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The Freedom in the Short

Writing is hard, y’all. I don’t think there’s a writer alive or dead who’d disagree with me, at least not one who’s being honest with themselves. Writing requires time, dedication, a smidgeon of talent, and hours and hours of words on the page before we figure out just what the hell we’re doing trying to attempt the little thing called “literature.”

You know what else it requires? Confidence, something that’s in even shorter supply for writers than the mythical “born talent.” The lack of said self-esteem often makes it hard to break out of the shell we build for ourselves, sticking to familiar genres and topics, boxing ourselves in as if to cage our muses where they belong instead of allowing them to run wild.

Writing takes time after all – how can we afford to waste it doing something so out of our comfort zones, so foreign to our hands, that the story might fail completely? With a novel, we’re talking hours, days, months, even years of our creative lives that are at risk with every story we dare to attempt. So experimenting is a daunting thought.

That’s why I am slowly growing to love shifting gears and allowing myself to write a short story every so often. Not only do I get to enjoy the feeling of finishing a project (because lord knows I have a hard time getting projects completed before starting new things), but the time commitment is considerably less. My short stories average around 3-5k depending on the story itself. Considering I’ve been known to writing 1k in a day easy, I can draft a single short story in a week. It might not be a great short story. I may cringe and have half a dozen rounds of revisions before I allow it to see the light of day, but really, I usually have that many rounds of revisions on a novel, too. But a short story – that takes so, SO much less time in my schedule. It’s a breath of fresh air getting to let an idea free without losing any more of my allotted writing minutes.

And since it takes so much less of my time, I can be freer with said time. A short story doesn’t feel like I HAVE to succeed with it to make the writing time worth it. I can just play and experiment. That off the wall story about a praying mantis in space – I can write it. A fairy tale retelling that I worry might seem over done – fuck it, it’ll just be for practice or for fun. A strange little robot chick lit thing that I don’t even know how to describe – yup, I can work on that, too.

I can work on whatever the hell I want when it comes to short stories. I don’t have to worry about my brand or my long term goals or whether an agent will like it. I can just write the damn thing and see what happens.

Do I hope to publish these stories? Sure! I mean, getting into a lit mag would be a huge accomplishment; plus, I certainly wouldn’t turn down a writerly paycheck or two. But I’m perfectly happy with the stories being just for me or even featured in one of the CLICHES FOR A CAUSE charity anthologies I’m working on with my writing group.

There’s no pressure, you see? I’m utterly, stunningly free to follow whatever off the wall idea I want to write. And I love that I have the option to do that.

What about y’all? Are any of you dabbling in a different form of writing from your normal to take a break from the novel grind? Hit me up and let me know @C_L_McCollum!

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