Overthinking It

I feel like I’ve been immersed in writing lately without actually accomplishing much in the way of generating new material. My Foundations of Fiction class at StoryStudio is underway, and we’ve been talking quite a bit about plot and character and all the other elements of fiction one discusses in a class of that sort, and discussing those things never fails to make me excited about writing. And truth be told, I am writing. I’m just not finishing things lately, and that’s trouble. I can usually crank out a first draft in about two weeks, but the latest stories I’ve been working on are taking considerably longer.

I suppose a writer evolves as his or her style develops. I’ve definitely noticed that in my own work over the past 4 years or so. Nothing wrong with that. I tend to focus more on plot these days and feel more conscientious of getting in and out of my characters’ heads. Sometimes I wonder if all this academic treatment of the elements of fiction is what’s slowing me down, though. I’m a tedious writer in the first place, often editing sentence by sentence as I go along. But I’ve noticed myself worrying too much about the macro level, too, in these first drafts — overall narrative arc, mistakes in characterization, thematic cohesion etc. These are things I tell my students to worry about in the second and third drafts, but I fear I’m not taking my own advice. That can be paralyzing when it’s combined with my tendency to get things right on the sentence level.

Fortunately, a solution presents itself. StoryStudio is having a write-a-thon tomorrow, and I am butting up against a deadline. I have to write a pretty short (by my standards) short story for the Fictlicious Haunted Show on Oct. 28 at the Hideout. I’ve got a skeletal outline for it and a general idea. My goal: a first draft in one sitting. It’s only 5 pages or so, but that’s quite an endeavor for a writer like me. I’ve never completed a short story in one sitting, even the flash fiction pieces I’ve read at Fictlicious previously. I’ll report back as to how it went and what I learned from the process, but I’m cautiously optimistic. Nothing foments inspiration like an immutable deadline.

A few other notes/shameless self-promotions:

Tomorrow, my story Top Shelf will come out in Issue 6 of Graze Magazine. Graze is a food oriented, Chicago-based lit mag, and I’m really excited to see the issue, my own work in it notwithstanding. They are hosting a release party tomorrow night, and it’s going to be a lot of fun. Details are on Graze’s Facebook page if you’re interested in checking it out. They’ll have food, beer, raffle prizes, and live music. $10 gets you in and includes a copy of the issue. If you can’t make it, you can order a copy from their website.

Also, I’ll be teaching a new class at StoryStudio Chicago starting in January. It’s going to focus on plot and structure, and runs six weeks starting Jan. 22. It’s geared toward intermediate-level writers. I’m really looking forward to it, as I love discussing what goes in to crafting compelling scenes in our stories.

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