Alex Carrick is the author of two books of short stories, “Two Scoops” Is Just Right and “Three Scoops” Is A Blast! His piece, The Size of the Skip was an honorable mention among 1,700 international entries in the 2010 Lorian Hemingway Short Story Competition. He lives in Toronto with his wife Donna (also a writer), three children, a lazy dog and an oddball cat.
A Path More Easily Taken
For me, and I’m surprised to say this, the most important thing about writing is the fun. Coming up with an idea and building on it is a solitary pleasure like few others. Sharing the finished product is the icing on the cake. Even the editing has its rewards. I love tweaking the language, massaging the rough spots and making sure the plot progression is logical and consistent.
I don’t always feel this way. Sometimes I grapple with anxiety if a story doesn’t develop properly or I’m not expressing exactly what I want to say. I’ve also stumbled over a writer’s block or two like so many others. But when I sit down of a morning and the words form a story and the whole appears fresh on my computer screen like scripted marble, I feel pretty good.
I’ve been lucky in my writing in many ways. As a professional economist, my day job has required that I write consistently and voluminously. The practice has been invaluable. I’ve developed the discipline to concentrate and record something no matter what the circumstances. The strange thing I’ve discovered is there are a bazillion stories and they only need unwrapping.
My serious writing is now being accompanied by more casual pieces. This has happened for several reasons. My wife Donna is well recognized for composing mystery and adventure novels. Watching her commitment and dedication, I could not help but become caught up in the idea myself. Writing a book had always been at the back of my mind. A core truth of life is how quickly the time passes and it’s the things we regret not doing that come back to haunt us.
The technology is now available to make wishes reality. Self publishing and print on demand provide the means on the output side. Social media such as Facebook and Twitter help with the marketing and brand awareness. The final piece of the puzzle has been provided by e-books.
Anybody anywhere in the world with access to the Internet, can order one of my books and be reading it in two minutes. It’s a wonderful new world of opportunity for both readers and writers.
The actual spur to my short stories was initially provided by the blogosphere. My employer asked me to start writing an economics blog. Okay, that proved interesting, but a little dry. So I began writing entertaining and/or amusing short pieces to intersperse with my serious work to break up the flow, stir up the creative juices, keep me sane and provide more appeal to readers.
Quickly, the short pieces evolved along a separate path of activity. I began to post them on my personal blog site to distinguish them from my business side. Never mind that my employer was quite happy to see the disconnection. This has also given me more freedom of subject matter.
I should also mention that the emotional satisfaction from writing a good economics story is one thing. Hearing positive feedback from readers for my entertaining stories, based on created-from-scratch characters and story lines, is a whole other and higher level of satisfaction altogether.
My interest and focus so far has been on short stories. For whatever reason, perhaps rooted in my own attention-challenged personality, novel writing has held little appeal for me. I like to take a single idea and build it up, but not linger over it. I’ll start with a “hook.” It can be in the form of a great title or some quirk of psychology or even a joke as long as it’s original. And I always try to keep in mind one critical question: Is this something that will hold a reader’s interest?
Don’t get me wrong. In the course of my 63 years, I’ve read every genre of writing there is, beginning with the classics in my 20s and progressing in stages through science fiction, fantasy, detective novels and whatever bestsellers were hottest in my 30s through 50s. My reading interests now centre on history and learned tomes (best if they’re entertaining) on the fine arts.
I try to draw on all of these for subject matter. The thrill is in finding new juxtapositions of ideas to take plot lines in unexpected directions. And in putting words together in novel combinations that open up imagery in some poetic or lyrical manner that hopefully hasn’t been done before.
I’m finding the social media is a spur to creative thinking. Having to express oneself within a limited number of characters is a valuable exercise in precision. One must be concise but also informative or affecting. Social media also provides writers the chance to showcase their talents.
Some would decry the lack of descriptive powers in much modern writing. What can I say? We live in a video age. Based on all the movies and TV we’ve seen, we can all provide most of the background scenery that’s required in a story. That’s why I tend towards sketching in only what is most essential in terms of what a reader needs to know to understand what is going on.
One of the most significant benefits of my personal writing has been the feedback loop. The loosening up of my style on the creative side has spilled over onto my business side, making my economics stories more approachable. Whether writing for serious intent or to amuse, it is important to make the reader want to read the next passage. With my tongue tickling the inside of my cheek, if you’ve hung in with me to this point in this article, then I’ve done my “job”.
Finally, have I mentioned the “thick skin” side-effect? Not everyone is going to like one’s work. Maybe I should add that’s been my experience, at least. This is part of growing as a writer. I pay attention to criticism, mull it over and adapt if there is validity. But I’ve also learned critics reveal a great deal about themselves in what they say. That can be good or bad, depending on the context. If one believes in oneself, a thick skin will eventually become a welcome coat of armor.
Now enough with the self-absorption and lecturing, time for me to get back to having some fun!