Recently I've needed to change the way in which I write. I ended last year in the same way that I began this one; with a whole heap of ideas for both my novel and the endless collection of short stories. At first glance that probably doesn't sound like a bad place to be in. But whilst these ideas jostled about in my head, I had neither the time or the inclination to actually do any writing. That made me...... well I'm not entirely sure what it made me, but I certainly wouldn't have classed myself as a writer during that period.
Onwards to the positive though.
During this lull I've had a lot of time to read. And think.
I've began to experiment with the way in which I form the stories I want to tell. I've began to question the notion of what is and what is not a story.
And guess what?
Almost everything is a story.
David and Gillian resolved their differences and decided to stay together.
That was a short story I wrote just a second ago. It's an optimistic tale about two lovers that decided they wanted to fight for what they had.
David and Gillian grew apart.
That's another, sadder tale.
I'm obviously talking about brevity here. Some of the greatest works of fiction I've read in the last two years have been extrememly short, see Etgar Keret or David Gaffney) and my own fiction seems to be shrinking in word count as well. As part of this focus on form I've recently edited a few short stories I penned at University. In the end it was more akin to a massacre than an edit. I cut whole paragraphs away. I sheared off everything until there was nothing left besides the story itself. One of them is 20% its original size, and it's a thousand times more poignant now. It's like the story is finally able to breathe after removing something heavy from its chest.
It's not just length that has rekindled my passion for writing though. It's things like this. Read that. Did you? Did it hurt? Would you call that a story? Of course you would, but it doesn't exactly resemble the shape of one (at least not in the conventional sense.)
How about this? It's beautiful, although I've come to expect nothing less from Kill Author.
I should point out that I'm aware none of this is a revelation in any way. I remember discussing Laurence Stern at University. I read Danielewsi's House of Leaves a few years and remember being slightly taken aback after noticing that the second half of this novel was largely devoted to three appendices and an extensive index. But at those moments I'm not sure if I ever really felt that experimental form was neccesarily an option for my own writing.
All of this brings me to a simple fact. I've just finished two short stories. My first of the year. My first for the last four months. The first that I've been happy with for a while. One of them is a single sentence plot synopsis followed by a list of questions meant to envoke discussion in a reading group. The other is a series of maths questions. I've enjoyed writing them immensely, and I guess that's what counts in the end.
In my mind one of the greatest short stories of all time is available online. Amy Hempel's In the Cemetery where Al Jolson is Buried. Someone I know said that it is not prose at all but cleverly disguised poetry. At the time I told them they were wrong. Now I'm not so sure.