The vast majority of the reading I do is full length novels. I don’t read magazine articles, novellas, short stories or even a lot of blog posts (yes I realize that’s pretty hypocritical of me). Because of this I’ve always focused on writing full-length novels. After all the saying goes – write what you want to read.
Only, full length novels are long, not to mention scary, overwhelming, intimidating and downright difficult. As a no name author, with this blog as my only published work forward progress on my novel felt way too slow. I wanted to share my writing with others, wanted to learn about the self-publishing process and wanted to know what if feels like to finish a story. The struggle felt much too real.
This year I encountered a solution to all the problems that come with full length novels. Short Stories! These magical little things have been the answer to all of my writing woes.
Here’s what I’ve learned in the six months since I started writing short stories.
- Short Stories are Short: I can quick draft a short story in just a few hours, and can move through the entire editing process in about ten. Without increasing the amount of time I spend writing each day, I can get a short story ready to share in about two weeks. That is lightning speed compared to novels. This gives me a chance to experience the entirety of the writing process on a small scale. I can see drafting, revising, editing, polishing and publishing through to the end, on a time frame that doesn’t require a boatload of patience. This not only fills me with satisfaction as a writer, but it improves all of my writing skills. Short stories are the practice course for your novel. Do you want to revise, edit and publish that novel you’ve been working on for years without practicing those skills first? Me neither. It’s much better to gain experience on these short stories that are a smaller time commitment. You might learn you are terrible at drafting, but an amazing editor. Or maybe you’ll learn you can’t remember how to use commas appropriately to save your life and need to study up. An added bonus is if you publish a short story and everyone hates it, oh well, you only spent a few hours on it, and now you have feedback about your writing and how to improve in the future. I cannot emphasize enough all of the benefits of seeing the writing process on this tiny scale. It has literally changed my life.
- But Brooke – writing short stories takes me forever – I could spend six months on a single short story! If that’s you then you need to take a step back and look at your writing process. If it takes you six months worth of consistent writing to finish a short story you are most likely caught in the editing spiral. Or you don’t have healthy drafting habits. The good news, it’s better to discover this about yourself while writing a short story rather than a full length novel. Short stories are the perfect venue for learning when to stop editing and reveal your work to the world! Pluck up some courage and stop making excuses.
- Short Stories get your name out: Back in January I took one of the short stories I wrote and self published (buy it here yo). This was mostly an experiment to learn about the self publishing process, marketing myself , and how to boldly stand behind my writing. So far I have made a whole $2.00 on the book, that’s right, be jealous of me making a living off my writing. Okay, so one short story isn’t exactly paying the bills, but what it has done is allowed me to get my name out there. Now, when I talk about my writing I don’t have to fumble through some awkward statement about how my novel is a work in progress and won’t be published for a long time and it’s about dorky stuff you probably don’t want to read about anyways….awkward pause….change the subject. Instead, I can just tell them to check out the short story I published. Even cooler is some people who I wouldn’t have expected to buy my little e-book not only purchased it, but they loved it and have been begging me for more ever since. There’s no better motivation to write than knowing you have fans (besides your mom) who are anxiously waiting to read more of your writing.
- Short Stories Keep Your Creativity Fresh: I don’t know about you, but the longer I revise, the more I dream of new stories. Sometimes this pull to write something new can suck me into a writer’s block and suddenly I make zero progress despite spending every day revising. This of course is incredibly frustrating and leaves me feeling discouraged and hopeless. Short stories are my new super hero, swooping in to save my writing day. When I don’t have the will to revise, short stories are there as a creative outlet allowing me to make progress in my writing, even if it’s not in my main novel. I used to think any time not spent writing my novel was a waste of time, but now I’m learning how wrong I was. Giving myself a few days break to write something new brings me back to my revisions feeling fresh and motivated. I think I’ve actually started getting more revision done since I began writing short stories.
- Short Stories don’t have to be serious: Before writing short stories I had an idea built up in my head that short stories had to be these serious, literary pieces in order to be considered a short story. I’d never be able to get a short story published – or liked for that matter – if the writing was silly and casual and didn’t say some huge and thought provoking lesson. Unsurprisingly, just like novels, short stories can be whatever we want them to be and there is literally a market for anything. Never let other people’s opinions dictate what you write.
- In a short story every word matters…not: Again before I started writing shorts I was really intimidated by them. I’d heard over and over “In a short story every word has meaning.” Leading me to then assume writing short stories would take even more time than a novel because I would have to spend three months picking out each word. I was so wrong. Unless you are writing literary short stories (we bow down to your talent and patient attention to detail), the fate of your tale does not hang on every word. Write freely, and write boldly because you can do what you want in short stories!
My absolute favorite part about short stories is sharing them. Below is a short I wrote a while back, it came to me on my lunch break at work so I wrote it down. It isn’t perfect, it isn’t even a complete story, more of an intro to a story, but I think it’s worth reading. And don’t forget to join Kayla and I on May 7th at the Underground Cafe for an exclusive look into who we are, what we’re writing and why we do what we do!
Pain blossoms in my side, making my vision dim for a second as I crash to the sandy desert ground. I’ve just been stabbed. Awesome. Grunting, I try to get up, try to move, but the pain is too intense. It feels like – well I was going to say it feels like I’ve just been stabbed with a knife – but I literally have just been stabbed with a knife. A bread knife. In my side. What organs are over there? Pancreas? Spleen? Maybe kidneys?
Blood seeps through my fingers as my hands presses my side. A gunshot rings out and I know my assailant is dead, my partner is the vengeful type.
“Jake, get up, we need to go.” She says trudging through the sand in my general direction. Her eyes look up at some point beyond me. Listening I start to hear the rumbling of a car engine. Again, I try to move, but with my hands still compressing my side and the sand slipping around beneath my legs I don’t get far before I slump back in the sand with a pained hiss. I’m going to have sand everywhere after this.
Nikki stops when she comes level with me and twists her mouth to the side, “Helpful.” She remarks spotting the bright red blood now seeping onto the sand.
Hardly missing a beat Nikki stoops and in one quick motion throws me over her shoulder like a sack of potatoes. I scream as the motion tugs at the edges of my wound, and struggle to get into a position that doesn’t make me wish for death to come quickly.
“Gentle please.” I huff out, panting from the intensity of the pain. They simulated being stabbed, and shot and what not in my training of course, but the real thing is so much different.
“Sorry I can’t cradle you in my arms.” Again with the sarcasm. She does have a point though, it’s impressive she can lift me at all.
The sound of the engine grows closer, I can’t see if it is friend or foe, and Nikki doesn’t give any indication that she thinks the fight is over. She still holds her gun in one hand, though how she would shoot it while carrying me is a mystery. Still, I have no doubt she would find a way.
I loose track of time and suddenly the vehicle is upon us, I can hear it’s tires slowing and the doors whooshing open. Nikki sees something I don’t for she says, “He’s fine – knife in the side.”
Fine? She doesn’t know what this feels like, it’s taking all of my strength to refrain from screaming or passing out.
I’m suddenly chucked sideways. Thankfully, I land only a short way down on a cushioned seat. An embarrassing yelp of pain escapes me and I make a point of avoiding Nikki’s eye.
“What happened out there?” the familiar voice of Captain Michaels barks from the driver’s seat. He doesn’t waste any time as he throws the car into drive and speeds off. We are crammed in the back of the SUV with at least three other people, and I hope to god one of them is a medic.
“How should I know, it’s not my job to babysit him.” Nikki scoffs, as she’s shunted forward by Jerry, the closest thing we have to a medic, who is emerging from the third row of seats like a giraffe from the womb. Blessedly, he has a first aid kit. I don’t see the exchange between Nikki and captain, but I can practically hear Nikki’s eye roll, “Alright so it was sort of my job, but seriously I turned my back for like two seconds.”
The vehicle goes over a particularly large bump and I gasp as fresh waves of agony race through my side. I become vaguely aware that my focus is slipping. I’m loosing a lot of blood. I wonder if the stains will ever come out of the upholstery. They really should have sprung for leather seats back here.
“Jake, you need to move your hands.” Jerry says, snapping me back to the present. Reluctantly, I peel my fingers away. Sticky with blood, they cling to my skin for a painful moment before I can fully get them out of the way.
Jerry whistles, “Sexy.”
Nikki wrinkles her nose in disgust, Jerry has a very unique idea of the meaning of the word sexy.
“Did you get it at least?” Captain Michaels grunts as he jerks the wheel hard to the right narrowly missing a sand dune.
Nikki reaches into her cheek and pulls out the small computer chip we were sent to acquire, “Duh.” She says casually, but her eyes flick to my now fully exposed wound and I see worry there for the first time.
Captain grunts in approval and gestures for Nikki to give the chip to Clara our data wizard. I hear the whine of a zipper and suddenly Jerry’s hand is directly in front of my face “Take this,” He says shoving a tiny purple pill into my mouth, “I need to stitch you up – and it’s going to hurt like a bitch.”
Even though the drug is tiny, I struggle to swallow it. When I do, the effect is immediate. My limbs go limp, my eyes droop and the last thing I remember before passing out is Nikki sliding her fingers between mine and saying “Captain, we have a tail.”