or what. This is true, I think, for all creative writers. You might, for example, be looking at your poems as a book length collection, but you should probably, also, think of them as independent sets that you can submit and try to publish in smaller chunks. I’m not saying don’t work on the book length projects, too; I intend to continue working on mine. But it’s my understanding that it’s extremely difficult to get an agent or a publisher interested in a book if you can’t show them that you’ve had several smaller pieces published, first. And workshop helps you keep that focus on the smaller works, the steps you have to take now, to get to that later stage where you can actually get that full book published.

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