Sometimes you’ve got hold of something. Something special. Maybe not special enough to cause men to forgo sex and women to forgo chocolate. But something uncommon enough to keep you from interrupting to refill your coffee, or special enough to make you put off that meal for an extra hour, or five, or six.
At a minimum, I write three three short stories every month for my subscription series. That’s about 15,000 words right there. Month in, month out. Add to that other assignments and projects, and you can imagine my head’s pretty well buried in the keyboard. It’s a crazy mix of artistic pursuit and work ethic. And it doesn’t allow a whole lot of room for sightseeing, detours or prima donna moments. But that’s how you do it. Whether you’re full time, part time or any time you can make the time. You’re always at it.
Working “short” as I do, I’m winging it most of the time. Usually some sort of hook starts it off. A choice bit of dialogue, a clever murder gag, an inventive piece of hard-boiled action. Deadlines force me to run with it and run with until I run out of time, pounding it out as best as I can until the very end.
Those are a lot of the practical aspects of my work. The artistic portion might prove a heap less romantic than many might think. At its simplest, the ongoing challenges don’t get any more basic. Can I write better? Can I make a particular piece better? How do I make this scene or dialogue play?
There are also larger lines at play, artistic aspirations that weave through isolated sentences and paragraphs as well as entire bodies of work. Can I write a yarn that centers on ethnic differences without referring to the likes of skin color? Can a hard-boiled yarn address euthanasia? Can I craft a certain story backwards and tell it as end, middle and beginning?
All those artsy-shmartzy and working stiff approaches rolled into one can feel like a journeyman experience. Hour by hour, day by day, plugging away. Nose to the grindstone while putting your heart and soul into it. That’s one peculiar mix. It can become cool at times, a reserved undertaking, no different than putting in a shift, only the shift never ends.
But once in a while you get a breakthrough. Or that cliche aha, eureka moment. You find yourself in the midst of a scene or an arc or a story idea that shakes you up like a mixmaster. That’s a moment that blasts through the daily regimen like a cold shower. It wakes you up, stirs you up, sets your heads and fingers on fire.
That’s when the new pressure kicks in. Now you’ve got to fulfill that promise. Now you’ve got to make it sing. Sure. Bang—you’re alive.