I am offline this week, so I won’t be around to answer questions today. My wonderful and talented colleagues have agreed to pitch in and respond to your comments on my behalf. If you have a question specifically for me, go ahead and ask. I’ll get back to you when I’m back online. Otherwise, you’re in capable hands. Thanks.
Ciao, SEers. I’ve written a lot of posts designed to save writers time, such as apps for social media sharing and scheduling drip campaigns. I’m going to ask you now to trust me—devoting some of your designated novel-writing time to writing short fiction will actually help you with your novel.
Before you scoff, let me tell you why.
If you’re writing a novel, you’ve got anywhere from fifty thousand to one hundred thousand words to tell your story. (Epic fantasy writers get even more.) I’m not suggesting that wasted words are acceptable in long fiction, but longer works are a bit more forgiving.
If you write a short story, you don’t have the space to waste anything. Every word has to count to advance plot or develop character. Because the form is so stripped down, you’ve got to nail it. Plot holes will be immediately noticeable; you won’t have chapters to write yourself out of a corner. Poorly-developed characters can’t be saved by a lengthy arc; you need to establish who they are immediately and not waver from their logical progression.
My personal experience:
I write long. I like to read lengthy stories/novels, and so it should be no surprise that I also write that way. But working on the short form has really taught me not to waste words, not to veer too far from my outline, and not to let the story get sluggish in the middle. If you find your novels are sagging and unclear at the halfway point, consider working on shorts for a while. If you master that form, those skills will transfer to your novels, resulting in tighter and faster novel writing.
Daily Shorts on Your Blog
If you follow my blog, you know that (when I’m not swamped with other writing and editing projects—go ahead and laugh here) I use the WordPress Daily Prompts to write short stories and publish them on my site. WP offers them seven days a week, so you don’t need to try to hit a certain day, nor do you have to participate regularly. For that matter, you don’t need to use the WP prompt, or any other site’s prompt—you can just write a short and post it.
The reason I suggest blogging a short work is that it’s a fabulous way to get your creative juices flowing in the morning. You don’t need to write three thousand words. There are prompts that ask for six-word stories. It really can be that short. A friend of mine does fifteen-word stories. Another does ninety-nine-word selections. I don’t usually limit myself. I just let the words flow.
Overpolishing isn’t necessary on these. It’s just a nice way to introduce readers to your style while also getting your mind going. Then, when you turn your attention back to your WIP, you’re already in beast-writing-mode, but you haven’t wasted time slogging through the slow-going process of getting back into your novel. All your synapses are firing fast, and you’ll get started faster and write more efficiently.
My personal experience:
My blog traffic increased and I was able to dive into my WIPs much faster and easier after a quick morning short story writing session. Best of all, I met new friends online who have become not only regular viewers, but some have also become collaborators in other projects—like anthologies.
Writing Short Stories for Anthologies and Collections
Another way the short form can be beneficial is through compilations. If you write for an anthology (an assembly of short stories written by multiple authors), you’ll find your work reaching new audiences—the readers and fans of all the contributors. If you write a collection of your own work for publication, you can choose to use a central theme to attract fans of that genre or you can offer a variety of your styles and hope there’s something in there for any reader, regardless of their preferences.
Either way, multi-author anthology or single-author collection, you have the opportunity to reach new readers—particularly given these works are often permafree or 99¢ offerings. That makes them unquestionably affordable for anyone. New-to-you readers are far more likely to give you a chance if you aren’t out of their price range.
And a nice bonus with anthologies? Often the authors will host each other on their sites and develop relationships with each other. These connections are invaluable for future marketing efforts of all your works—even your novels.
My personal experience:
I’ve contributed to (I think) seven anthologies now. I’ve forged friendships with many of the authors involved, who have not only garnered me new readers because we were both featured in the same work, they’ve continued to help me through interviews and book release notices on their sites. You can’t beat that kind of support, nor can you put a value on those endorsements.
So, yes, anytime you write a short, you’re taking time away from your novel. But unless you’re under a tight deadline, can you really afford not to write some shorts? Especially considering they:
- help you hone your craft,
- jumpstart your creativity, and
- garner you new readers.
If you aren’t a short story writer, I hope you’ll consider trying it. I fervently believe doing so is tremendously helpful for both technique-development and wider exposure.
If you are a short story writer, maybe you’d like to share some of your experiences with the rest of us. We’d all appreciate it. The comment box is below. You know what to do…