Writing Short Stories, An Upside


2013 01 22 13 48 48
My handwriting sucks, especially when I’m writing quickly.

An advantage of working in short stories, as I do (or writing shorts in addition to your novel-length project): when you get stuck, you can set a story aside and work on another one.

Caution must be used with this approach — it can turn into ‘start a bazillion projects and finish none’ syndrome, from which, I understand, many suffer.  ‘Finish everything’ is common advice to fight this dread syndrome; it’s advice I almost follow, but not quite. There are a couple of projects I haven’t finished. They sit in the ‘Trunk’ subfolder of my ‘Writing’ folder, just in case. You never know what will be useful, and I like to open all of my unfinished story files, including trunk stories, once in a while to see if inspiration strikes. A couple of months ago, I was doing just that, reading a trunk story that felt unfinished even though I had forced an ending, and otherwise didn’t feel quite right. It had been sitting there for two years or so. Inspiration struck, I retitled and reworked it, and ended up with a story that was satisfying and, I think, pretty damn good.

Some stories do sit unfinished for considerable lengths. I tend to have 8 to 12 working at once and sometimes months pass before start and finish. Isolation, the ~20,000 word lead story in my Isolation and Other Stories collection, ground to a halt twice and sat fallow for months before I picked it up again; it was a year and a half from inspiration to finishing for that one.

But in the meantime, I conceived and finished plenty of other stories. And that flexibility, at least for now, is a major reason I favor writing short stories over tackling a single novel-length project.

That doesn’t mean I think anyone’s wrong for concentrating on writing a novel. It doesn’t mean I don’t like novels. It doesn’t mean I think less of novelists. And it surely does not mean I won’t be producing a novel in the future. Conventional wisdom says the opportunity to make money is in novels, not short stories, and there’s a lot of evidence that this conventional wisdom is substantially accurate. And I do hope to make some money doing this writing thing, one way or another.

I just enjoy the freedom of having a somewhat chaotic creative process that short forms provide. Because I’m a somewhat chaotic person. That’s all.



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