That’s when I actually became serious about writing. I knew I had the discipline, I knew writing was something I enjoyed and found satisfying. And I fell in with a genre critique group and said to myself, “Oh, I’m supposed to be writing short stories too. Sure, I’ll give it a try. After the novel, how hard could it be?”
Cue the laugh track. Yes, I was being stupid, but I figured out my own stupidity soon enough. I wrote a short story, and it was very hard. So much worldbuilding for so small a project! It drove me nuts. And then I had to rewrite the story, and rewrite the story, and it didn’t matter how much I rewrote this stupid story, because it was never going to work.
Over the course of the next year, I wrote more stories (although perhaps not as many as I should have). At some point I got the bright idea that I should also be reading short stories. (I know. Genius at work here.) That entire year, I hated writing short stories. I actively disliked it. I wasn’t even sure why I was doing it (probably stubbornness). I told myself that short stories didn’t matter anyway, because obviously I was meant to write novels.
Then I finally worked on a story that I enjoyed writing (probably not coincidentally, the one I just sold). I thought to myself, “Maybe short stories aren’t so bad. I mean, they’re annoying, but they have their good points.” I wrote more short stories.
Yesterday I found myself thinking, “You know, even if I got a book deal right now,” — for the record, this is impossible as I have nothing out on submission, but a girl likes to dream — “I’d still want to keep writing short stories.” I stopped and realized what I had just said, and shook my head at myself.
Why am I telling you this rather long story? Because so often we pigeonhole ourselves. Sometimes this can be useful to keep focus and make sure we’re prioritizing our goals, but sometimes we accidentally limit ourselves instead.
It’s especially easy to limit ourselves when we start something new and, surprise surprise, we’re not very good at it. It’s so easy to say, “I don’t like this anyway” or “This is too hard” or “I’m going to do shiny thing z instead.” I’ve seen this over and over as a music teacher. A lot of students thought they wanted to learn how to sing, but once they realized that singing is difficult, that it requires hard work and practice and dedication and failure, many of them would drop out. (Especially adults. It always seemed especially surprising to the adults.) A lot of my children students didn’t enjoy practicing the piano because it was hard and they weren’t very good. If they stuck with it for awhile, though, and were able to pass a certain threshold of competence, all of a sudden playing the piano became much more pleasurable.
I think a lot of pursuits are like this. When we’re starting out and don’t have many skills, it kind of sucks. But then as we start to improve, it gets more and more interesting and exciting. Remembering this helps us keep trying when we’re still in the stage of unpleasantness.
Has anyone else had an experience like mine? Care to share?