Fall 2017 – The Semester of Short Stories

I like to refer to this semester as my most creatively productive semester, as well as the most refined my writing has been so far in my life. Not only was I writing short stories every week, I also wrote heavily for a journalism class and participated in NaNoWriMo.

I actually have very little memory of how I decided to take this class other than the fact that I needed a writing class for my minor. Without discussing it with any of my English major friends, I somehow ended up taking the class with several of them and had the luck of being put in a writing group with two of them.

The way the class was structured, we had to read a short story each week and discuss it during class. Then, we’d have a few days to write a 800-1000 word short story using one of the prompts given to us in our craft textbook. We’d upload the short story to our writing group and give feedback in time for the next workshop session in class. This routine kept us busy with writing and reading critically, pushing us to create better stories as each week passed.

Having such a routine made it easier for me to hone my writing skills. I was forced to be creative on demand, something I had never really experienced before. There were people who were expecting to read something I wrote, and I had a responsibility to read the work of others and help them improve it as well. While the assigned reading of short stories might not have been the most interesting or helpful to me, it was the constant practice of writing stories and creating worlds that really made a difference in my writing.

As the semester went on, I could see the improvement in my writing, not only with plot, but also characters. I’ve always struggled with writing characters, preferring to focus on plot points and conflict instead, but the help and critiques I got from my workshop group made a huge difference in how I understood my strengths and weaknesses. No longer was I trying to improve my writing by myself, I had a system of people who knew my writing well and had the ability to give me the feedback I needed to make my story better.

One of the most significant things that came out of this semester of short story writing was the idea for my NaNoWriMo 2018 novel. It was born from a prompt in this class and ended up being something I couldn’t stop thinking about for the rest of the time leading up to NaNoWriMo. For the first time, I had a fantasy idea that was strong enough to become more than a short story. And that never would have existed if it weren’t for this semester and all the strange prompts we got from our textbook.

Part of my portfolio at the end of the semester was to expand of two of the short stories. One of them was a short story I began in my first Creative Writing class at Messiah, and it was one I finally gave an ending to because I knew where the story was going. It’s also the only fiction piece I’ve written that required a full page of translated dialogue at the end because I wrote it in two languages. The story not only challenged me as a writer, but pushed me to incorporate more of my culture into my stories, instead of always defaulting to white main characters in Western settings.

The other short story proved my love of mysteries and allowed me to creep out several people with how graphic my writing could be. I wrote a murder mystery that I admittedly had a little too much fun expanding on. Writing this really solidified my realization that the stories I keep coming back to are the ones with strong mystery elements or having to do with the hundreds of hours of crime dramas I’ve watched in my lifetime (three full watch-throughs of Criminal Minds season 1-12 will give me plenty of material to work with).

Lastly, this semester gave me the project that I’m proudest of so far. The only Zero Draft of a novel that actually somewhat resembles a book. All the writing from this semester had my creative brain so in tune with the rest of my mind that NaNoWriMo was easier because I was so used to writing at a higher level. Not only was the writing process easier and more enjoyable, it was also the smoothest experience I’ve had when it comes to connecting the dots, creating characters, and falling into a headspace where I really know my work. It’s the story I think about the most, and it would not exist in its current form if it weren’t for this semester of almost a dozen short stories and so many workshop meetings.

Lydia and Lindsay, my workshop buddies. We dubbed ourselves the Golden Trio for how well we got along and how overly attached we were as a group

Of course, I also got a really great workshop group out of it. The two girls in my group not only pushed me constantly as a writer, but also forced me to be a better critique partner by giving me high-quality stories that I really needed to flex my editing skills on. I would never have been able to make it through that make short stories without them helping me to be a better writer.

I also have to thank my roommate at the time, Maggie, for listening to my constant rambles about whatever short story I was working on and all the times I hid under my blanket while trying to force words onto the blank page. She kept encouraging me to write and was also the most excited person when it came to my NaNoWriMo novel, I couldn’t have created half those stories and plot points if it wasn’t for her. It really does wonders for the creative in my to be around other people who know the craft better than I do and who can constantly challenge me to do better by being honest with me and pushing me to write beyond the plot I think I have in my mind.

I will always hope to have another writing season as successful and fulfilling as this one, and I can only hope to work back to that point again in the future.

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