Super Short Sundays
I love words. I love using words. I love the way they come together to form thoughts and how thoughts become sentences and how sentences morph into paragraphs and paragraphs turn into things like blog posts, memoirs, short stories, novels (I might even reminisce about the days when words were turned into delightfully engaging lesson plans, PowerPoint presentations, handouts, and College courseware … but I’d really rather not).
When I was very young – before I learned to write – I ‘talked’ my stories (to say I was a ‘chatty’ child would be an understatement). My stuffed animals and my dolls were characters in elaborate ‘dramas’ that I put on (usually for no one but myself). My sister and I would sometimes play together, dressing up (we had our own version of Mr. Dressup’s ‘Tickle Trunk’), putting on puppet shows, hauling toys into ‘tents’ formed by draping our chenille bedspreads across the divide between our twin beds, or setting up elaborate ‘stages’ where teddy bears and dolls ‘participated’ in any number of obscure ‘plays’ that we ‘wrote’ as we went along. (NOTE: from this we learned many things – including the fact that a 60 watt light bulb can burn through the fur of a teddy bear that’s leaning against it in no time flat, and that you can’t hide the aroma of smoldering teddy bear fur from a mother with a keen sense of smell; the bear [Inter-hoochin-bokken-bikken-bokken – a story for another day] survived; my mother patched his armpit with brown felt and he’s still in the family – somewhere).
I always liked school, but most especially classes where I had to intertwine nouns with adjectives and verbs with adverbs to create stories (honestly, I’ve forgotten most of the strict ‘rules of grammar’, even though I subconsciously use them every day). Even before I knew what a ‘journalist’ was or what they did, I think – in the back of my mind – I knew I wanted to write for a living. I penned my first letter to the editor at thirteen (thanks to my father, who always encouraged me to speak my mind), worked on a school newspaper during high school, wrote poetry and kept a journal for most of my teenage years, and was devastated when my parents (with a little ‘encouragement’ from the high school guidance counsellor) denied me the opportunity to pursue my career of choice. Still, I kept writing – poetry, a few short stories, more than a few letters to the editor and op-ed pieces for the local newspaper, instructional materials, course content, and even a full-fledged textbook. In 1988, I wrote my first novel (in pencil, on foolscap, at the dining room table) while son #1 was in school and son #2 was attending a twice-weekly preschool play program. When it was done, I rented an IBM Selectric, typed it up, and sent it off to the publisher (I got what I now know was a ‘positive’ rejection – comments on the story’s strengths and weaknesses and an invitation to submit something else; unfortunately, all I saw at the time was the ‘thanks but no thanks’ message in the middle).
For another twenty years, I held on to my dream of ‘writing for a living’. I took a couple of night school courses, attended a dozen or so writing workshops, picked up and read various magazines about writing. In 2008 I took a chance and entered my first short story contest – and got an Honourable Mention (for “Waiting for Cats to Bark”); encouraged by that, I entered a few more and had some additional success (including for “Everything’s Just Ducky” and “How to Spell Bread”). I also received some wonderful feedback from successful, full-time writers (including more than one who said ‘You should be doing this full time’). Around that same time, I had finally had ‘enough’ of trying to convince a room full of twenty-somethings that ‘knowledge is power’ and a College education was a valuable asset that shouldn’t be wasted. I also realized that I had more years behind me than ahead of me. And so I quit my College teaching job to (finally) become a full time writer. And that’s what I’ve been doing ever since!
So, what am I getting to here, you might well ask (and I don’t blame you – sometimes when I sit down at the computer, I go off on tangents and end up telling a whole different story from the one I originally intended to write). The simple fact is: I love to write – A LOT. Which means I generally wax poetic for about 1,500 words a week in my blog posts (I seem to have the ability to set a word count in my head before I sit down – 1,500 words for a blog post, 2,500 for a scene in a novel, 5,000 for a chapter, etc. – and am pretty much able to stick to it without keeping an eye on the number of ‘Words’ creeping ever-upward in the lower left hand corner of my monitor). Unlike a lot of writers I know (who find 250 words – a single, double-spaced page of work – often unfathomable), I don’t have a problem with volume. What I do have a problem with is brevity. The most difficult piece I ever wrote was a 250 word story (“A Scream and Prayer”) for a ‘postcard’ story writing competition; I remember thinking, ‘How can you possibly write a story in only250 words?!?!?’ And I simply do not understand how ANYONE manages a MAXIMUM of 140 chars on Twitter – which explains why I have an account but have never ‘tweeted’ anything!)
In any case, I’ve decided to set myself a new challenge this year – writing ‘super short’ once a month (or thereabouts; you’ll notice how I eased my way into the idea of ‘writing short’ by ‘writing long’ on the whys and wherefores of my decision. SIGH, I’ll have to work on that). I might do this by sharing a short anecdote (sort of like “The Truth as They Know It”), penning a ‘flash’ (<750 words) or ‘postcard’ (<250 words) post, or attempting a super-short six word story (six word stories have been around for quite some time; the most ‘famous’ – and the one that apparently started the trend, was Hemingway’s “For sale: baby shoes, never worn.” There are numerous web sites dedicated to six words stories, and challenges and competitions related to writing them appear fairly regularly online, as well as in newspapers and magazines. Last year, Oprah challenged readers to ‘describe themselves in six words’; she printed some of the ‘best’ in the ‘O’ magazine and on her web site). So, encouraged by people like ‘Retired Ruth’ (who writes six word stories on Saturdays), I’m going to begin my ‘writing diet’ this month with the first six word story (if you ignore the approximately 1,100 words that come before it) I’ve ever written … which is surprising considering I’m well into my writing life here on … the other side of 55.