One of the things Richard Peck said at the best ever writing retreat was that you shouldn't jump to another project if you are having trouble with your current project. That makes a ton of sense, because that other project will always look easier from a distance. You think you can write a quick picture book or short story and you'll come back to the novel. You swear you'll come back! But it is NEVER quick or easy to write a picture book or short story. And now you've lost momentum on your novel. Bad idea!
Another thing he said (after hearing me read from my current work-in-progress and after I confessed to him why I was worried about actually writing it) was this:
"You will finish this book and it will be a whole new chapter in your life."
Wow! When Richard Peck says something like that, it makes an impact. And so I made a commitment to this new baby of mine. I came up with a title that fits, and I figured out how it will end (in a broad sort of sense), and I even wrote a sketchy synopsis to help guide me on my way.
But then I got a call from an editor who happens to also be an author whom I really admire. She asked me if I might want to write a short story for her magazine. With Richard's voice in my head, I told her I'd love to write the story, but I'd have to first finish the draft of my new novel. So far, so good. Tempted, but I didn't stray.
Then she sent me a bunch of her magazines so I could get a feel for the stories they publish. I waited a whole day until I broke down and read them. Then I happened to take a shower, and everyone knows the best ideas come to you in the shower. So there I was, washing my hair, when an idea for a short story popped into my head. I told myself it would wait. I would write the story after the novel. After the novel! But first I would jot down a few sentences... just so I wouldn't forget.
Two pages later, I realized I was totally cheating on my novel with this new short story. I'm a children's lit adulterer! Ack!
What to do? What to do? Richard Peck said something else at the workshop. He told us how his book A Long Way from Chicago started with a request from an editor for a short story. Hmmm... Maybe it's okay to write this short story now. I swear I'll come back to my novel! I swear!