I was not much of a joiner as a kid. I attended thirteen schools between kindergarten and my high school graduation, so I never felt quite confident enough to get involved. When I was a sophomore, I decided to try out for the track team. My friend Stacey had gone out for track freshman year and I was feeling a little abandoned after school. I had never played sports, but thought perhaps staying between two white lines on an oval was something I had the finesse to handle. Girls’ track was pretty popular and the team was big. Even though we had sixty girls, the coach had to cut a number of people every fall when tryouts were held. Our school had been #1 in our league for several years in a row. I was not quick, but I was in pretty good shape, so I was tagged a middle distance/distance runner. That made me a primary candidate for the mile and the two mile and a back up if all else went wrong and we needed someone to run the half mile.
Our coach, who also coached distance runners at
During the actual track meets, it was a little tough sometimes to wait the entire meet until the last event, the two mile. I ran the two mile a lot. Friends, fellow athletes and parents loudly cheered on the shorter, more exciting events early in the day, but even the most dedicated of grandparents had a hard time maintaining any kind of excitement when watching a group of girls run around a track eight times. In those days, it usually took the front runners twelve minutes or more to finish – my personal best was 12:10. It was much more a psychological than a physical challenge to run the two mile. I used to sing the lyrics to Don McLean’s American Pie in my head to keep distracted.
I moved again before my junior year, so that was my one high school experience in varsity sports. I’m still a little proud to say that I lettered that year – won and placed in enough races to earn the big wooly grey “D” to sew on the crimson (it was really maroon) jacket with my name embroidered on it.
Writing a novel is a little like being a two mile runner – more like training for the marathon really. People are vaguely aware you’re doing it, it’s not especially glamorous and it’s a little painful to watch. There are no cheers as you complete each lap – at best maybe a “you’re doing great, keep going!” now and then, but it’s truly a solitary accomplishment and even if you finish, there’s no guarantee you’ll win or even place.
As I study and begin to learn more about craft I’ve begun to think I need to do some wind sprints. I need little bursts of accomplishment to bolster the long process I’ve undertaken so I’ve decided to pen some short stories while I continue to hammer out my manuscript. By starting out with so ambitious an endeavor, I’ve denied myself the time to experiment and writing some short stories seems the logical outlet for trying different things. I’ve also put myself in the awkward position of starting a huge undertaking with absolutely no real validation or feedback about my writing and too much insecurity to look for it yet. I’d never dream of showing my work in progress to anyone at this point, but perhaps the short story will give me the opportunity to share a piece of myself the next time someone asks what I’m working on. It feels less threatening.
Lots of well known authors either wrote short stories prior to writing novels or do both. Some novelists don’t write them at all. Did you write short stories prior to embarking on your first novel? Do you still? Do you consider short stories a training ground for embarking onto that much more formidable form – the novel -- or do you find them too different? Do you see a downside to working on both forms simultaneously? Do you ever write something apart from your novel (if you're writing one) so you can feel like you've finished something? So you can write something completely different?