Yesterday, in a fit of uncharacteristic productivity, I finished and submitted two short stories. Having never done that before, I felt that the only decent thing was to celebrate with a glass of Penderyn.
I remember once being amazed by a statement to the effect that Cliff Richard had had hits in five decades (it's probably more like six or seven now). As true as that undoubtedly was, I can use the same reasoning to claim that I've been writing and publishing short fiction for four decades. My first sale was in 1989; I've continued to write and sell through the nineties, noughties and into the current decade.
Strangely though, it doesn't get any easier. Whenever I start a piece of short fiction, I almost never have any idea as to how problematic the writing is going to be, and I'm still extraordinarily bad at estimating likely length of things. I've started 5000 word quickies that have developed into 30000 word monsters, taking weeks rather the days. I've also embarked on what I perceive to be a long, complex piece only to eventually realise that I'm dealing with an idea that's best suited to something much punchier. As m' learned colleague Paul McAuley notes in his blog, stories that ride on their own melting are gifts. In my career, I've only written a handful of stories that were effortless in that sense - "A Spy in Europa" basically wrote itself between one friday evening and the following sunday, and my story "Weather", from the Galactic North collection, was similarly friction-free. There may be one or two others, but the majority had to be dragged kicking and screaming into life. Some pieces are written to a tight deadline, and you just have to finish the little sods, no matter how difficult the progress seems, or how quickly the initial rush of enthusiasm flickers away. Anything longer than about 5000 words, though, and I can pretty much guarantee that there'll be a point in the writing where the momentum stalls, where my confidence in the premise falters, where I have to fight the fatal temptation to work on something else instead. I'm fairly good at not doing that - if there's anything I've learned in those four decades, it's that I generally do finish what I started, once I've committed some critical mass to paper - but it can still be something of a battle to get to the end. And then, of course, it's not the end. It's just the start of a process of revision, tightening, perhaps even submitting the story for further critique before it must take its chances.
I don't keep a notebook, but I do have a folder on my PC where I not only write all my short fiction, but create little dummy files with a few notes in - story titles, attempts at formulating ideas, dialogue fragments, etc. Over the years, I've been amazed at how many of those stubs have eventually developed into finished - and published - pieces of fiction.
Anyway, the two pieces I finished yesterday - one very short, one slightly longer - have been submitted. And I'm as nervous about that part of the process as I ever was.