I've had an idea. A wonderful, awful, Grinchy idea. An idea guaranteed to make my heart two or three sizes larger if it works, no matter what time of year.
See, I have this spreadsheet -- no, not my daily log spreadsheet. A different spreadsheet: my 2013 fiction schedule. I'm only nine work weeks into the year, and I already hate this document. It shows my estimated schedule for 24 fiction projects to send off and/or publish this year. This is such an overwhelming amount of work, it's hard for me to wrap my head around it. These aren't cute little poems. There are three novels and six novellas in the mix, a total load approaching nearly 400,000 words. As a side job? While trying to support four kids and a mortgage through my day job?
Ludicrous. Insane. But not impossible.
What does seem impossible is fitting even more fiction work into my year. That's why I find it so frustrating that ideas for more stories keep popping into my head. It's like the muse is taunting me, daring me to complain.
Some problem, I know. Many people complain of having no ideas. It must be nice being able to pick and choose.
Well, it is and it isn't. The obvious problem is that if you have irresistible ideas coming at you faster than you can write them, then you end up with a hard drive full of stories written to the 30% or 40% mark, right about the point where that initial rush of inspiration wears off and you're left with the hard work of actually building a good story. It's like consistently dumping your boy/girlfriends after the third or fourth date, right about the time when you realize that the fun fling needs to turn into a serious relationship if it's going to continue.
The other problem I'm finding is that my short stories have a way of growing too long. I seem to struggle with creating concise story concepts and keeping them reigned inside of the 5,000-word mark. I'm realizing that magazines and fiction sites rarely want anything longer than 4,000 words. If I could come up with a zinger in less than 2,000 words, I bet it would practically sell itself. Those ideas never seem to hit me.
The muse has a dark sense of humor.
Well, a week ago, I was struck by an idea that I'm reasonably sure can fit under 4,000 words, possibly even 3,000. But when can I write it? I don't have a short story opening on my 2013 calendar for at least another nine weeks. It's not just about the frustration of being unable to move on something that's burning in my head. It's the feeling that I have a salable idea that's not going to be generating...anything. Money, readers, discussion, momentum. Nothing.
What to do?
Well, while running hard drive benchmark tests earlier today, I was catching up on some indie publishing blogs, and I ran across this profanity-riddled gem at Chuck Wendig's Terribleminds. I love this guy. He says exactly the sort of things that I would say if I was 100% sure that neither my kids nor my potential employers ever checked up on my site. In this post, he echoes the common professional wisdom that the "secret" of writing a novel is simply to write a little bit every day until it's done. Wendig just says it in a much more entertaining way.
BUT! This also comes on the heels of another discussion I had with a friend in which he detailed the reasons why he hasn't been making progress with his novel. Too many other projects. Longer job hours. Not willing to take on the stress of blah blah blah. And that's fine. My friend has far less life stress and more money in the bank than I do, so who am I to judge? But he's also willing to live with never becoming a prolific, full-time fiction writer. I'm not. Therein lies the rub.
With these two thought streams swirling around in my head, I had that wonderful, awful, Grinchy idea.
I am going to write my next short story...in the bathroom.
Yes. It's not impossible. A year or two ago, I started on a novel concept in a similar fashion, but I didn't have the idea properly fleshed out, and it ended up going nowhere because I didn't know where it was going. But I did end up with a few thousand words of material all written from my smartphone in the bathroom in little 50- to 100-word snippets on Google Docs. So while the story still sits in my "someday" folder, the experience proved to me that minutes add up, even those minutes where you normally do nothing but sit and stare at the wall. (OK, that's not entirely true. I normally read from my Kindle app or listen to audiobooks at such times. Being mentally idle just irks the hell out of me.)
*** UPCOMING NUMBERS GEEK ALERT ***
One of my shortest stories is "The Sound of Autumn Night," which clocks in at 2,876 words. The average sentence is 15 to 20 words, and I find that if I can sit and think them through in advance, such sentences are fairly easy to dictate with Google Voice. (I use an Android-based phone.) Such dictation stinks for punctuation-heavy text, such as character dialog. But putting the two approaches together, what could be accomplished?
When I mentioned this approach to a different friend, back when I was working on the now-shelved project, she noted that perpetually sitting on the toilet was a fantastic way to cultivate hemorrhoids. Now, I never intended to mention hemorrhoids on my blog, never mind discuss them, so I'm only going to point out one Slate article on the topic and offer this bit of advice from the Mayo Clinic: "Avoid long periods of standing or sitting. Sitting too long, particularly on the toilet, can increase the pressure on the veins in the anus."
But how long is too long? Ten minutes? Probably. But five? Three?
Sitting here at my desk just now, I grabbed my phone and set a two-minute timer. In that time, I dictated four sentences and typed out four sentences of dialog for a total of 68 words. Yes, there are a lot of misspellings and other typos that wouldn't normally happen on a keyboard, but I don't mind cleaning that up on an editing pass later. The point is that I "wrote" 68 words in two minutes, then went on my way with other tasks.
Let's round down to 60 words per two-minute stint and a 3,000-word story target. Let's also assume that one might average three bathroom trips per day in which such sessions might be feasible. The math is easy. With these numbers, I will have composed the first draft of a new short story in 17 days.
Now, what really messes with my mind is the fact that my daily fiction log shows a long-term composition speed of 16 to 17 WPM. If these little writing micro-sessions actually pan out, the implications for writing efficiency become interesting. Perhaps writers need to think about ways to optimize their productivity in both sustained and "burst"-type situations.
I want you to appreciate that it's really difficult to write about this without making bathroom puns constantly.
Most of all, this is an experiment and a challenge to my own tendencies toward procrastination. I'm always telling my kids about how important it is not to say "I can't." It really bothered me that I found myself using such negative speech when confronted with the desire to run with a promising new story concept. This is a test to see if I can turn "I can't" into "I did" without taking any more time from my work, family, or friends. With sufficient determination and ingenuity, all goals are feasible.
Besides, think of the incentive for drinking more water!
I will update with results in another post, hopefully in the next month or so...
William has been working in the tech field since 1991, when he began his long journey through working for a manufacturer's rep, being a distributor, moving into retail and corporate sales, shifting into journalism, and gradually transitioning into content marketing. In 1997, he sold his first articles to local computer magazines. By 1998, he was a full-time tech freelancer and now produces content for several of the industry's top companies.