I’d always wanted to write a novel. I don’t know why. Maybe I envisioned myself attending cocktail parties in a tweed sport coat, discussing character development with groups of my admiring readers. Well, I’ve self-published three books, and the closest I’ve come to this daydream was at a book fair where I was mistaken for someone else. I guess my sport coat threw them off.
I’m still chasing the novelist’s dream, but I have recently discovered a challenging, fast-paced, bite-sized writing experience – short stories. Definitions vary, but a short story is typically defined as something comfortably read in one sitting, usually 1,000 to 5,000 words.
I’d always thought that “real writers” wrote novels, but I may have been living in a fool’s world. There are several famous authors who’ve come by way of the short story: Poe, Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Bradbury, King (as in Stephen), O. Henry, and Asimov to name just a few.
I’ve found writing short stories can be rewarding for many reasons. Here are but a few:
1. Short stories provide immediate gratification, and I’m big on IG. My three novels have been around 90,000 words each, taking 8 to 12 months to write. I can kick out a 2,500 word short story in a week or less, including editing. It gives you the chance to explore and write about a range of subjects in a short period of time. And if one of them sucks, well, it only took a week.
2. You learn to be concise. You can’t waste words when you need to set scenes, develop plot(s), and build characters in less than 5,000 words. It’s a good exercise for all writers, novelists and short story writers alike.
3. There are tons of writing competitions to benchmark your skills and receive critical feedback. Weekly, monthly, and annual short story competitions can be easily found -- ranging from small prizes to major recognition from publishers.
4. Short stories are popular. While it’s true magazine publishers have diminished in recent years, there remain several venues for short stories: literary magazines, online literary journals, consumer magazines, and books of short story collections. This isn’t to say that finding a publisher for a short story is any easier than for a novel, but at least there are many avenues to explore.
5. We have become a mobile reading society with smartphones and notepads everywhere, and short stories are a perfect fit. They’re easily read on a commute to work, or while jogging on a treadmill, or over a quick lunch at a coffee shop. There’s no need for bookmarks – one sitting and you’re done.
6. Posting short stories to your blog or website (yours or from guest authors) is a great way to add variety and interest to your site.
So, give it a whirl. Pick a topic and write away.