Bite-Sized Writing – Author Toolbox

As long as I can remember, I’ve wanted to write a novel. I envisioned myself attending cocktail parties in a tweed sport coat with leather patches on the elbows, discussing my bestseller with groups of admiring readers. Well, I’ve self-published five novels, and the closest I’ve come to this daydream was at a book fair where I was mistaken for a popular local writer. I guess my sport coat threw them off.

I’m still chasing the novelist’s dream, but I’ve discovered a fast-paced, bite-sized writing experience that’s equally rewarding – short stories. Popularized by Reader’s Digest magazine in the 1920’s, short stories are comfortably read in one sitting, usually 1,000 to 5,000 words.

ernest-hemingway-401493_960_720I’d always thought “real writers” wrote novels, but I was living in a fool’s world. Several famous authors have come by way of the short story: Hemingway, Fitzgerald, Bradbury and King (as in Stephen), to name just a few.

I’ve been attracted to writing short stories for several reasons:

• Short stories provide immediate gratification. My novels average 80,000 words each, taking 10 to 18 months to write. I can kick out a 3,000-word story in a week or less, including editing. It gives me the chance to explore a range of subjects in a brief period of time. And if one of them falls short, well, I toss it and move on to another.

• You learn to be concise. You can’t waste words when you need to set scenes, develop a plot(s), and build characters in less than 5,000 words. You also can’t afford more than a few compelling characters. It’s a good exercise for all writers – novelists and short story writers alike.

• There are tons of writing competitions to benchmark your skills and receive critical feedback. Weekly, monthly, and annual short story contests are a Google search away, the cost to enter is usually low, and prizes range from gift certificates to publishing offers. Writer’s Digest magazine is one of the best and long-standing sources of information and competition for short story writers, and a contest I enter annually.

• They’re a good change of pace. I write most of my short stories between novels. They are a refreshing change to the long, detailed process of crafting a full-length book. Completing two or three short stories is better than taking a long hiatus away from novels. I return renewed, with a feeling of accomplishment and maybe some new ideas.

• Short stories are popular. While it’s true that magazine publishers have diminished in recent years, there remain several venues for short stories: literary magazines, online literary journals, consumer magazines, and 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.

• Short stories are a perfect fit for readers on the go. They’re easily read on a commute to work, 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.

• Posting short stories to your website is a great way to add variety and interest. Inviting guest authors to post their stories increases website content and hopefully brings their followers along.

Over the past several years, I’ve written more than 30 short stories and gathered my better tales into two collections: IT GOES ON and MOST MEN. I’ll continue to write stories for the reasons mentioned above, but I haven’t given up on my novelist’s dream. I keep my tweed jacket cleaned, pressed, and hanging in the closet—just in case.

To enjoy other great blogs in the monthly #AuthorToolboxBlogHop or to join, click HERE. Happy blogging!

You can read an award-winning short story from MOST MEN HERE.  Pour a cup of coffee and sit back.  It’s FREE and very few calories.

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Note: Hemingway and Tablet Images from Pixabay

Nocturnal Stupidity

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I’m not a sound sleeper.  I wish I could change, but I seldom get more than five hours a night, typically waking in the early morning, unable to fall back to sleep.  I’m writing this at 4:35 a.m.

My physician has warned me of the health risks linked to lack of sleep: high blood pressure, congestive heart failure, diabetes, and other ailments.  What he didn’t tell me was that insomnia can also be associated with nocturnal stupidity, at least in my case.

I normally dedicate the time when only owls and coyotes are awake to my writing, but I have a bad habit of getting sidetracked, surfing the Internet: Facebook, Twitter, blogs, news sites, and yes, infomercials.  None of this is very productive.  In fact, it’s dangerous.

Keep in mind, I’m a mature retired man who ordinarily uses good judgment.  You wouldn’t think I could get into much trouble sitting at a keyboard at 2 a.m., but you’d be wrong.  I’m embarrassed to admit what I did recently, but confession is the first step to curing addictive behavior.

Of all things, it was a pop-up ad for wrinkle cream.  But not just any wrinkle cream.  This one seemed manly, using snake venom as one of its active ingredients.  I guess the theory is the venom paralyzes wrinkles. It was the snake venom combined with the before-and-after pictures that captured my attention. If this stuff could produce such amazing results, it was worth taking a further look.  So, I clicked on the ad.  Big mistake!

This cream claimed to have been featured on the Dr. Oz Show.  Surely, that gave it medical cred over other wrinkle erasers.   I was becoming more convinced.  When I read you could get a 30-day supply for only the cost of shipping, I reached for my credit card and slapped down the $5.95.   Minutes later, I had been emailed a receipt and was on my way to rediscovering my youth.

The cream arrived in seven days.  The only instructions were on the side of the bottle. Cleanse your face, pat dry, and apply lotion two times daily.  It seemed simple enough.  I used it every day for the next two weeks, carefully inspecting my under-eye bags, crow’s feet and forehead lines. My skin did feel tighter after applying the miracle potion, but I didn’t see results similar to those before-and-after photos. Not even close!  My face was stuck in the “before” position.

Upon closer inspection of the bottle’s contents, I discovered water was the first ingredient and “actual” snake venom wasn’t even included.  Instead a synthetic ingredient with “characteristics” of snake venom was listed.  Huh? There are chemists with this kind of time on their hands?  I’m not so sure I would have knowingly ordered a wrinkle cream containing “fake” snake venom.

My embarrassing story could have ended there, with me out $5.95 for shipping and a half-used bottle of fake snake venom cream in my bathroom cabinet, BUT NO.  A couple weeks later, I noticed an $89.95 charge on my VISA account for something I didn’t recognize.   It turned out it was for the wrinkle cream!

I immediately called the product’s toll-free number and reached a young man with an uppity attitude and a distinctive East Indian accent who introduced himself as Bob.  “I’m sorry, but our ad clearly states you will be billed the full price in thirty days if you don’t cancel your subscription.”

“Subscription? I didn’t sign up for a subscription!” I argued, asking repeatedly to speak to his supervisor.  His supervisor was busy—no surprise to me.  Nearly 45 minutes later, I was successful in getting a 50% refund, but I was still out more than $50.00, including shipping, and my face still looked like a dried-out catcher’s mitt.

I went back to the wrinkle cream website.  If I had scrolled far enough past the fancy ad and read the fine print agreement, it did state I needed to cancel within 30 days to avoid further charges.  I wonder how many people actually do this, especially at 2 a.m.   It was a lesson learned.

…Hmmm.   I’ve always wondered if these non-stick cooking pans actually work.  They must.  It says here that they have Cerami-Tech technology. Where’s my credit card?