Sunday, July 31, 2011

Sunday Discussion for Short Story Writers

I'd love to have you all sitting around a circle because I'd like to know more about your process as they call it. I originally posted a long list of questions but Rob Kitchin suggested doing one at a time so it could function as an ongoing discussion. Here's the first one for those interested in answering it. Next Sunday I will post another if interest merits it.

1. How often do you finish the rough draft
of a story in one sitting?

I never finish the rough draft in one sitting. I would say it takes me about two weeks to finish a rough although not very rough draft and that is working on it nearly every day. I am very slow because I start with word one each time I sit down. So when I am done the rough draft, the story is pretty smooth from all the rewriting. At least the first half is.


Rob Kitchin said...

Patti, there's a fair few questions here. We could probably have a bit of a discussion about each of them if you posted them as a series, one question at a time over a few days and get more of a roundtable discussion feel?

Michael Bracken said...

1. How often do you finish the rough draft of a story in one sitting?

I don't write rough drafts, but I do occasionally write a complete story in one sitting.

2. What is the average length of time it takes you to finish a polished story?

Actual writing time? From a few hours up to about 10 hours, Rarely more. Rarely less. However, years may pass between the time I make notes for a story I'd like to write and when I actually write it.

3. Do you outline your stories?

Rarely, and never in detail.

4. Do most of your story ideas come from your own life, stories you read about, a flash of an idea? What?

They come from everywhere. Lately I've been writing for a lot of anthologies so calls for submission are sparking many of my new story ideas.

4. How do you know when a story is truly done?

When it gets published.

5. Do you have someone read it before sending it out?


6. Do you take suggestions seriously or are you your own best critic?

I am my own best critic. But if an editor with the power to accept a story suggests a change I'll certainly try to accommodate the suggestion.

7. Do you let it sit or send it out immediately?

Immediately, if there's a market. Occasionally I write a story and have to wait for the market to find me.

8. Do you read your story aloud?


9. Do you simultaneously submit if there are no restrictions?


10. How do you decide where to send it? What is the most unusual place you have placed a story?

These days I usually write-to-market so I know where I'm sending the story before I ever write it.

11. Do you often rewrite a story months later, suddenly seeing what was wrong with it?

Rarely these days, but I did when I was a beginning writer.

12. Do you like reading your stories once they appear in print or do you get the queasy feeling you could have done better?

A published story is the best I could write at the time I wrote it. Even if I could do better now, I can't change the story. So, I find it better to look forward and strive to improve rather than look backward and fret about what could have been.

Rob Kitchin said...

If it's less than 2,000 words then more than likely I'll draft in one sitting. I tend to write 1-2,000 words a sitting, so if the story's 6,000 words, that'll generally be 3 sittings plus a read through/editing sitting. I'll go back over what I drafted in the previous sitting before I start drafting new material. The sittings could all be spaced over a day or weekend, or sometimes longer depending on what else is taking up my time, or whether I want to let the story simmer round in the back of my head for a while to see what emerges.

Travis Erwin said...


I usually think I know how the basic story is going to play out and i have every intention of creating a rough draft in a single setting but somewhere along, at times halfway and others only a few paragraphs in i realize my original idea isn't going to work and then I stop to ponder possibilities for the characters I've created.

pattinase (abbott) said...

When I first sit down, I usually only have a character or an image in my mind. So you can see how far that gets my the first time. Maybe 600 words at best and then the next day I rework those words and get maybe another 400-500.

Charles Gramlich said...

For flash fiction, I usually write the rough draft in one sitting. And it is usually pretty rough. For longer short stories, I never do, but when I finish the draft it is usually pretty well polished.

Rob Kitchin said...

I usually start with a phrase or an idea, or a hook to get going, then just let it unfold - usually riffing with some dialogue. I've no real idea what the story is going to be about or the end; that kind of emerges on the way, with the action and dialogue nearly always surprising me with how it unfolds. That's usually enough to get me to the end of a flash fiction piece in one go.

Ron Scheer said...

Just tried fiction writing again after a long while. I don't start a story without having enough of it worked out to know where it's going. That takes 2-3 days of just thinking. I can then write about 1000-1500 words at a sitting. Don't start a new one until that one's done.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I rarely consciously plot a story. It seems to happen, for better or worse, in my unconscious mind.

Shirley said...

Michael, I love this comment. .

How do you know when a story is truly done?
When it gets published. - TOO CUTE.

I rarely write a short story in one sitting. I'll have to go out and ride a bike, walk, or do something while I "think" about it bit. And I often have several stories going at once. I'm not a fast writer. But I admire those who are.

Katherine Tomlinson said...

I'd say I write a complete draft in one sitting about half the time. I write two short stories a week for my gig at NoHo Noir, and they usually run about 1200-1500 words, which is my sweet spot. Since I know the characters well and have a broad outline of the overall plot, they don't take that long.

For other stories, like you Patti, I rarely consciously plot things out, letting my subconscious do the heavy lifting. I LOVE writing stories to prompts, both verbal and photographic. What I'll do is pound it out and then go back the next day. Then I proof it one more time than I really think is necessary because there's always something I've missed.

Fred Zackel said...

I wrote two of my best shorts in one setting apiece. Both were written after I bolted awake at 4 or 5 am. In both cases I KNEW the story completely. Both cases I left the bed, sat in the living room and wrote straight through to the ending. One was "The Bicycles Were Gravestones," about a ten year old kid confronting a neighborhood pedophile, and that title was the defining metaphor. The second one was "Creepier than a Whorehouse Kiss," about a bounty hunter who clears Seattle squats of renegade robots ... and both stories were accepted within the first hour I sent them out. I dream that the muse (or shooting star, or ...) strikes again in my sleep. Actually, I just remembered another short story, "That Fabulous Catch!" was also a dream I had that woke me up. About ... "the young man in Ohio who caught a shooting star ..." That sotyr's ending resisted me for a couple years. It finally comes out ... this September? Huh. I love my dreams.

Iren said...

When I do write short stories I tend to write the first draft in one sitting. I find that they work best when I have a flow and spark that I pretty much get in one shot.

Michael Bracken said...

Thanks, Shirley.

It seems that I replied to Patti's original post in the moments before she shortened it from 13 questions (really; there were two #4s) to 1 at Rob's suggestion, so I seem to have answered all the questions in advance. Do I get extra credit for working ahead of the rest of the class?

So, I'll expand on my first answer:

Once upon a time, back in the typewriter days, I wrote multiple drafts. Using word processing software has changed how I write so that I don't usually have a "draft" these days until I have a final or near-final draft. (Near final means the draft still needs a final proofread and the story is too long or too complex or my eyes are too tired to proofread onscreen.)

And, because I'm not writing rough drafts, it's more difficult to write a complete story in one sitting unless it's quite short or I have a long block of time available.

But it sure feels good when a story flows out like that.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Michael-I will post your answers each week. I've been out seeing a lousy movie while you guys were working hard.
I once had a story that flowed out like that. It got published in the first of the two editions of MURDERLAND. However, I felt like someone took over my brain and spewed forth venom. It was a dark and unpleasant story. I have never had that happen again. My husband was away and being alone allowed this guy to enter my head.

Anonymous said...

Are what I'd like to call "Alert Observers" also invited to comment. or is this writers only?

pattinase (abbott) said...

Alert Observers are encouraged to participate.

Erik Donald France said...

Torturous process, every time.

Charlieopera said...

Usually a few days (draft). A few more days to a couple of weeks after to polish; the more distance from the original draft, the more polished.

Al Tucher said...

1. Almost never. I have done it a few times with flash stories, but I haven't written one of those in a while. For a couple of years now, everything I have written has fallen into the 7-10,000 word range. I must have some nefarious master plan to make my stories as hard to publish as possible. Grumble grumble.

pattinase (abbott) said...

Sometimes I feel it is over written by the time I send it out.

More and more zines want stories under 2500 now. I have a real problem with that length.

Anonymous said...

First day, lots of thought, a few concept sentences and the ending. Next couple of days filling in the rest. Last day working on the opener.

This always seemed to me the best approach, and I have a few of these first day efforts in a folder, with the ending and opener, but doubt I'll ever finish anything.

pattinase (abbott) said...

They usually brew in my head for a while before I start to write. I rarely change my opening. It was the pathway in for me.

Al Tucher said...

Patti, I also had a period when everything came out around 2500. I can't explain it.

John Kenyon said...

It depends on the length. If I have a quick snapshot idea that will be a flash piece, I almost always complete it in a sitting. If it's longer, it can take days or weeks. Sometimes I have nothing but the idea for a beginning -- a character and a situation -- and I get it down and perhaps don't return to it for weeks, waiting until the next step presents itself.

Todd Mason said...

First draft in one sitting? Always. Too often, that's the final draft. Of course, I haven't finished the three novels I've started even in rough draft, though I have outlined one of them in detail. I haven't written any novellas yet.

pattinase (abbott) said...

I would have to sit for about 10 hours to get a rough draft in one sitting. Could never do it. I need it to gestate or something.