Matt Inman, the cartoonist behind the humor website The Oatmeal, once likened the creative process to breathing. In his analogy, he described the act of creative writing as constantly inhaling. It is important, yes, but sooner or later, one must stop to exhale.
After spending the better part of three years writing my novel, Wide Horizon, I had expected its conclusion to be an emotional experience. While I did, indeed, feel moved, I was surprised by the other sensation: I was exhausted. Naturally, I immediately threw myself into my next novel, Pathfinder, yet work stalled only a few chapters in. I grew frustrated. I began pursuing every idea that came to mind. I lost direction, and I didn’t know why.
Ultimately, I came to realize that my troubles stemmed from my creativity being spent. I hadn’t allowed myself a moment’s rest, and it showed in my work. I needed to reload.
I often find it more difficult to not write than to write each day. It’s an unsettling feeling to feel the burning need to do something and not be able to. It’s like sitting down at work and seeing you have nothing to do. As such, stepping away from writing altogether is uncomfortable for me. But I needed a break, and I found it in short fiction.
It says something about my singleminded dedication to Wide Horizon that, after I began writing it, my short fiction writing ground to a veritable halt. Over three years, I managed all of three manuscripts, leaving a smoldering trail of unfinished stories in my wake. Yet, the more I thought about it, I realized that I’m a way, Wide Horizon was born of my short fiction.
There is something liberating about sitting down and just writing. It’s therapeutic for a writer to allow himself to simply write about the first idea that presents itself, and see where it goes. It’s also deeply satisfying to set oneself to writing and, after only a day or two of work, have a finished piece to show for it.
That, more than anything, is why I elected to devote an entire month to writing short stories exclusively. In short fiction, I found my recent lack of direction to be an asset, at least initially. I relaxed. I let my mind wander, and in my writing I traced my path.
Devoting myself to short fiction presented another advantage. As my regular readers surely know, I’ve always loved baseball. In baseball, starting pitchers spend spring training “stretching out”. They begin throwing only an inning or two, but over the course of spring games they slowly build up their strength, their endurance, fine-tuning their game strategy until they’re able to throw a complete game again.
While this month presented a relaxing change of pace, I don’t feel that I was “exhaling”. Rather, I was stretching out. Each day I found myself able to pitch another inning, and as the month progressed my stories grew longer, more thoughtful. I found my technique redeveloping, and my work improved.
It’s been a great month, and I really needed this. As such, I do indeed plan to make this a yearly event, because I’ve come to realize that Short Fiction Month is my spring training.
And now, at last, I feel I am once again ready to pitch a complete game.