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.
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.