Short and sweet

Writing a book is a long, hard slog, we all know that. Weeks bleed into months, months can become years – it takes a lot to sustain yourself on what is often a lonely old road. Sometimes the view is glorious, exhilarating, while at other times your feet are tired and the thunderclouds up ahead are dark and threatening. And that’s just the writing part, let alone getting ready for publication.

But, like long-distance travellers, we need nourishment, something to sustain our souls when the going gets tough. And, I imagine, my sustenance is probably not radically different to that of the writing community at large: reading. But therein lies a problem.

Having started on the next book, I am beginning to feel the self-induced pressure that every spare minute should be spent hunched over the keyboard. Time never felt so precious.

But reading is a compulsion, isn’t it? And, as with the creative process itself, I start to go loopy if I don’t indulge regularly – ie every day. But with so much to do, getting stuck into a book for an hour at bedtime each night is starting to induce feelings of guilt, which is both ridiculous and frustrating. This is largely because when I’ve been at work all day, there will have come a point when I said to myself, ‘Tonight you shall plot and plan, commit your thoughts to paper, until the darkness closes in and the cats have prized open the fridge.’

TC Cover 2Getting through a big, weighty book demands attention for Lord knows how many nights in a row, and that’s a lot of guilt to deal with when writing should take priority. However, last week a solution presented itself, like a light guiding my hand towards the shelf in my local book store. And that analogy of light is particularly apt, because the more I think of it, the more I realise that this solution is BLINDINGLY OBVIOUS …

… The short story. I have no idea why this didn’t occur to me before. Habit, I suppose; a tendency to be seduced by novels that will slowly draw me in, then take me to places where I can stay a while.

My saviour turned out to be TC Boyle. I was already familiar with his work, having dipped in once or twice with his novels, but now I’m the proud owner of his Stories collection. I can’t begin to convey how good it is, and the fact that I can alternate it with my nocturnal scribblings is a source of deep joy – and relief. Of course, I haven’t kissed full-length novels goodbye – that would be weird – but during those times when working life comes knocking with its incessant demands, I now have a release valve for some of that self-induced pressure.

But now I’ve also started to wonder … what next? It’ll take a while to get through Mr Boyle’s opus, but I have to know that there is more around the corner when I get to the final page. I need literary back-up, some more players on my team. It seems to me that the world of short stories just might be an exciting one to explore, and who knows, a bit further down the line I may even trim things down further by mixing it up with a bit of poetry. That way I could read and write on the same night. Perfect.

So, any recommendations would be greatly appreciated. Answers on a postcard please, as they say.

Wait a second. Postcards …

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