[This is part of a continuing series on the art of writing fiction.]
Well, it’s spring. And that means it’s time for some basketball and some musing on the art of writing fiction.
So work with me on this one. I used to play basketball seriously way-back-when. And one of the first things you learn is that you don’t shoot every time you get the ball. What you do is quickly assess the situation and either go for it or pass it on to the next guy. That’s called “shot selection.”
Guys that don’t have good shot selection tend to just throw up anything and usually take a lot of shot, but don’t make many (a low field goal percentage). A more effective strategy is to pass—when you know the defense is tight on you—to an open man in the hope they’ll get off a better shot.
So, what the hell does this have to do with writing?
Simple. I’ve noticed lately that I’m a bit too quick to throw up anything to see if it will make it in. That is, I’m far too willing to pick an idea that is half-way there and flesh it out into a full story, edit it and submit it. I don’t stop to think—“Hey, maybe I shouldn’t try to do this right now”—and pass on taking the shot.
OK. End of extended sports metaphor…
So…this means that henceforth, I’m going to focusing on developing (writing, editing, submitting) drafts of stories that move me, that I want to write. That I have to write. Rather than stories I think are clever, or have a neat idea or will find a home somewhere.
What prompted this was a book I found as I was browsing in a used bookstore last week called The Best and the Brightest by David Halberstam. There’s a discussion on the first page of the preface where Halberstam asks a more seasoned writer with a number of best sellers under his belt: “What makes a best seller?” The author considers the question for awhile and answers:
“A book that burns in your belly—something that has to be written before you can go onto anything else.”
That’s great, isn’t it? All those secrets that marketers and publishers and agents want to know boiled down to one cold, hard fact.
Well, that’s what I want to right. And I have a few short stories—maybe 3-4 that are burning in my belly right now. Nothing more, nothing less. I want to get those done and in the submission process. Then, take a quick look around me and assess what else there is that is burning in my belly—be it a novel or story or play—and write that and only that. I want to put the emotion and the desire first. Not second or third or somewhere further down the list. And I don’t want to worry about what will follow.
That’s the only way to do it. Always has been, always will be.
See you next time,