When short stories take a long time

Good news, everyone! I finally finished the first draft of a short story that I’ve wanted to write since 2004. That’s nine years. I have friends who have children who have been experiencing conscious existence for less than a third of that amount of time. That’s one year short of ten years, which is a decade. Decades are the units of measurement by which we categorize whole swathes of our recent past: the music of the ’80s, the fashion of the ’70s, the zeitgeist of the ’60s. Admittedly, the story’s incubation period still falls short of that of the 17-Year Cicada, but it outstrips the 9 months of a human baby by 99 months. And since we’re approaching 2014, it’s actually been in incubation for longer.

Phew.

I don’t know why it took me so long to write. To be fair to me and to the story, I didn’t work at it continuously. I made an initial attempt in 2004, wrote down the first scene and basic premise in a Microsoft Word 2003 document, then gave up. I didn’t have what it took to write it. I didn’t know what it would take to write it, but whatever it was, I didn’t have it. So I decided to let it age. Ripen, if you will. Its icon resided in an icon of a folder labelled ‘Play’ (as opposed to ‘Work’) that was doggedly transferred through successive computers via floppy disk, then USB memory sticks, then a fancy shiny sleek external hard drive.

Early this year, I felt compelled to open ‘er up and see what was there. All of it had to be scrapped, except the essential core. That was good, still good after all these years. And I tried to see what I could do about trying to make it work once again. This time I sought inspiration from other sources: I needed to describe opulence. So I re-read The Great Gatsby and Tender is the Night, which was lovely, but incapacitating. It took months for me to stop doing terrible imitations of F. Scott Fitzgerald and to write the story how it needed to be written.

It’s been very satisfying to finally have the story done after all this time, and done in a way that I’m happy with. But it’s also been a bit frustrating because I feel as if it confirms what I’ve long suspected: that I’m a slow writer. And by nature, I’m extremely impatient. So together, it’s really the worst combination. One half of my brain is already envisioning my self taking gargantuan leaps and bounds over the pesky mountain range that has dared to interpose itself between me and the horizon of my inevitable success. It is yanked back abruptly by its other half, who has stooped down to tie its left shoelace very calmly and slowly and with painstaking care, and to examine its other shoelace and retie it also very slowly and with maddening precision. Deep down, I know this other half is probably the better half. The half who cares about quality and craftsmanship. But I often believe this only halfheartedly and envy all the speedy geniuses gamboling happily in the fields beyond the stupid mountain range standing in my stupid way.

The story’s working title is “The Ballad of Tiny and Sammy.”

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