ANSWER TO: I HAVEN’T DONE ANY WRITING SINCE COLLEGE. HOW CAN I GET BACK INTO IT WITH THE GOAL OF WRITING STORIES?

The short answer is, just do it.

The long answer is to first think whether you wish to sell what you write or at least have it published or not.

If publishing isn’t your goal, then just put the seat of your pants to the seat of a chair and write whatever comes to mind.

If you want to be published, then be aware that the market for short fiction that pays a professional rate is small, mostly science fiction and those stories are read by gamers so must appeal to the problem solver mentality. But there are a lot of other publications out there other than science fiction that publish short fiction for token payment and/or name recognition.

Once you’ve decided what genre you want to write in, read that genre and see what’s being published. Then take your favorite story— one you think you could have written— and take it apart. Then rewrite it your way. Or write another story if that’s what your mind is telling you to do.

Then submit it. If it’s been a while since you went to college, you’ll find the submission process has changed. It’s now mostly electronic, which is much easier and cheaper than printing out and mailing off all those pages.

Then sit and wait and, while you wait, write another story.

The Right Theme

Theme is important. It’s deeper than plot. It’s what makes the story come alive. And it’s very, very general. Love overcomes bigotry. Hope springs eternal. Life is good. Nothing specific.

Problem is, the general nature of theme makes it illusive, amorphous and easy to lose track of even though the theme is what makes the story unforgettable. Like the times you set out to write a love story and ended up with a family saga. You had a techno- thriller clearly in mind but you wrote a romance. So the question is … how can you know your theme before you begin writing if it might change during the course of the story?

The answer is, you don’t. And that’s okay. Because theme chooses you, not the other way around, and that’s why very often it shouldn’t be decided until after the story is finished.

What you wrote when you thought you were writing whatever you set out to write was the story your subconscious was directing you to write. You just didn’t know it until you wrote The End at the bottom of the last page with that elegant flourish all writers learn early on.

At that moment, and not a second before, go back and decipher the underlying theme of your masterpiece. It might surprise you. It may be totally different from what you expected. It usually is.

Don’t worry about it. Run with whatever theme you uncovered that you didn’t know existed until your story was written. Then pretend that theme was what you set out to write all along and accept all compliments gracefully.