Writing Short Stories - Worth the Time?
Here's something you may not know about me: I love writing short stories. Yep, it's true. It is one of my absolute most favorite things to do. I love the challenge of it, the uniqueness of it, the sheer fun of it! Who doesn't love a challenge? For me, nothing beats being given a prompt and the restrictions/guidelines and told to write. It's the ultimate use of our imaginations, in my opinion.
When I was thirteen, I had just started seventh grade. I had a teacher, Ms. Strauss and she was the creative writing teacher. She took a classroom full of students and made writers out of them. I'm not even joking. We published a school magazine at the end of the year. Inside was full of short stories, poems, photographs and artwork - all done by the students of that class. I found my copy the other day and was actually impressed with what I read, especially considering it was written by a bunch of thirteen year olds! That was the year I fell in love with writing. From then on, I took as many creative writing, poetry and language arts classes that I could. I read all the classics; falling in love with the romance, descriptive writing and beauty of the works. I knew then that I wanted to be a writer, preferably a professional one, but a writer nonetheless.
Of all the writing classes I took, the creative writing classes were my favorite. Everyday in class we'd be given a prompt, be it a word, a first line, a subject. Then we'd have the entire class period to create a story using the prompt. Now, I'm not going to lie and say they were the easiest classes in the world. They weren't. Some days I would sit at the desk staring at the paper with no thoughts on how to get started. Obviously those were the days when my muse was either napping or on vacation. But the rest of the days, I would write furiously throughout the entire class period. If I wasn't finished, I'd want to take it home but we had to turn them in at the end of class - finished or not. I feel as if having learned to write that way, gave me the building blocks to move on to writing novels. During my senior year of high school I wrote my first novel, Emily's Choice (as yet unpublished). It has since gone through probably about six rewrites, and I wonder if it'll ever see the light of day. It's a constant visitor on the back burner, and probably I should take it off of there and really make an effort to get it publishing ready. That's a story for a new blog!
So you're probably all wondering what this has to do with short stories and writers. Well, I've been doing an impromptu poll lately. I've been asking writers whether they make time for short story submissions and/or little contests. Most of them said No and that really surprised me. Some said they didn't have time, some said they'd never been successful at it, some said they didn't see the value of it and others said they were never able to meet the word count guidelines. As I said earlier, I learned to write in those creative writing classes and I was taught that creative writing is essential to the craft, that being able to create a story from a prompt is a stepping stone. It's a basic skill, at least that's always how I viewed it. So is it worth the time? In my opinion, absolutely. And here's why:
I find it helps me overcome writer's block. For me, switching to a prompt-based story helps me work through a block on my WIP. Stepping back and taking a break does so much for my writing. I find it's a lot like when you forget a word and know if you just stop thinking about it, it'll come to you. When I'm finished with a short story, I usually can come back to my WIP and be in the right place to continue. I'll realize I'll have written myself into a corner and be able to cut or move whole sections. Or my characters will have figured out where they'd like to go next. Or the story has just had time to simmer in my mind so that when I come back to it, it's ready to go.
I like the break from novel writing. Novel writing is a challenge, any writer will tell you that. It's our passion, it's in our blood and we wouldn't dream of doing anything else. But, it's still challenging and frustrating. And everyone needs a break from their passions at some point, right? Otherwise you'll get burned out. I need a creative outlet, and so if I'm not novel writing, I'm creating short stories. I find that when I do get back to my WIP, I'm stronger and have longer writing sessions than when I just plug away at my WIP with no break.
I find that it makes me a better writer. When you're writing a novel you have a crazy amount of words to use. Most novels are 75,000-100,000 words. You can fit a whole lot of story in that. But with a short story submission, you're looking at a word count of 300-3000 words, max! So you've got to figure out a whole story, complete with plot, character development and setting and you've got to do it in 3000 words or less. You learn fast what to cut, what to keep and what you can live without. So when you're writing novels and you're at the editing phase, it's a lot easier to cut the dead weight when you're already schooled in doing it with short stories.
I love the challenge. It really is my favorite kind of writing, almost like a vacation for myself. It's impressive to write a full-length novel, don't get me wrong. But being able to take a prompt and create something out of that, it's challenging and fulfilling. One of my resolutions this year was to write in different genres for each of my story submissions. I'm a romance writer, it's what I love, what I know and what I do best. And this year, I decided that I wanted to branch out some. I figured the best place to start was with the short story submissions. It's hard to write out of your comfort zone, but it's a challenge and who knows? Maybe my next book won't be a romance!
I read an article the other day on Writer's Digest that suggested novel writers should absolutely take the time to not only write, but publish their short stories. There is a market out there for short stories. You can publish a book of your short stories or sell them to magazines and literary journals. You could attract agents and publishers from going the magazine and journal route too. Think of the circulation of a magazine, it's probably going to be a lot higher than a book. If someone reads your story and likes it, they might remember your name when they come across your book. Or be willing to check out your website if you list it at the end of the story. You'll be able to market those short stories too, which is a nice break from marketing your book constantly, right? I think as writers, authors, maybe even especially Indie Authors, we need to be willing to share as much of our work as possible. You never know who'll read it, love it and share it with their friends and family. It can't hurt, but it could help tremendously.
And us Indie Authors, well, we need all the help we can get!