Thursday, December 11, 2008

Writing books

A student asked:

"When do you know when you're ready to write a book?"

Most new writers, I think, start with short pieces--essays, articles, short stories. There's the gratification of starting and finishing. Jumping into a book length manuscript takes a ton of commitment and new writers don't know how committed they are, generally. It's a little bit like running: Before you run a marathon, you will run around your neighborhood, run longer routes, and get in shape before you attempt a marathon.

You may find, in writing short pieces, that you want to say more, that short pieces are, well, too short. That's when you know.

Or you have a burning passion to tell a story that needs more room than a short piece can offer.

My short stories became longer and longer, which is when I knew it was time for a book. I still write short pieces, but I always seem to need a book-length project in the works.

What about you, out there? When did you know it was time? Or do you remain loyal to the short form?


Anonymous said...

I think it was Hemingway who said, "I never set out to write a novel. They just turned out that way."
I might be wrong about it being Hemingway but I doubt it because I seldom am.

Anonymous said...

On the other hand, it may have been Cygnus Tomashevsky.

Anonymous said...

No - it was Hemingway, alright.

Brad Green said...

I think you're right that when the short stories start to automatically grow in length, then the structures are in place for the novel. It's especially telling if one sits down to write a flash piece and that comes in at 2600 words and could easily be twice that. Such a thing happened to me recently and I was pleased to see it.

GutsyWriter said...

I had no choice. With a detailed journal, which I wrote in for a year, lots of adventures and an important message to share, I knew I had to write a memoir.

Jim Murdoch said...

I must be one of the exceptions. I only turned to short stories when I found myself stuck on my third novel and I only wrote my first novel when I was suffering from writer's block and hadn’t written a poem in three years and even then I never sat down to write a novel, that's just what I ended up with; for the previous twenty years it had been nothing bar poetry. I wrote about forty stories and then went back to my novel. I've only written two stories since and they came out of the blue.

Bittersweet Sage said...

Two things.

Thing the first: My doctoral dissertation. That taught me to build a writing habit. It also proved that I really could create a book-sized thing.

Thing the second: The royalty checks for short stories. The recognition of getting published is always ALWAYS wonderful, but earning a few hundred bucks a year for hundreds of hours of work is not a viable business model. (Mind you, two draft novels and NO royalty checks is not a great business model either...)

Joanne said...

I started out writing short, freelance articles before I took on a fiction manuscript. But I still occasionally dip back into the freelance writing, often during a transition or waiting period.

Todd said...

From the beginning, I wanted to write novels (I've written three, all unpublished so far. I've never really felt accomplished in the short forms, although everything I've published has been a short form, although short fiction seems the most difficult of the forms. The short form I like best is newspaper feature writing.

jj said...

I've always known I wanted to write books. Articles are fun, but books are where I really get to dig into a subject. That is the challenge I'm seeking.