Today’s guest post is from Phillip McCollum, who many of you might remember as the author of The Pros and Cons of Being an INTJ Writer. Phillip has been blowing my mind for the past year as he’s written a new short story EVERY WEEK for 52 WEEKS. Today’s post is all about what the process taught him and how it helped him become a better writer.
52 short stories in 52 weeks?
It wasn’t going to work. I just knew it. It would be a colossal waste of time and I would be stuck in the same damn rut 52 weeks from now–a hard drive filled with innumerable half-starts and unfinished tales.
First of all, I wanted to write novels. Short stories were OK, but they weren’t novels. I’d been indoctrinated by countless ‘writing experts’ that the two styles were as different as house cats and narwhals and if you wanted to do one of them, you should absolutely, without a doubt, completely ignore the other.
Probably the most important thing I’ve come to realize over this year is that there’s no such thing as a writing expert. There are people that are skilled at what they do, but to call someone an expert in the field of writing is like calling someone an expert in the field of living. There are a lot of variations in how people live their lives and there are almost as many variations in how people write or craft art. There is no single path to success. What matters is outcome.
The second most important thing I’ve learned is just how much we lie to ourselves in order to protect our fragile egos. I’m not talking massive lies. Just the little fibs that add up over time. You know, the ones we repeat to ourselves on a daily basis until we stop realizing it.
You don’t have the time.
You don’t have the skill.
Or, more often, the opposite: You’re already good at that, so you don’t need to rehash or practice more.
So, how did I wind up with 52 complete stories despite my bottomless pocket of untruths?
I wish I could tell you there was a magical moment where the heavens opened up, the angels sang, and the Coat of Instant Confidence™ was draped over my shoulders (BRB, patenting).
Nope. Nothing other than to say I’d apparently become fed up enough with my own excuses and lack of output that I was forced to take stock of decisions I’d made in the past. I asked myself: When I had achieved something great and satisfying, what was the cause?
It turns out there was a common theme: I ignored my impulses.
I ignored the well-worn habit of immediately dismissing ideas out of hand and decided to embrace them instead.
So, I began to take to heart the lessons of prolific writers like Dean Wesley Smith and his wife, Kristin Kathryn Rusch, who constantly preach the importance of practice and why perfection is a dirty word. I listened with an attentive mind to Ray Bradbury as he spoke to an audience of college students, telling them how he spent ten years writing short stories before he could produce a decent one, then writing short stories for eight more years before he wrote his first novel, Fahrenheit 451.
People talk about learning something the hard way. In my experience, I’d say the hard way is often the only way. Those are the lessons that stick. The easy way is often an illusion. Maybe I needed to struggle over the past six years to come to the realization that I ought to be more open to new experiences and ways of doing things.
Here I am a year later, happy as a clam because I have learned so much in writing those stories. I’ve gotten better at finishing what I start. I have been able to share a part of myself with my friends and family. And last, but not least, I have 52 short stories to revisit when I’m face-to-face with resistance.
Because she doesn’t go away.
My fellow introverts, we seem to be really good–like, professional-level good–at talking ourselves out of an opportunity. We are damned creative. Overall, I’d say that works in our favor as artists, but we can’t live in that mindset full-time if we hope to share our fantastic ideas and make our unique voices heard.
We need to tell our fears to shove it. I know it’s not an easy thing to do, so I recommend starting simply. Take five minutes today to catalog your past successes like I did. Do you remember a time you were glad you overcame those initial fears and experienced wonderful outcomes?
Next, find a small form of resistance to tackle. It doesn’t even have to be writing-related as, in my experience, different forms seem to operate the same muscle. Smile and say “Hi” to that person you see every day but walk right past. Volunteer for a project at work. Buy that outfit that grabbed your heart but your friend just trashed.
Friends, take your own personal leaps of faith and be in awe of the results.
Phillip McCollum spent 52 weeks writing 52 short stories in an effort to prove to himself that he might be cut out for this writing thing after all. He hails from Southern California where he shares living quarters with his wife, son, an old cat, and young betta fish. You can learn more about him on his website and Twitter.