In a way, I always knew this, but the idea became clearer to me Monday evening as I was walking home from the bus stop and just thinking.
Our stories come from some source of inspiration, and if you're like me, those sources vary depending on the story. I'd like to be able to say that everything I write comes from my heart. And, thankfully, many of my stories do.
But not all of them.
Glancing through the my list of short stories, I see some that were inspired by classroom assignments, some that were inspired by technical ideas like an unusual point of view, even a couple that were built around a title that I came up with.
In many of them, I was able to infuse personal experiences throughout. For others, they feel personally cold to me. (Incidentally, I don't believe that the stories that feel cold to me will feel cold to others. And I know that the stories that are deeply personal to me don't necessarily evoke any sort of emotional attachment from others.)
What I realized Monday night, as I was walking, was that these stories--in my opinion--each require a different skill set. For me, a personal story requires a lot of reflection, courage, and the ability to let words flow without my inner editor getting in the way. A story built around a title is more intellectually demanding for me. I tend to focus more on plot points and relevance. It is a more controlled effort and almost like a puzzle.
So, given that different stories come from different sources, I guess what I want to say is that we can't expect each one to be equally successful. I may have developed my skills in reflection, but I'm less good at solving puzzles. Or vice versa. Each type of story has its own learning curve associated with it.
I guess I feel like this is relevant because of the stories I've been reading for the anthology. Truly, I'm greatly impressed by so many of them, and it only reminds me of how bad I personally am at working from a prompt.
Last weekend, during my writer's group, a woman read a new short story that was very fast paced and distant, while still packing an emotional punch. She got a lot of compliments, and soon she asked if this approach was better than the approach she uses in her current novel in progress. What we ended up telling her was that it was like comparing apples and oranges. Both her short story and her novel were good, but they were different. To use similar approaches for them would mess up at least one if not both.
It wasn't a satisfying answer.
But what I hope came across was that writing an unusually strong story or an unusually weak story shouldn't be taken as a general assessment of one's skill as a writer. Each story has its own internal workings and requires its own set of skills.