The story of mine that got noticed by Glimmer Train could not have been planned. Or, at least, not consciously, carefully, purposefully planned out beforehand. I wrote this very short story because I had to write it for one of the weekly class prompts all of us graduate students in my readings course were assigned to do. I wound up writing about cows because I remembered an anecdote my father told me more than a decade ago. And this cow-themed anecdote from so long ago came to me only because I had been thinking a lot about animals that semester. I don't often think very much about animals, but I was back then as I had recently read Coetzee's Elizabeth Costello and the discussions about the inner lives of animals in it had taken root in my mind. I don't know why or how I came up with the refrains in the story. Neither do I know why the English translation of a ubiquitous Urdu curse word takes such prominence in it. But I do know why the characters don't have names: I often find that when I put a lot of thought into names for characters, the cultural or regional nuances are lost on the handful of readers I have at my graduate program. While working on this piece, I simply knew that, just like the cows, the characters didn't need to have names. I didn't even second-guess myself once while writing it.
Of course, there were some revisions later. The ending, in particular, changed quite a bit since the first draft. But many of the stylistic choices came to me very clearly and there was a sense of playfulness as I was writing it. I sometimes wonder why not all writing feels this playful and intuitive. It's a question I ask myself even though I think I know the answer: different works have different ambitions and, therefore, require different approaches. There are stories that come easily, and there are stories that need time—that do, in fact, need to be planned out consciously, carefully, purposefully. I have three stories at varying stages of revision that fall in this category. I sometimes get frustrated at myself for not knowing exactly what I want to do with them, but the one thing I know for certain is that I want to continue working on them.
But I'm not suggesting that stories that seem to write themselves don't require work. The semester I wrote the cow story, I was reading nearly two novels a week (I was over-ambitious and thought it would be a good idea to audit an extra class). I was writing short assignments for the readings class every week while working on longer projects for the graduate workshop. I'm aware of how this story is influenced by Elizabeth Costello and the scene in So Long, See You Tomorrow where William Maxwell enters a dog's point-of-view, even though I was not trying to imitate these novels. There must be other sources of inspiration that I'm still not fully conscious of. I know that I was thinking quite hard about employing different voices in each new work I wrote that semester. And I know I could not have produced this story if I was not so deeply immersed in reading and writing at that time.
So yes, my cow story might not have been planned out beforehand, but it wasn't all play. As for the stories that fall on the other end of the spectrum, there is certainly some pleasure in slowly planning and replanning a story, spending time with it and watching it move in a different direction with each draft. It's a different kind of play.