Are you ready? Well, then, let’s begin.

[June 2011] No one can tell you when to start a short story.

People can give you all kinds of advice about how to write one, but only you can decide when you are prepared to start.

This is something I deal with all the time. I’ll have a window of opportunity where I can work on a short story, and I’ll have a market in mind, and all I do is spin my wheels when I try to think about the story itself.

Case in point: I want to submit a story to an anthology that has a submission deadline fast approaching. When I first heard about the theme back in 2010, I did some relevant research, created a file, scribbled some notes and put it aside to gestate. Now that several months have passed, I’m only a little bit closer to having a story than I did back then.

That’s not entirely true. Last weekend, I started doing some location research. I have a scenario of sorts in mind. In fact, I plan to resurrect a couple of characters from another story, and I know why they are where they are and how the story opens, more or less. I stumbled around looking for a setting and I found one that is absolutely perfect. So, for the past couple of days I’ve been learning everything I can about this place. I wandered its streets on Google Earth (and isn’t that an impressive tool). I found news stories and a few videos that give me an even better sense of the location and the scenario that forms that background for the location and the story.

But I still don’t really know what is going to happen to the characters after they make a significant discovery.

Sometimes, a story happens like this: anthology theme, “clever” take on the theme, figure out who the main characters are and what they want, start writing.

Right now, I have the anthology theme, my twist on the theme and the characters, but I still don’t feel ready to start writing because I haven’t come up with the consequences of the twist.

It is possible, on occasion, to start with these elements and let the words flow from that mystical source from which they come. The characters do things and the story develops. I don’t know where the story is going, but it goes.

And yet, when I get to the computer these past few days, I can’t bring myself to create that new Word document and write the first words. That tells me the story isn’t quite ready. I’ve plowed ahead and hit brick walls often enough to believe that this sort-of block (something akin to Mike Noonan’s block in Bag of Bones, though not nearly so severe) is telling me I’ll be wasting my time if I go that route. I just need to think about the story a little more. I can see over the first hill or two, but there’s at least one more hill I need to crest before I begin. I don’t need to see all the way to the end—I rarely do with short stories, but I need to see far enough to build up that momentum that will help me get there.

That being said, though, there’s nothing like a looming deadline for motivation. At some point, if I really want to submit to this market, I need to stop dithering and start writing. And hoping the story comes…from that mystical source from which they all come.

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