By David E. Sharp
Another summer draws to a close. Soon the air will become crisp, leaves will get crunchy, and every food on the planet will be pumpkin flavored. For me, this marks the beginning of New Manuscript Season. It’s that magical time of the year when I will challenge myself to write a novel-length work.
Proving to all my friends and family: Yes, I am still quite unhinged, and I have written the book on it.
I tend to focus on short stories during the summer months. Summer is to libraries what the holiday season is to retail. It’s exciting, but it is also a rapid-paced madness that reminds me of those levels in Tetris when the blocks start falling inhumanly fast.
You just keep filling the nooks and crannies because you know the first little slip-up will compound into a massive stack of problems that grows until the whole thing goes supernova. The adrenaline pumping through your veins is overloading the system. The only way to restore pressure to safe levels is to break something with your bare hands. But, you know, in a fun way.
That kind of frenetic energy is perfect for flash fiction, short stories with wicked twists, and weird ideas that sound brilliant when they occur to you at 3 AM. In the light of day, they look like drivel when you read them. But, hey! Summer is all about experimentation. They can’t all be winners.
And while all that is immensely satisfying, autumn provides fresh inspiration. It brings cold days, perfect for a laptop and a cup of coffee. The return of the school year gifts me with cranky children. I don’t mind hiding for an hour or two while I hammer out a new masterpiece.
Something about the autumn months feels fresh like the ideas have ripened and are just waiting for me to pluck them off the vine. I skip by, smiling with delirious joy and dreaming of the creative cobbler I’m going to make.
I have ideas! I know the story I want to write, and everything seems perfect in my little pocket of a very imperfect world. Not all of the writing is stellar. I can see that! But that’s okay! My inspiration is happy to lie to me. “Every word choice is genius! How the critics will rave!” It’s enough to keep me going. All I have to do is write for now. I can make it good later!
But autumn does not last forever. Just around the corner lurks the cold winter of editing and revisions. Soon, I will look over my first draft and realize how horrifying it is! What was I thinking? Where is this twisted plot going? This all made so much sense before! How could I have been so wrong? Is this really the manuscript I wrote? It can’t be!
Just look at all those adverbs! I would never use so many adverbs! Absolutely, undeniably, definitely not. But even here, I see hope.
I notice a story thread weaving itself through the madness. It still glows with the warm inspiration I felt before. I will follow that thread and see where it leads me. Soon this mess will transform into a story. I will labor through new drafts, each less awful than the one preceding. Until I finally see my vision before me.
The story I imagined. It is more beautiful than I ever dared to dream. Well, it is probably an odd, comical, metafictional trainwreck, but that is the book I set out to write, and here it is!
By spring, I put in the last of the edits. I indulge myself in reading binges. I will never get through my to-read list before I die. Not if I lived a century and never added another book to the pile. It does not matter. Reading was my first love, and it is what fuels my writing. Of course, reading is a year-round pleasure, but spring is to my reading habit, what autumn is to my writing habit. Having marathoned through another novel, I am happy to take on some short stories again.
The truth is, we all have our creative cycles. I guess there are as many creative writing patterns as creative writers cycling through them. No two are identical. But knowing your habits may help you to take advantage of your own seasons of inspiration and persevere through your seasons of despair. What are your writing patterns? What do they correspond to?
For more insight, check out these resources on the cycles and seasons of writing:
The 5 Surprising Stages of the Writing Cycle
The 6 Stages of the Creative Process According to Adam Grant