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.
I’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.
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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.
Note: Hemingway and Tablet Images from Pixabay