We all know the saying: When one door closes, another one opens.
Last month, I shared that I’d received some tough news from a colleague on my new novel–news that it wasn’t nearly as far along as I’d thought.
Many of you wrote to share your appreciation for my honesty in sharing this, for the vulnerability in it. Some of you wrote to say that it made you feel less alone with your own setbacks, your own crises of faith.
I was glad to hear that, because so often we feel alone in our journey as writers–so often we think that we must be the only ones feeling what we do, when that’s so rarely the case.
This month, I’m happy to say that it feels like a new door has opened up for me. It’s opened up because I’ve returned to a question that I believe is essential to the creative process:
What is it I really like?
Or, put another way:
What is it I really love?
I started making notes for a collection of short stories in 2015, as I was recovering from surgery. Sitting outside during a heat wave–under the influence, I’ll admit, of some good pain meds–I was struck by an idea: What if I wrote some stories made out of just the sorts of things I like to find in stories?
In some ways, it’s a pretty obvious question. I mean, why shouldn’t we write what we like?
But even so, it’s not a question I had ever really asked myself, and it’s not a question any writer I knew had ever asked herself either.
I started by making a list of these things I enjoyed most in fiction, as a reader. Things like:
- Secret languages and codes
- Magic books
- Stories that contained stories, and stories that contained works of art
- And–contrary to conventional wisdom in fiction–stories that contained dreams (which gave rise to the title of this work-in-progress, Dream Studies)
From there, I brainstormed and made notes for the plots of 12 stories, which I then went on to draft over the next three years–stories that have now been published in places like High Desert Journal, City of Weird, and Buckmxn Journal (one of them is forthcoming from the latter this December).
Then I turned my attention to back to revising my novel. A novel I thought was close to done.
When I received this news on my novel from my editor last month, it felt like a door closing, at least for the time being–closing on the part of my past that novel is set in, and closing on one long period of sustained work I’d just put into it.
But at the same time, it felt like one opening. Because a novel represents such a long, sustained period of focus on one imaginative space that delving back into this quirky collection of short fiction felt like playing hooky.
I’ve revised some of these stories, scrapped others, and now have actually begun drafting some brand new work in the same vein for this collection.
And in actually starting from scratch on a new story, for the first time in years, it’s occurred to me that no matter how creative we may imagine ourselves, it’s not often in life we consciously push ourselves to find our own edge as artists.
That’s what it feels like I’m doing now, in creating new stories for this collection. And in so doing, I’m reminded of how much weirder, smarter, and stranger our stories can be than we ourselves are (at least consciously).
And that is my invitation to you, here at the end of October, as the veil between the worlds grows thin and the shadows of the descending dark play tricks at the edge of consciousness:
- What do you love to find in your fiction?
- What questions are you asking in your work?
- And how might your imaginative work lead you deeper into what you do not know?
Many of us will never know what it is we’re actually capable of–athletically, say, or intellectually. Such is life, as there are only so many different passions we can focus on in one lifetime, and only so many hours in each day.
But my wish for you is what I wish for myself, as a writer: I hope that you challenge yourself to find your edge, and push yourself further into the unknown, in pursuit of what it is you love best.