For some months now I have been working off and on at a sci-fi short story, which has actually grown into more of a novella. The last time I worked in this genre was around sixth grade, when a story heavily derivative of Star Wars consumed much of my attention and passion. I am pleased to report that the current story is a huge improvement over the work of my inexperienced and undisciplined eleven-year-old brain.
But progress on it has come slowly, largely because most of my writing time for the past year has been devoted to romance short stories for a market that regularly buys my work. A bird in the hand, you know. I really started cranking up the output when I realized the editors were not averse to taking two stories from a single author in the same edition. I like doubling my earnings as well as anyone. So far, though, the two-in-a-month scenario has panned out only a handful of times. In a way this is good. This stockpile of not-yet-published romance stories freed me up to devote my attention to that bird in the bush, my sci-fi story, and for many weeks now I have done that. Still the work went slower than I wanted, especially over the holidays.
Last week, in an attempt to get a half-Nelson on the situation, I took a personal writer’s retreat at my father-in-law’s time-share in Canyon Lake. I arrived late Wednesday afternoon and stayed till Saturday morning. That’s two full days of solitary writing plus a little extra at the ends. It was time well spent. I didn’t stir outdoors until Saturday morning. The story is now more than half finished to the point of what I call a workable draft and thoroughly plotted out in notes. I still need some technical information and other input before I can effectively write the remaining scenes.
I’m glad my stockpile gives me the freedom to work on something new that I’ll use to try to crack a new market, but I can’t help wishing all the stockpile stories had already sold, two per issue, so I’d have a wad of money coming to me. I told Greg so this morning. He replied that he’d like some more karate students, too, but there is only so much we can do. We both have to hang in there.
The problem, of course, is that man is mortal. We can only hang in there so long before running out of time. As I get older I grow more impatient about some things, and wish I could go back in time to light a fire under my younger self. If I had worked with this much industry and determination in my twenties . . . if I had known then what I know now . . . ah, well. There is an energy behind such thoughts that can be harnessed into productivity or squandered in ineffectual regret. The important thing is that I thoroughly enjoyed my retreat and am grateful to my understanding family for making it possible. Greg cooked several meals—a dinner and two breakfasts that I’m aware of—and Anna finished the frijoles I’d started Wednesday before leaving. The house was tidy and welcoming when I came home Saturday morning.
I took a book along on my retreat, called Writing in Flow: Keys to Enhanced Creativity, by Susan K. Perry, Ph.D. I have read this book before but wanted to mine its pages again. Here is a noteworthy passage.
Research has found that creators do not learn to increase the ratio of successful “hits” to overall output over a lifetime of work. Keeping in mind that all such generalizations are suspect when it comes to predicting your unique life’s outcome, the gist of the theory is this: the more prolific you are overall, the more likelihood of your producing great work. At least if we judge by the historical record of eminent creators, what matters most is to keep producing. If you would create more great works, you must create more.
Here is another, in a similar vein.
It’s not a matter of simply telling yourself, “I love to write.” It may be, rather, more a question of reminding yourself, first, that you have succeeded at other activities in the past and so you can at this one too, and second, that, regardless of your past successes, it takes persistence to succeed at anything. If you can keep that thought operating during the most discouraging days, you’ll become a more resilient person, a more confident writer and, inevitably, someone who writes more—and that’s what it takes to improve your craft.