So…Which Stories Do I Write?


(Note: Experimenting with blog design again; the last one was pretty but killed commenting on the site!  Bah!)

This is not a question I’ve asked myself in a long time, I have to admit: Which story should I write? The one that wants to be written! The one that’s an assignment! The one that I got hired to write! The one that might get into that sweet anthology!


But, well, I’m in a position where I need to ask that again.

Not because the world is beating a path to my door. That’s gonna be a whole different problem. This is more like, “I now have the skillset to write competent (not, you know, excellent–just competent) stories that I don’t really like, for one reason or another. What now?”

My goal is to have 25 short stories out at any given time. Here’s the usual process: Write story, tidy story up, send story. I was up to 33 stories a bit ago, and I was at the point where I didn’t like a bunch of them.

“Is this something I want to have published?”

And, on a couple of them, I had to answer, “No.”

No, because they weren’t up to my current standards.

No, because they bored me.

No, because in the end, they said things I couldn’t stand behind.

So I’ve been pulling down the most obvious choices as they get rejected. Because, you know, if I’m wrong and someone wants to publish them? Well.

Some of the stories I’m not sure about, I intend to leave for a while. Because maybe someone else will see something I can’t. But is that what I should be doing? Should I be responding to what sells and trying to write more of it, or following “the muse,” whatever that is?

Here’s how I’m answering the question for now:

1) I should follow the muse when the muse is like, “This is what you’re doing right now.” For example, today. Today I don’t get to make any other progress until this blog is worked out. Jeez muse, I have deadlines! But muse, like honey badger, don’t care.

2) I have been writing stories to react to things that get under my skin. A lot of times, this means I’m writing angry stories. Is that what I want? To be the angry story writer? Sheesh. How many stories consumed by anger do I love? None. Just none. So when the muse isn’t strangling me, then I write stories that have, at some level, things that I love.

3) Stories that I write for pure study. I mean, sure, I’m working on something with every story I write. But there are stories that I write mostly because I want to try out someone else’s writing techniques. In multiple cases, those are the ones that I’ve been pulling back on lately. I don’t regret the experiments, but I don’t know that they need to go any further than my desk.

More and more I’m wondering: now that I can write stories that are clearly not meant to be what I’m writing, how do I know what to write? How do I make forward planning decisions? A production schedule?

Right now I’m following the muse without hesitation. I write whatever it wants me to write. On the one hand, this is great: listen to your subconscious! But on the other hand, the subconscious needs the conscious, too. If I follow the subconscious the way it’s been leading me lately, I write a bunch of angry stories, a bunch of copycat stories, and whatever freelance job pays the most at the time. I don’t think that’s what my subconscious wants to end up with, any more than my conscious self does. My subconscious is like, “But what about your personal writer heroes? Can’t you write their stories?” Not, dear subconscious, if I follow your urges all the dang time.

So here it is: Can’t force myself to write what I subconsciously resist writing.

Can’t let the subconscious have 100% control over what I write.

Have to find that sliver of space between those two statements. And it feels like going that way involves finding what I’m pulled toward with delight, rather than pushed away from by anger. I don’t know that I can really come up with a plan based off this. But it’s probably at least a small step forward.

8 thoughts on “So…Which Stories Do I Write?”

  1. Not 10 minutes ago I was commenting to someone on how we, as writers, can get in our own way. Often because we don’t want to write what we feel like we “should” be writing. I think two things…
    1. You have the absolutely right idea by playing around with everything. You tackle different styles and different genres. How can you know what to write until you know what you CAN write?
    2. You answered your own question. You can’t write in anger. You have to write about something you love. Not like gooshy, pale pink, flower-scented love. Maybe you love gristly morality tales. Maybe you like unredeemable main characters who can’t see their own flaws. Maybe you like clever wordplay and elegant puns. What you love. That’s what you should write.

    That’s my two cents. Maybe not even worth that much.


    1. That word “should.” It’s the bane of my life. But I still have to deal with it.

      1. Yep. Totally. But…now that I know I *can* write pretty much anything, what do I write?!? It’s really a problem that you trade up for, I guess.

      2. I think…I *could* write in anger, as long as it’s anger + love. Which usually leads to tears. But not righteousness. Gawd, I suck at righteousness. And I love me some classic horror stories, so that’s not going away. But that sweet pulp story I was trying to write last NaNo…it was a story dreamed up in bitterness and anger. And I can’t finish it. Which is sad. At least, the process of letting go of that story, as envisioned, makes me sad.

      Thank you 🙂

  2. Something I’ve done that helps the conscious and the subconscious talk to each other is to cluster. Use initial terms like “I want…” “I love…” “I hate…” “I get shivers from…” “I fear…” “I need…” Cluster words (mind map) around those initial terms and see what your Muse says. Or pick your own initial terms and go from there. The important part is to NOT censor yourself when you’re clustering. 🙂

    1. True dat. I ran with that…uh, last week? Two weeks ago? After I talked you to at Ivywild anyway. I went through and did this big brainstorm about the things I was reading and liked on Goodreads because of what we talked about. What do I really like? That kind of thing.

  3. This is so VERY pertinent to exactly what I’m feeling right now! I don’t have as many stories “out there” as you do, but I am finding that opportunities abound and I can not take advantage of all of them. I absolutely feel the pain of being torn between what I ~want~ to write and what deadlines I’m up against for whatever else I’m doing. With OCD, sometimes my brain locks onto one idea and absolutely will not let go until I get it out of my system.

    1. You know, that makes me wonder if that “locking on” is a defense mechanism against “all the shiny.” I GET TO FINISH A PROJECT, DAMMIT!

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