Monday, February 22, 2016

The Buchanan Book of the Dead, Part 2

The process, stats and feelings

I made a decision to take a hiatus from the digital world last year and do all of my writing in composition notebooks. I made a goal of 25 short stories.

I had completed that goal by the fall. The whole process felt very good to me. I used eleven 200 page composition notebooks over the period of a year. I've been writing in these composition notebooks for twenty years. Over that time, I imagine, eleven notebooks a year is about the average.

I've been writing short stories for a very long time. However long it has been since I wrote my first short story, it's really been since 2009 that I've taken them seriously. And by 2015, that's only been six years. I feel like the act of writing a short story is a pleasurable act. Writing a good short story is a laborious thing to do.

The year's work, all 25 short stories, amounted to about 50,000 words, or what we may consider to be the length of a modern novel. I wrote 25 short stories each averaging 2,000 words. I took the title of my favorite story, “The Buchanan Book of the Dead” and decided to lump all the stories together as a collection.

I think they work as a collection. Thematically, they are very similar. I think they're similar stylistically too, namely because I wrote them in one stretch, in 2015.

The short story “The Buchanan Book of the Dead” sums up so much of my views on life. The story takes place in a coastal Texas tourist town. All of the characters work in restaurants or fast food outlets. The story is about a boy who wants a girl and the girl wants this boy to go away. The story is also about being young and rebelling. The girl has left college, her family and her family's church on a personal pilgrimage to find the meaning of life. And perhaps that's what I write about, the personal pilgrimage to find some sort of meaning.

2015, and this group of stories really is a personal pilgrimage for me as a writer. All I wanted to do was write freely and I did.

What this group of stories over the series of months taught me is that, yes to write a good short story, it's more than what's on the page. To write a good short story, there must be at least 99 bad ones before it.

I think to write short stories and nothing but short stories is a very specific process. I also think that the first draft of the first short story is much rougher than the first draft of the 25th short story. I did notice it got easier the more short stories I wrote.

After accomplishing my goal when I decided to write subsequent drafts, the real work began. As any writer will tell you, the first draft is the only fun draft. It took much more time to rewrite. This is true of everything. A 2,000 word short story in a notebook is about 20 written pages. When I'm uninterrupted, I can scribble that in about an hour. To type that 20 pages takes at least two hours. I'd consider the act of transposing the second draft because there is a little editing that happens. Subsequent drafts take hours. They have to take hours. I'll sometimes stare at a single sentence for hours before fixing it or burying it. That's what it means to be a writer.

I did that 25 times, for each story. And when they were all updated, I can't say completed since that may never happen, I tried to see them as a whole body of work.

The stats? 1 manuscript length piece of approximately 50,000 words. 25 short stories. One year of work.

My feelings? The Buchanan Book of the Dead is not bad. It was a good way to spend a year. There are a few good short stories.

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