Posted by: itneverrainsinseattle | February 12, 2010

The Single Life is Short Stories; Being Married is a Novel

As I think I’ve mentioned here before (and am too tired to take a look to verify), I used to write for a student news magazine at a local college. This led to me writing for other school publications (including a humor magazine, a daily newspaper, and a political rag) and further down the journalistic road to writing news for radio.

I wrote a lot of crap. Short stories and poetry that make me cringe today. Drivel. Some stuff wasn’t so bad. My best writing (and also, alas, my most fleeting) was for the radio station, where everything had to be tight, tight, tight. A typical news story got three sentences at most, so each word had to count. Present tense. Active voice. Be Relevant!

I took one creative writing class at University. It ruined me for years. There, I learned I’m not qualified to write about this, I’m offensive if I write about that. Straight white guys aren’t allowed to have opinions about sex, gender roles, or what it’s like to be a minority. Oh, the politically correct thought police were out in force, making sure to stamp out anything creative in our creative writing.

Writing becomes a habit, though, and eventually it’s too big a habit to break. Go for too long without a good pen-on-paper-purge, and you start to feel out of sorts. Ennui sets in. So do a number of other esoteric words.

A few years after college, and after that very special circle of hell known as grad school, I sat down and prepared a short story of mine to send out to the paying markets. It didn’t sell. I gave up on that one after that first rejection letter. Somewhere along the way, I wrote another short story or two, as well.

But I always wanted to write a novel. Well, more precisely: I always wanted to have written a novel. It’s not that I enjoyed sitting down to write, so much as I liked the feeling afterward, when I could behold my writing and think to myself, I did this. I created this. And it’s not too bad.

I had a few ideas I’d been kicking around for a novel — hell, a series of novels — that I loved to plot out in my head, but could never seem to marshall the energy necessary to get it down on paper.

As I’ve mentioned before, I bounced around from city to city every so often. Penny and I both, in fact, bounced around different cities, maintaining a long distance relationship before we both ended up in the same city. We broke up. Got back together. And then moved together to a new city.

Seattle. Where it never rains.

After living here for a less than a year, we walked by a new housing development within our neighborhood. “I bet that house there has a view of Mt. Rainier,” I said, pointing at one of the new townhouses being built. We walked in. There was, indeed, a view of that beautiful snow-capped mountain.

We arranged to buy the house together.

Oh, what the hell. I promised we would get engaged, that that was the next step after us getting back together. Now we were buying a house, so we’re obviously in this for real. So, I proposed.

And we got married.

Everyone told us that marriage changes things. But how? How does it change things?

Here’s what happened in my case:

There was a course being offered at a local university’s extension program — you know those catalogs they send you in the mail of classes you might want to take as part of your “continuing education” — on novel writing. The class description promised that by the time you’d finished the two-semester course, you’d have at least a third of your novel written, plus an understanding of how to market it.

I always had in the back of my mind the idea that we might leave Seattle after a few years. But, Penny wanted to stay. We bought a house together. And now that we were married… hmph. I guess that meant I was really committed.

Wait a minute! I was committed. I could… commit. Really.

Which meant… I could commit to taking a year-long class (well, 9-month-long class), because I was committed to staying put. I was here for the long haul.

So… I took the class.

(By the way, so did Penny, and it was a surprisingly fun experience for us both to take that class together. More on that in a future post coming Very Soon Now.)

The class lived up to it’s course description; by the time it was over, I’d completed over a third of a novel. The instructor wanted us to start a fresh project, rather than work on something that we’d already been hashing through. So this was a new project, freshly conceived and now a third of the way through.

There was, of course, an “advanced class” available to students who completed this first year. So, Penny and I signed up for that as well.

Two-thirds of the novel done.

We started a critique group with a few of our fellow students amidst this time period, and kept it going long after the second year came to a close. Several of us made a bet regarding who would finish the first draft of their manuscripts by a certain deadline. (The wager was a fine steak dinner at a local hoity toity restaurant.)

The marrieds hit the deadline. The singles did not.

So, yes, dear reader, I’ve written a novel.

It feels good. It’s a fine accomplishment. As it turns out, that novel will not likely ever see the light of day. I shopped it around. It has some problems that only a complete rewrite could fix, and I’m very, very done with that project. But I got something extremely worthwhile out of the whole endeavor:

I now know that I can write a novel.

I am capable of making a commitment and sticking to it.

That is how marriage changed things for me.

Instead of hopping from city to city every year or two, I found I could stay in one place for over a decade. Instead of only having the attention span for short stories, I found I could take on a novel and see it through to completion.

Now Penny and I are on the road to divorce, but you know what?

I’ve still written a novel. That hasn’t changed, and it won’t change.

And I can still write another one. Married or not. Single or not.

I was capable of writing a novel before we got married, but getting married helped me to find the leverage I needed on myself to make it happen. It was, in a subtle way, affirming.

Short stories have their place, and I will continue to write them. Novels have their place, and I look forward to writing more of those, too. The trick, as with being married or being single, is to know when to pursue which.

That said… hmm. If dating gave me short stories, and marriage gave me novels… what if I’m in the mood for some limericks?

There once was a man from Nantucket…

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Responses

  1. One of my favorite (germane) song lines (from Squeeze’s “If I Didn’t Love You” in this case) is “singles remind me of kisses / albums remind me of plans.”

    I only know one version of that limmerick, and it isn’t “naughty”. Does anyone actually know the “dirty” one?

    There once was a man from Nantucket,
    Who kept all his dough in a bucket.
    His daughter, named Nan,
    Ran away with a man,
    And as for the bucket? Nan ‘tuk it.

  2. Yes, I think you should be in the mood for some limerick’s (just to stir the pot a little), a limerick could become a short story, or even better, it could become a novel. When can we read your novel? I would love to! Best, Pippi

  3. You are a fantastic writer, as I’ve told you before…and I think you bring up a great comparison – commitment. You committed to writing the novel, just as you committed to marriage. Sometimes things change, and though you remained committed to the marriage, it takes two, not one. But, dammit, you kept your commitment. You wrote the novel. Love the messages in here…and I want to hear the rest of that limmerick 😉

  4. Before my Dad died, his goal was to write a limerick about every county in his home state of West Virginia. He came close..

    Your writing is great and your post was timely for me, as I’m standing on that precipice of starting a writing career. I just started reading a book called Word Work: Surviving and Thriving as a Writer — but the thing is, you just have to jump. Your novel course sounded like a great thing – I plan to see if they offer something similar in my neck of the woods. Maybe you should start a blog of your old novel, just posting it small bite by small bite.

  5. @Taed

    Yes, some of us know the dirty one, but I won’t recite it here. You women would find it most gross.

    @neverrains

    In an alternate alter ego, I took up writing for blogs. I read some of what I put together back then and cringe, but one does have to start somewhere. Over the years, my style improved and so did the quality of my work. But enough about my writing.

    I happen to be a fan of James Michener. His early works show lots of issues (which didn’t keep him from getting published). But as he reached his middle period, say with Centennial, he found a style and a rhythm and a way to make his characters someone you cared about. It helped so much with Alaska when it became clear that he was in over his head and had no means of ending the story in some logical manner. Alaska remains my biggest disappointment in Michener once he found his stride. He could have done so much better with it.

    On the other end of the spectrum, one of the worst “novels” I ever read is something so bad that even the author refuses to discuss it to this day. It’s called The Stone of Summer, and it’s only value to literature is to demonstrate that one cannot write like Hunter S. Thompson without living a similarly destructive lifestyle.

    All of that having been said, and since limericks are the sub-thread of the post, do you know this one?

    The once was a hermit named Dave …

  6. An original, by me, that has nothing to do with the topic (given that I was using limericks as a metaphor. Ahem.) but for which I have fond memories. I wrote this on the spot at a poetry slam some years back:

    There really is no way to duck it:
    You should just take this word slam and chuck it.
    It seems to me, ma’am
    That a poetry slam
    Should only take place in Nantucket.

  7. Love it – but I thought for sure another word that ends in “uck” might have made its way in there…starts with an F 😉

  8. i love reading your posts. It always seems like each one is its own short story…

    you know? like your blog is not a continuation but just short stories–snippets of your life.

  9. Wow, very impressive that you have written a novel. Even non-published, that is huge and comendable.

  10. I’m in awe. And I want to read your novel. Just like everyone else…

  11. Unrelated to this post questions, concerns and comments: You keep going on at length about becoming a “stand-up guy who could commit”. What the hell, really, does this mean? From my reading she was your 3rd serious relationship, and probably the MOST dysfunctional of those 3. What was the hurry? Why were you willing to accommodate her need?

    In my experience, short stories actually take more work than novels. It goes back to your experience in radio where everything is tight, crisp, controlled. I sit down with most works (movies especially) and think how it would be improved if it were edited 20-100 pages. Why a novel? Have you always wanted things that aren’t good for you?

    Since you opened the door to something that was good from the marriage, have you considered writing all you’ve learned? You need to move to a place where this is a moving ahead point, not just a jumping from a sinking ship proposition.

    Finally, I, as a woman growing up in the politically correct climate, managed to scoff and eschew the rhetoric of the time. I understood that the whole, “Ask to hold her hand or to kiss her” crap was CRAP. After all, any unwanted touch IS NOT RAPE. I’m wondering if, by being polite, you haven’t been passionate. It’s too late now, but did you ever consider taking her from behind like a schoolgirl in the fields? Romance is respectful, but it’s not chaste.

  12. Keep writing. Cheapest therapy EVER. Can’t wait to talk to you. Sooo much to say.

    I’ll give you a teaser…

    Sam emailed me.

    Oh, yeah. We’ll be Skyping this week.

  13. To be honest, Seattle, I think I might actually prefer the short stories. How about a book of short stories?


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