I had a discussion with a friend about writing the other day that I thought might make a worthwhile blog topic. It has to do with the differences between a piece of writing that grows organically and one that is constructed instead. Here’s my thoughts.
For me, poetry and flash fiction (750 words or less) usually grow organically. What I mean is that I have a seed of an idea, start writing, and let my unconscious guide me through. I don’t plan it, although oftentimes in revision I’ll make conscious changes to improve the piece. This is not, however, the way, I write short stories, anything over 1500 words. Short stories are “constructed.” They are manufactured. Although, if I do my job well the seams and welds in the story are invisible to the reader.
Now, my short stories often start out organically. They begin with a germ of an idea and the first 500 to 1000 words are often written straight out of that germ. But short stories have to have plot, and the unconscious typically only generates simple, straightforward plots. Those stories have already been told too many times. By the time I’m a 1000 words into a story I’m already engaged in the conscious work of building the piece to meet specific goals.
An analogy is this. A poem or flash fiction piece—at least for me—is like a wild fruit tree springing up seemingly out of nowhere. A short story is a carefully pruned and constrained fruit tree that has had many new limbs grafted onto it for specific reasons. Even the first 1000 words get this treatment. And I don’t just go through pruning and grafting once, but many times. The original seed is usually so hidden by the additions that it is scarcely noticeable
“Conscious” writing is immensely harder than just letting it all flow, but it does have its own rewards. One is that you have, in fact, built something with your own two hands. And the final product is no longer all about the writer. It’s at least as much about the reader, if not more. I believe this is one reason why it’s both difficult and dangerous to draw conclusions about writers themselves from the stories they construct. Just because a writer explores a negative theme does not mean that he or she is drawn to that theme. A writer’s characters and plot twists do not necessarily reflect the writer’s personal feelings and fixations. Speaking for myself, although some part of me is in every story I write, I am not those stories.