For a long time I wasn’t interested in short stories. I just wanted to get my future bestseller finished and published. I accomplished the finished bit. The published bit proved harder than I was expecting. I lost some of my motivation and work on my second novel stagnated. I wondered if I could write at all. So did my family, though they tried not to show it. Then I read Ray Bradbury’s advice on writing a short story every week. I tried it and things started to happen. Here’s ten reasons why it helped me and will help you too…
1. You’ll Learn Fast
The second half of that Ray Bradbury quote is that it’s not possible to write 52 bad ones in a row. It’s true. If you write three short stories and go back to the first one you will see a multitude of faults you didn’t see before. You learn really fast. Some stories will be better than others and some will be rubbish. But some will be brilliant.
2. You’ll Have A Good Author Bio
When I was querying agents for my novel, I avoided ones that asked for a resumè. Why? Because I didn’t have one. Not one solitary published item. Now I actually have something to write for these. Granted, it’s still not that much and some are pretty obscure. But it proves I write to a publishable standard and that I take my writing seriously.
3. It Will Boost Your Confidence
Remember I said I wondered if I could write at all? Not any more. I know I can write. Not everything I write is good, but that’s a completely different thing to not being able to write at all. When I started sending out short stories the second response I got (we don’t talk about the first) was an email informing me I’d been shortlisted in a competition. I cried. It was the first time I felt really validated as a writer and it didn’t matter one jot that I didn’t win. The main thing was I could have done, because someone really liked my work.
4. You’ll Use Fewer Words
Short stories teach you to say what you want in a few words. If you’re entering competitions, they nearly always have a word count limit. Often, it will be under 2000 words. If you’re a writer who likes lots of description that will have to go. Good, you don’t need it. You’ll learn how to keep the story moving. Try flash fiction too. Some contests are set at exactly 100 words. That means every unnecessary word will have to be painstakingly weeded out, which is great practice.
5. You’ll Edit Your Work Better
It’s easier to edit 2000 words than 80,000. If you’re writing a story a week you’ll probably get it done within two days. That gives you four or five days to polish it to perfection before you send it off. And if I story doesn’t get accepted, polish it again before you send it elsewhere. By the time you come to edit that novel of yours you’ll know exactly what you’re doing.
6. You’ll Create Twists With Impact
In a short story you have to make a big impression in few words. Often you can do this by having either a shocking or amusing twist at the end. A gasp or a laugh from your reader is what’s going to make them remember your story. Increasingly, multiple twists are in demand within novels too. So let short stories teach you how it’s done and find out what works and what doesn’t.
7. You’ll Get Used To Sending Your Work Out
All writers need feedback. But let’s admit it, it’s a terrifying thing to open yourself up to. Your writing is a little piece of you and what if no one likes it? If you just write for pleasure it’s okay to give in to these feelings. But if you ever want to be published then you have to get over it. So send lots of stuff out there. If it’s rejected then send it somewhere else. A short story is a much smaller piece of you than a novel. It will be easier to get over. If you have to ditch a couple in the end it’s only a week’s work as opposed to a year’s. Maybe you’ll even find it’s not so bad as you thought. Just kidding. But it’s something all writers have to live with. Even really famous ones. Have you seen the pictures online of J K Rowling’s rejection letters when she sent out work under a pseudonym? That’s the reality of writing. But it doesn’t mean you’re rubbish.
8. It Can Be A Great Motivation
Results come faster. You’ll stay motivated. One ‘yes’ can fuel your writing for weeks, even months. After a few weeks, you’ll have several stories you can be sending out simultaneously. Your heart will thump every time you open your emails. Personally, I’m addicted to the rush and feel very flat if I have nothing out on submission. It’s a bit like fishing. It might be ages before you catch something, maybe you never will, but the possibility is there so you stay put, with your bait in the water, and you wait. And the more rods you have out, the more chance of success you have.
9. Others Will Take Your Writing Seriously
All writers hate one question: ‘have you published your book yet?’ Many non-writers think writing a book and publishing a book are the same. I’ve had people ask me where they can buy my book before I’ve even finished the first draft. Now I can say airily that I’m concentrating on short stories at the moment and they can read them on etc… Suddenly you get a lot more respect as a writer. Perhaps your family members will even leave you alone to write sometimes too.
10. You’ll Take Your Writing Seriously
With the increased confidence of having a few things published, realising you might actually be quite good at this, you’ll also have an increased feeling of responsibility. Writing is what you do, so you’ll have to do it. You want people to find your stories? Get out there on social media and publicise them. Cut out some of that TV time and write instead. You’re a writer now. So write.