The value of writing shorts

Recently read an excellent blog from a fellow author (whom I have never met nor read), Joseph Zieja, on the value of writing short fiction:  http://josephzieja.com/2013/11/22/the-short-fiction-question/?goback=%2Egde_2033716_member_5810767274541359104#%21

Basically he provides some strong arguments as to the value of a novelist also writing short stories, including the practice, especially at writing tight prose; the additions to ye olde writing resume; and the opportunity to experiment with different styles, protagonists, and the like.  Enough on Joseph–check his blog out for more.

13 billiard ball

As to why I write short fiction, I basically got started a few years ago when I was (unsuccessfully) querying my misbegotten first novel.  I wrote a short story (“Walking with Great Uncle“), submitted it to a magazine, The First Line, and it was accepted.  1 for 1.  Wow this is easy.

Thirty or so rejections later, I sold the second story.  Not so easy.  Since then I’ve sold twelve more stories, two of them twice (and one of which was for charity so technically it wasn’t sold), so a total of thirteen stories and fifteen publication credits (including two that are under contract but not yet published, and yes there is a lot of fine print in all this…). And another 20 some odd in various stages of write, rewrite and submission.  Collectively I’ve garnered over 180 rejections along with those 15 wins.

But 180+ rejections is a whole heap of bad juju, so why bother (hint, it’s not the money)?

Practice, practice, practice

I’ve heard tell that to be a good writer one needs to write a million publishable words.  I’m a bot north of 500K, so halfway there. While over half of that comes from my novel attempts, shorts are an important piece of the reps needed.

Keep it tight

Even more importantly, writing short stories teaches one to keep one’s writing, well, short.  Verbose is not a good thing for writers, even though we all tend to drift that way if we’re not careful.  Writing tight prose is  really difficult.  And there is nothing like a hard 1000 word limit to force economy in one’s writing

Experimentation

I’ve written two novels, one in first person, one in third person with multiple points of views.  Gave me two protagonists, a few different POVs, and one tense (past).  For short stories I’ve tried to keep my protagonists split 50 / 50 male vs female. It is tough for a male writer to write a good female protagonist (and vice versa), but I must be doing something right, as 6 of my 13 published shorts have female protagonists.  Beyond that, I’ve written 12 year olds and 400 year olds (yes, valkyries do live that long), Swedes and Chinese, Jews and Christians, blacks and Hispanics. Even a dolphin and an elf (the dolphin was really tough).

I’ve also tried all permutations of present and past tense, first and third person.   Haven;t tried a truly unreliable narrator but have done a disinterested one.  My shortest short is 40 words (“First Frost”); my longest weighs in at 25,000 (“Gho”), a healthy novella.

Feedback

The novel-writing path is long and the feedback loops are nonexistent for much of the path.  For shorts, the rejections roll in, but from these rejections I can often glean small gems.  Too many form rejections on a piece and I know something is not right.  But the few personalized rejections and short list selections provide valuable feedback as to what is working and what is not.

Letting them sit

My new writing mantra is to work several pieces at once and let each one sit in turn for a while.  So when I get circle back to a piece after a few weeks, I can look at it with fresh eyes and spot flaws that I might otherwise miss.

It’s fun

I actually like writing shorts.  I tend to over-complicated plots, so it’s less frustrating during the writing: I can’t get my self in too much trouble. I like seeing a project to completion.  And it’s frankly a kick to see one’s name in print.

Reputation

This was one of Joseph’s points, and I’m not so sure myself as to the value, but I’d like to think that having some pro publication (I will have two) credits on the infamous query letter might help keep me out of the slush pile, and at least have my manuscript judged on the merits of its first few sentences. Maybe.  Hopefully.

The money

Last, and probably least, is the money.  It’s very meager for short stories–pro markets are by definition $0.05 per word, and that’s the top of the pyramid–but it beats selling two ebooks a month on Amazon.

CR Hodges

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7 Responses to The value of writing shorts

  1. Chuck, this is valuable info. As you may recall I have ventured into the short story and poetry markets. I actually sold one poem.Five bucks for a few lines I wrote 30 years ago ain’t too bad. My latest wasn’t quite a rejection. It was a too late for this year and you quit just when the action is getting good. I was told to rewrite and send it for next Thanksgiving. Novels really do take a long time and are so iffy if no one reads them and leaves reviews. AW Short Stories Comps. have helped me immensely.

  2. crhodges says:

    Ruth Ann, a rejection that comes with a request to resubmit is very valuable. I’ve only had two of those over the years and in both cases it led to acceptances and publications. And congrats on the sale too.

  3. crhodges says:

    Note that the Aspiring Writers Short Story Competition that Ruth Ann refers to is a LinkedIn group for short storyists that includes a monthly short story competition, which I have occasionally entered and which I often help judge (of course not when I enter). Interestingly enough I have actually sold every story that I originally wrote for that competition, even though I never even placed in said competitions,,,,

    FYI, the URL for this group is http://www.linkedin.com/groups?home=&gid=4061083&trk=anet_ug_hm,

  4. mike olley says:

    ‘Letting them sit’ is always good advice, it’s the closest we can get to being objective to our own work. As to ‘Why write short stories?’ – because I can’t help it.

  5. Daron Henson says:

    I also write many short stories. I have been trying to tackle the short story magazine market, but no real luck. One publication and over seventy polite rejections.

    However, I am also working on my blogspot, mostly short stories, and putting together an anthology of short stories in related topics.

    Hopefully, all of this will, if nothing else, improve my writing ability. Better yet, hopefully I will get more of my work published, even if only for negligible monetary compensation.

    Thank you.

    • crhodges says:

      Keep on writing, keep on submitting. Keep on rewriting too. The acceptances will come, and the cool thing about shorts is that there are literally 100s of markets for any story (my current record is 20 rejections on one story, but I haven’t given up yet–it’s actually a pretty dang good story now after 20 rewrites…)

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