There are some adages ing the writing biz that get consistent airplay. I’m going to tackle the one this week is that short stories you should start writing to hone your craft.
The wisdom is that you learn faster by writing short pieces. After that, things fall into place:
- You get those stories sold
- You get noticed
- You pitch your completed novel to an agent.
Then the agent sells novel for ludicrous advance, and the writer spends the rest of her days getting paid to write wonderful novels as she sits in her bathrobe while gnawing on a smoking pipe.
Cynicism aside, you should always take a story to the length that feels natural to you. Even the step child of story length, the novella, has gotten a new lease on life thanks to epublishing.
Actually selling a short, though, is still more alchemy and luck. Despite there now more online markets than ever, but it's still a tough market. I know pros who are still finding homes for stories that I critiqued years ago.
These days you need to either be a well-known author with a solid story or a new author that submits something that’s amazing and award-winning. So if you working on your stories for "exposure," you’ll be disappointed.
Even more confusing for me is that a lot of recently published stories aren’t stories with a plot. I'd classify these more as entertaining vignettes. They are good reading, but don’t have a true protagonist, real or metaphorical, no character arc, etc. Joe Hill's Last Breath is an example.
The talented Paolo Bacigalupi has his own anecdote about novels vs. Shorts. At first he tried shorts, but found himself writing a novel anyways, a huge sprawling novel.
In trimming down his Byzantine book, he found some nuggets that he polished into award winning stories and then put out a book that snagged a bucket of awards.
As for me, I tried to go the novel route for many years, but the biggest accomplishment of that project was to just finish it. Before that, I got very few stories done.
There were some other lessons that I got from that novel, but I seemed get more out of 6 months of short stories I wrote after that. Well, more like the year and half of rewrites after that round of first drafts.
My latest rough novel seems more confidant, yet more experimental than the last one.
I'm still frustrated that those shorts are still floating out there unsold and unloved by editors, but I don’t consider it a waste.