Short stories are not as great as novels. No question. Writers who produce great books rarely produce great short stories. The only exceptions to this rule I’ve found are Stephen King, Haruki Murakami, and H.P. Lovecraft. I’m sure there are a few others. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write short stories. Because it’s difficult to write a good one, writing short stories helps you grow as a writer. That’s not the only benefit.
There are many ways short stories can make your novel better. The short stories you write before attempting a novel make you better at writing beginnings and endings. The short stories you write while writing your novel can be used on a short story blog to show samples of your writing and promote your novel. Short stories that are related to your novel have several uses I’ll describe below.
Short Stories as Writing Practice
Read any book or article on how to become a novelist and you will be told to start by writing short stories. The first thing you will notice is that it takes a long time to write just a few thousand words. Writing short stories gives you some time to learn to write faster before attempting a 100,000 word book.
Another advantage of writing short stories is that you will get practice at writing beginnings and endings. A good opening will hook readers into reading more. A good ending will leave them wanting more. The best place to fail on each is in short stories. Master opening hooks and satisfying endings with short stories and you’ve done a lot for your future manuscript writing efforts.
There are other skills you could use practice with too. Writing dialog, description, and narrative are all different challenges. Find a reader who’s willing to review your writing and tell you what they did and didn’t like. You’ll also want to practice editing. After re-writes, the best way to improve your writing is editing. That means cutting what isn’t necessary. It can mean adding, re-writing, and re-arranging too, but cutting is what will give your stories the biggest boost. The rule is: Cut big, then small.
Short Stories as Fiction Samples
Share your short stories by selling them to magazines or post them on a blog. There are several sites that offer free blogs as long as you don’t advertise anything except your own books. I use wordpress.com. Blogger is also popular.
When you put your work out there where people can read it, some are going to be looking for your books.
As any writer knows, it’s possible to revise forever. At some point you need to decide it’s done and move on to another project.
Two years ago, I found myself endlessly revising blog articles. The following two paragraphs outline my dilemma and solution.
I revise my writing too much. I know this because I find myself getting bored of endlessly revising articles. It seems like I’m going around and around the same group of 50 or 60 articles eternally. An article idea must have a couple of hundred words before I promote it to a first draft. The first draft must be worked on until it’s long enough and has all the components that make an article. Then, I have four revisions before I’m willing to call it finished. Even when I go through the finished articles, I won’t release them as blog posts until I’m certain they are good enough.
The endless revisions must end. But, I don’t want to stop writing. What to do? A different kind of writing is the answer. A different subject. A switch between fiction and non-fiction. A switch between articles and a book.
Kyokutei Bakin wrote over 470 books, including a 106 book novel. The 106 volume novel took 28 years to complete. That’s about 4 books per year. His other books included 30 long novels. Possibly there are a couple of hundred novellas in there as well. Even if it were only 470 novellas he wrote, we’d still like to know the secret to his writing output. What do we know about him?
Bakin was born in 1767 Japan, so the qualifications for publication were a little different than today. It’s seems like before 1900, if you could write a novel it would get published. That doesn’t change his accomplishment. 470 books is a lot of writing. If he wasn’t good at the start, he would have been eventually. And he was. His novel Nans? Satomi hakkenden (“Satomi and the Eight Dogs”) is considered a classic.
There’s not a lot of information about Bakin, but among the biographical information there is a clue as to how he was able to write so much.
Maybe you’re going to write the “great American novel” and become rich and famous. Maybe only part of that is why you write. What are the motivations for writing and how much are they worth?
Some motivations are good, others won’t affect your writing at all, and some will help you fail as a writer. Let’s start with the three in the opening sentence.
Only a small percentage of writers take their writing to the next level. I’m sure there are statistics for each transition just as I’m sure the numbers are all over the place depending on the source. I’ll go with the fiction that 10% take the step to the next level.
What stage are you at in your writing?
Will you take the next step?
What are these steps?
Since 2009, I’ve written many articles on prolific writing. The following are my 10 best.
On Free-writing and Spontaneous Writing describes two kinds of writing exercises that can get you pumping out words on days you can’t seem to get going.
How To Use Pulp Fiction Methods For Quality Writing talks about the advantage of using pulp fiction methods for writing first drafts.
Think Less – Write More is about turning off your internal editor and how to use the editor when it won’t shut up.
How to Think Like a Prolific Writer presents six methods that will help you think like a prolific writer.
Become a Master Writer in Only 10,000 Hours talks about the importance of writing as much as you can because writers are made, not born.
Prolific Writing is a Skill talks about the importance of continuing to learn as you write.
Six Secrets to Prolific Writing presents some common sense tips that will get you writing more.
Pulp Fiction – Feast or Foul? explains why writing pulp fiction is a bad idea and then gives reasons for you to give it a try.
Write More Daily is about overcoming distractions and taking steps to increase your productive writing.
Writer’s Block: Myth or Reality? teaches you how to develop the tools to wipe out writer’s block using problem specific cures, blanket cures, and methods that overpower writer’s block.
There are so many ideas here that you may not want to read them all in one sitting. On the other hand, you can always make notes. Every prolific writer has that skill. If you’re not a note taker already, today is a great day to start.
Article by Ivan Izo.
Motivation is highly overrated. If you’ve set yourself a daily writing goal, you need to do it whether you feel like it or not. That’s what makes you a writer. This post talks about articles, but it could just as easily be about short stories or chapters in a novel or non-fiction book.
If you have many articles in progress, simply reading through them will lead to working on them. You’ll think of ideas and information you want to add. Keep cycling through article ideas, outlines, first drafts, second drafts, and final drafts. You know this works.
If you don’t have any articles in progress, make some up. Don’t worry about starting with sensible ideas. You feel like doing nothing. Waste some time with silly ideas. Write enough on a silly thought and some sense often comes out of it.
More on this, did you say?
There are several tasks that must be done if you want to make it as a writer selling ebooks online. I’ll say first that I haven’t started yet. Even if I was selling novels already, I wouldn’t know which part of this worked. I say they must all be done, but I’m ignoring some until I have the first book up for sale. If you think some steps are unnecessary or that I missed one, let me know.
There’s an interesting talk on TED about goal setting. Psychologists ran an experiment to see how sharing goals helped with achievement. They found that when you share a goal with others, you then feel the satisfaction of having completed that goal and it makes the goal harder to complete. Getting that satisfaction decreases the perceived reward for finishing.
An article a day is a fine goal. Ten thousands words a day is a better one. It may be impossible for most of us, but some big name writers are doing it, given the number of books they put out.
I like setting tough goals for myself, just a little higher than I believe possible. I may fail to achieve them, but get more done than I would with a lesser goal.
I’ve written a lot about prolific writing in earlier articles. You may think I’m trying to promote pulp fiction, but my main goal has been to help you (and me) to write more. Pulp fiction methods are a way to write a first draft fast. Start with a quality synopsis and outline, write a quick sloppy smash-through-all-obstacles first draft, and finish with quality revisions. The final novel won’t be pulp.
The more you write, the better you write, especially if you keep learning and experimenting. This challenge is my latest writing experiment.