I stumbled upon something tonight that changed my outlook on everything writing - a single blog post. And it's such a simple concept that I feel quite silly. Maybe I knew this, once upon a time, or perhaps subconsciously, but my lack of acknowledging it hasn't done me any favors.
Practice. That's all it is. You practice to get better, over and over and over again. And to do that, you don't work on the same stuff you've already done (which according to the blog, so many do), but you practice harder things, things you don't know how to do at this very moment.
Everything I know about practicing is music-related. Mom would make us girls sit at the piano bench for hours; we'd get in trouble if we didn't (because honestly, none of us really wanted to). In junior high, and even in high school, she bribed me with 'expensive' basketball shoes in order to get me to practice an hour a day (and that's after school, and after basketball practice, and after homework). Granted, I was glad in the long run, since it made me good, and eventually helped me shift into singing, but oh, it was agony at the time.
Even so, I wasn't consistent with practicing both piano & voice in undergrad, at least not the way I was in grad school. By then, I understand what I had to do, to get what I wanted. I would spend hours locked up in a practice room, and actually see something for my efforts. And perhaps it was easier, then, because I loved it so much, in a way I never did with piano. (With classical voice, I had the words, the languages, which is why writing eventually trumped both piano and voice.)
Anyway, all this output of mine - the short stories, the books - good or not, and better than others I read, they may be all about the practice, the learning something new. If I can challenge myself with something I didn't know how to do before, then I'll eventually nail more elements in a story than not, which will open doors into the markets I really want.
That probably explains why "Child of Fortune, Child of Labor" was so terribly difficult for me - just opening the document made me start sweating. I'd never written anything like it before, with that sort of tech and worldbuilding. But this encourages me in the other two shorts I'm working on now (tentatively titled "Parasite" and "The Harvester") as there's so much that's unnatural for me in both. Maybe this is a good thing.
Oh, and "Tight Little Stitches in a Dead Man's Back" by Joe Lansdale is up at Lightspeed. It's definitely not for the faint of heart (or the ultra-conservative). I remember my reaction when I first read it, sitting in our beautiful little hotel room in Solvang, waiting for John to wake up so we could go on our visits to multiple wineries. We were still looking for an October reprint at the point, and I was shocked, entranced, horrified, aghast, impressed, by the story. (Perhaps I read it too early in the morning...) My reaction ensures I will likely always remember it, as reactions occasionally stick with me even more than content, especially when they leave me numb from a shocking ending, or with a rushing heart. That's my goal in my own writing - the reaction, which makes something memorable.