I’m writing a short story!
Published: May 23, 2015
So, I want to start writing fiction. You know, like creative writing stuff. Nothing serious. Short stories, mostly. My goal isn’t to get published (which would be rad), but to get better at writing. Get better at telling stories. Get better at generating ideas and solving narrative problems. Stretch my imagination. Learn what makes a character sympathetic and a conversation believable. Mostly though, my goal is to have fun.
I have a close friend who’s been writing for much longer than I have, and I’m trying to setup a writing accountability system with him. A few months back, we swapped prompts to get the process started. It took a lot of weeks for me to overcome my fear of the blank page, but I’ve finally found a bit of momentum. I’m far from finished, but I do have some words to share. Specifically, the first “chapter” of my first short story. It’s not really a first draft since I’ve been tinkering with it for a while, but I don’t think it’s a final draft either.
Feedback is welcome, but please go easy on me. This is the first creative writing I’ve done since 2009.
My plan is to regularly post snippets of my work-in-progress story on this blog until I finish writing it. If a week goes by, and you haven’t gotten another piece of the story, feel free to shout at me. I’m excited about this little project, but I’m way out of my comfort zone with it, so I might need some encouragement to finish.
Enjoy. And thanks for reading!
19) Don’t get upset by things out of your control. Don’t linger on what can’t be changed. Move on. Move quickly.
The Man couldn’t take any more. Well, that’s not exactly true. It would take much more before The Man’s calm exterior buckled, but his psyche was straining. The theatrics on display one booth over interrupted every conversation he started with himself. Every thought pierced by quiet fighting. Every bite flavored by shared discomfort.
12) Be mindful of the present. Life is made up of thousands of todays. Today is made up of thousands of right nows.
The Man tried to focus on the half-eaten grilled cheese sandwich in his hands, his fingers shiny from the grease, but the simple act proved impossible for him. Strained conversation. Forced laughter. Awkward pauses. The booth next door really was distracting. Frustrated, The Man began to pack his things to move tables. He reached to close the notebook lying open in front of him but stopped shy of brushing his fingers against its off-white pages.
3) Write your goals down. They’re not real until they’re on paper. They’re harder to ignore once they’re real.
His hand hung motionless two inches above the pages. Two inches above the fresh blue ink. Two inches above the list that governed most moments of most of his days. The same list he had written more than a hundred times this year. Once every day, sometimes more.
7) There’s no such thing as luck, only persistence.
The Man had his list memorized. He had copied it so many times he could trace every loop, squiggle, and slip of his handwriting with his eyes closed. Some nights, instead of counting sheep, The Man recited his list quietly to the night until his determined words gave way to hopeful dreams.
5) Be clean. Be neat. A healthy mind starts with healthy hygiene.
His focus shifted from his list to his grease-stained fingers still hanging motionless above the table. Suddenly uncomfortable, The Man reached for a napkin.
17) Be thorough. A job half finished is potential half wasted.
The brown paper felt thin and cheap in his hands. The grease soaked through before he could even start scrubbing. When he did, the napkin quickly fell to pieces. He reached for a second and continued to scrub. Then a third. Then a fourth. One finger at a time. He scrubbed until the spent brown paper formed a tiny mountain on the far side of the table.
28) You can’t learn if you don’t listen first.
Unsatisfied but content with his cleaner fingers, The Man started packing up again. As he packed, without meaning to, he stepped out of his noisy head and into the noisy diner around him. For the first time since he stepped into the diner’s fluorescent buzz, The Man listened to the world as it spoke to him.
2) Negative emotions are often rooted in missing perspective. Don’t take anything for granted. You have more to offer than can be observed.
He heard the sounds of stretched vinyl settling underneath the obese patrons.
9) Simplify. More isn’t better. Routine isn’t bad.
He heard the sounds of glass syrup containers clinking together. A toast to the buttermilk pancakes talked about many towns over. Maple buttermilk. Golden honey. Blackstrap molasses. Gourmet blueberry. Red raspberry. Aged apricot. Maybe a dozen others.
13) Strive for authenticity. Don’t put the expectations of others above your need to be yourself.
He heard the sounds of straws grasping at ice as beverages ran dry. The sounds of greedy silverware scraping against empty plates. The sounds of empty conversation followed by empty laughter. False tones thinly veiled.
Do I sound like that?
The Man was used to empty laughter. He employed it often in the company of his own friends.
Are they really though? My friends. Is that all friendship is? Being friendly to friendliness?
The Man wasn’t sure. He hadn’t been sure for a while, and he was becoming unsure more and more frequently. His doubts, once whispers, were starting to find their lungs.
If I wait, will it find me?
A familiar question. His answer was always the same.
No. Probably not.
The Man was tired of shallow, safe, and calculated. He wanted unpredictable. He wanted challenging. He wanted warmth. He wanted to connect with someone. Really connect. He wanted to give parts of himself up to something bigger than he could ever be alone. Something he could feel but couldn’t describe. He wanted to feel wanted. It had been too long since The Man felt truly and deeply wanted.
The conversation next door with its strained small talk, forced laughter, and awkward pauses felt real. More real than the rest of the diner at least. Half standing at his table, The Man realized he wasn’t ready to step back into his own head just yet, so he sat back down, and he started listening.
Image credit: Florian Klauer