If at First You Don’t Succeed, Bag It and Go With the Flow

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Now before you get all over me for being negative, pessimistic and various other uncomplimentary adjectives, let me explain. They say there’s nothing you can’t do if you put enough determination behind it. I know this is true or I wouldn’t have made it through college. I even had an escape plan for if I flunked out somewhere along the line, given the sordid reputation of courses like Analytical Mechanics or Electricity and Magnetism, the latter usually referred to formally as E&M and informally as S&M. I was inclined to go with the latter. Miraculously, I made it through, no one more surprised than myself.

For anyone who thinks I’m some sort of genius, let me set that straight as well. I was a very mediocre student in high school. I cringe when I think of what my grades were. I disliked school tremendously, hated it, actually, and was glad when I got out. I should add, however, that I am ADHD and with a maiden name of Unterreiner, I was typically seated in the back of the room. That explains a lot. Anyway, it was seventeen years before I went back to college. By that time, I might add, I had six kids, all at home. And what did I major in? Here’s a hint:

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Physics.

OMG, what was I thinking? But I made it through. Not with the 4.0 GPA I wanted but pretty close, i.e. 3.48 and membership in Sigma Pi Sigma, the physics honor society.

I’m not saying this to brag, simply to illustrate that it can be done. In fact, one of my professors had declared in a general ed astronomy class I took before I was a full-time student that anyone could get a degree in physics if they wanted it badly enough. I seriously thought I would prove him wrong but his opinion prevailed.

So yes, wanting something badly enough usually will do the trick.

However, there is one thing that I’ve never been able to do and that’s write a short story. I took a creative writing class one time where we were supposed to be writing short stories. I got an A in the class but the professor told me later that nothing I wrote qualified in the technical sense as a short story because they lacked irony. Undaunted, I kept writing and soon discovered there was an even bigger problem. I couldn’t write a short story because it always turned into a novel.

I kid you not.

My unpublished novel, “Phaethon’s Ashes,” started as a short story and became a novel. “Beyond the Hidden Sky” was intended be a novel but it turned into a series.

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So now that I’ve completed the four books of The Star Trails Tetralogy I thought I’d write a short story or two, spinoffs from minor characters in the series, to give away. I had a couple ideas and the other day I decided to get one started.

Big mistake.

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Short story? Right. I’m already into chapter four and the end is nowhere in sight. But I’m having a blast, back in my creative element which is one of the greatest benefits of writing. Of course starting with a character who’s already developed makes this all the more likely to occur.

So why can’t I write a short story, you ask? One reason is I get into too many details. My characters come alive, take over, and pretty soon they’re driving the train and I’m just trying to keep up. I start with an idea and seldom know where it’s going to end up. For me, that constitutes the most fun, however, in many cases not knowing myself what’s going to happen next.

You would think that if I can’t write anything other than a novel then I should at least be able to crank one out in a few weeks or maybe months. Nope, that’s not me, either. I wish I could and I truly admire those who can, but for me that’s another no-can-do.

As a science fiction author I’m somewhat obsessive about the science being as accurate as possible. Anyone who knows me probably would leave out “somewhat.” That, of course, means research. I only have a Bachelor’s Degree so I’m not that savvy when it comes to the good stuff. Research takes time but it’s part of the fun.

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I’ve dug through my personal library for relevant material including my hero, Richard Feynman’s “Lectures on Physics”, a couple old college textbooks including Tipler’s “Modern Physics” and Frankl’s “Electromagnetic Theory”, plus I’ve bookmarked a half-dozen related websites as well as articles on Wikipedia. So far I’ve purchased four books online and three DVDs from The Great Courses as background and research material. Of course by the time I get through all that there’ll be even more ideas to incorporate. And no telling how much more will come along in the meantime. Serendipity always directs me to a plethora of relevant references. Whether or not that’s a good thing is hard to say.

The length of this blog is a case in point. I could have simply said “I can’t write a short story because I get carried away and it becomes a novel” and been done with it. That would have been short enough to tweet along with a few hashtags. Did I?

No.

At this point my goal is to at least keep this blog under a thousand words.

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So I give up. I can’t write a short story and have quit trying. From now on I’m going with the flow. Novel flow, that is. In the past I’ve cranked out a first draft in about six weeks but whether that will apply this time is hard to tell. Furthermore, filling in the gaps in the first cut is where I really get into my element. Stay tuned. Once I get it drafted I’ll be looking for beta readers so if you’re interested let me know.

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2 thoughts on “If at First You Don’t Succeed, Bag It and Go With the Flow

  1. Marcha, since you admit that your characters take over, I suspect you and I have a similar writing style. When I originally decided to switch from technical writing to fiction, I outlined the entire book and had cards for each character, plus picture of their homes, the town, etc. I even had maps …
    I fought those characters until chapter 3, then tucked my lovely outline in a drawer and let the characters take over. (I recall thinking that I’d do this for a day or two, just to get them out of my head – they took over.) It took me four books before I realized outlining and pre-planning were a waste of time, at least for the way I wrote fiction. My method for writing fiction has no similarity to the technical writing I spent most of my career penning.
    The only way I know to control the length of a novel is to control the number of perspectives I write the story from. In other words, the more points of view, the longer the book becomes. For the way I write, three seems to be a wise maximum.
    Here is to you for being brave enough to ‘go with the flow’ 😉

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    • I love it, Jeanne! You made my day! I, also, have a background as a technical writer. I’m hoping maybe I can control this one a little out of the gate because I’m writing it in 1st person. So we shall see. I think this method represents true creative flow as opposed to forced, logical progression and it feels good. I, too, have surrendered and it makes me smile to know I’m not alone. 🙂 Thanks for following and the comment.

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