This is something I was talking about to a friend yesterday and I fear I have said this before — but it’s important, so here I am again. Pay attention!
There was a time when short stories to me were just short stories and I really saw myself as a novelist, that’s what most of us strive for — it’s how we tend to measure ‘real success’ and it seems to be that novels are what most people read. Of course we all know there are a lot of excellent short story writers out there but in general the novel is seen as the art form to aspire to. I love short stories and wave my banner wildly for them, but we all know it’s novels people tend to read and novelists people tend to want to be. It’s fact.
But here’s one of the key reasons why a lot of new writers struggle — if the writing skills have not been honed sufficiently and your writing isn’t yet of a ‘publishable’ standard, given how long it takes to write ‘the novel’, without guidance you might well end up with 120,000 words of — wandering ideas, lack of focus or a wonderful idea but the writing lets it down. So here’s where developing your skills as a short story writer first — are invaluable!
It’s perhaps only as I look back I realise how writing short stories was a fast way to learn what works, what doesn’t, play with voice, viewpoint, experiment with genres and I suppose in essence to find myself and what kind of writer I am. I was part of a wonderful short story group but I was also studying for my MA at the time and writing one short story after the other, after the other and working for Bridge House and reading all kinds of writing books and stories. I was fast tracking my learning and it seems to be paying off. (On that note I was delighted to start the week with the news one of my shorts has been accepted for the Lakeview Literary Journal and will be published next month.)
When I first started to get work accepted and published in collections (and I mean other than Bridge House) it felt as if I had finally turned a corner and I could see how the way my own writing had sharpened, understood story arcs so much better and how to use narrative devices. It was really about practising, practising and more practising and I still get it wrong and I still have to practise! I am working on my new short story again this week as it’s not right yet.
Only when I knew my writing had reached a certain standard was I then able to go back to the novels and see where I was going wrong. And to see how that writing wasn’t as strong as the short stories I was writing. And finally after more work — and lots of it, I had my first novel accepted. But as you see, while still working on the novels I will always write short stories. If nothing else it keeps my focus, and allows me to try new styles and directions and it they don’t work, what have I lost? A week or two? If I did that with a novel it might he two years down the line before I realise I don’t write Sci-fi/fantasy dystopian eroticism very well!
So all I’m saying is, even if the only thing you want to write are novels, don’t dismiss the power of the short story as a teaching aid. But I see a short story as a whole lot more than that of course!
At some point I might put together a collection of my short stories. Sure it might not sell well, but who says it has to be about that.
Have a great day everyone!