Writing a novel can be intense and emotionally draining, so it helps to take a step back sometimes and do something else to relieve the creative tension that often surges during the six months it takes me to write a first draft. I like to tackle short stories during these breaks. They allow me to keep writing while switching gears to refresh my mind on the story at hand.
I’m currently working on my fifth novel, The Fire Within, which in a very intense story about a wounded Iraqi war veteran who returns home and struggles to resume his life after losing his legs to an improvised explosive device while on patrol outside Baghdad. As you can imagine, the story is fraught with emotion and intense imagery that makes it exhausting. Trying to capture the essence of the story in all its raw nature is difficult, so I find myself going over each chapter again and again tweaking it to set the proper tone. It feels like it may take longer than the usual six months to finish this one.
After a few weeks of writing I found myself needing a break from the story, not only to rejuvenate my creative senses but to stretch other writing muscles. It’s almost like doing the same focused exercise every day for weeks and realizing that other parts of my body need activity too. I definitely didn’t want to break my writing habit, so I switched to a short story instead.
I keep a list of short story ideas so that I have story concepts at the ready when I’m in need of a break from my novels. It’s almost like going outside after being cooped up inside all day. The new concept or idea frees my mind to do something totally different and helps me keep my momentum when I return to the novel. These breaks are a necessary part of the writing process for me, and since I have yet to break through the publishing process, I’m not under any strict deadlines at the moment.
I’m currently writing a creepy short story about a man who is obsessed with the object of his affections. The obsession, of course, goes too far, but his grasp on reality is a little bit skewed. It’s a first-person narrative, so the reader is forced to view the world through his not-so-stable lens, which makes it even creepier. Once the reader realizes what has happened, I hope it elicits a run-for-the-exits response. That’s my intention anyway since it’ll be Halloween in a few weeks.
This short story couldn’t be further afield from my current novel, so it gets my mind thinking in a different way, and when I return to my novel next week, I hope to feel like it’s new in some ways and that should improve the story. Anytime I can look at a familiar subject with fresh eyes, it’s bound to make the results better. I just needed this “short” break to make it happen.