Saturday, February 25, 2006

Discipline in Writing

When I first started out writing fiction, I wrote short stories that ranged from 2,000 to 5,000 words. But after six months or so of trying to fit everything I wanted the reader to know about my characters into such a small word count, I came to the conclusion that I needed to write a novel.

I wanted characters’ back stories and subplots, neither of which were feasible in short stories. And for every short story I’d read, I’d read a hundred novels, so my preference is obvious there as well.

One of my professors once said that writing a great short story requires discipline because the writer must make every word count, must make every detail and phrase have a meaning. And the shorter the story, the more discipline it takes. Some people might find that writing one is much more difficult than writing a novel.

But does that mean writing a novel takes less discipline? Sure, everything must have it’s meaning, must be connected, in a 100,000 word story, too. But does the higher word count give the writer more freedom to write a little looser than a tight short story?

When I told that same professor that I wanted to stretch my wings a bit and write a novel. He blew out his breath and nodded, then said that was a discipline in itself. Writing a novel is like training for and finishing a marathon. I took that to heart and remembered it every day over the next year or so as I wrote and learned and rewrote and revised and sweated over this different sort of discipline. And I’ve also learned that every word must still count, every paragraph must have a purpose, and every scene must force the reader to want more—only on a larger scale.

I find both types of stories an exercise in discipline, but at this point in my life, I also find that I enjoy and prefer the marathon of writing a novel.

So, what do you think is more difficult to write—a short story or a novel? And which do you prefer to write?

Happy Writing,

Michele Cwiertny