This last Thursday I wrapped up my latest short story entitled Imposed Will, and felt very satisfied as I did so, thank you very much. In fact I’ve had great satisfaction in wrapping up every story piece that I’ve done for this blog, more so than I had expected. You see writing short stories is something new for me, I always felt the only option I had was full-sized novels and nothing else. I guess this mindset was because that was what I spent my time reading, so that was what I wanted to write. While I still like the idea of writing something large and meaty, and am working on such a novel in my spare hours, I have already seen benefits from this regular short-story publishing, and hope that I will always make time for it. Here are just a few of the perks I’ve seen thus far:
My main reason for even starting this blog was to get into the habit of writing consistently. I had been kicking around several story ideas for awhile, and every now-and-then made a halfhearted attempt at progressing with a few of them. I did not have any sort of consistency or schedule in place though, I wrote when I felt like it and not when I didn’t. Any time I would hit a snag where the story wasn’t quite shaping up my motivation would tank instantly. By deciding to write shorter pieces, though, I found it much easier to remain motivated. I can far more successfully commit to write about 3000 words for two blog posts every week than commit to a 70,000-90,000 word novel in a couple years. That’s kind of surprising when you think about it, though, because as far as the sheer word count is concerned, 3000 a week is the much greater commitment. In just 12 months I will have produced over 150,000 words, enough for two novels. Yet somehow it feels easier, because it is so much more manageable of a number to deal with in the short term. Now that I am in this habit of weekly small increments, I have been able to go back to those bigger novel ideas I had and seen ways that I could break them up into similar couple-thousand word chunks per week. Suddenly they don’t seem nearly so daunting.
Another thing I tend to do with my full-sized novels is plan them out exhaustively. I do several layers of detail, trying to map out how each scene and each conversation is contributing to the overall arc. It’s not a bad thing to do, but usually while I am in this process I suspend all more fleshed-out writing efforts. The result is that when it comes time to start penning the first draft, I feel out of my depth and freeze; skeletons are a lot more comfortable to me than full-fleshed beings. Writing short pieces consistently means that I no longer feel like I’m leaving that toolset rusting in the shed. I can still do outlining and iterating when I feel a need for it, but now it doesn’t have to be at the expense of exercising the other facets of story-crafting. Also, because I write more bite-sized stories, I am able to quickly swap between ones that specifically focus on different skills within writing. One week I’ll do a dialogue piece, and the next I’ll do some scene descriptions. I’ll get lots of practice on how to do a start, a middle, and an end. Along the way I’ve been becoming very acquainted with which areas are my strengths and which are my weaknesses. I definitely have my weaknesses, and I can focus on doing short stories that will help me get practice and improve on them.
As I mentioned at the start, finishing each blog has given me a strong sense of satisfaction. It just feels so good to accomplish things, even little ones, and that boost encourages me to keep going at my bigger pieces as well. The fact is, I had developed a disappointing habit of making goals and deadlines for my writing that I never achieved and never put any faith in. Setting them was just going through the motions of what I thought “real” authors do, and even as I did so I would feel a twinge, knowing that these goals weren’t actually going to be achieved. Writing short stories has helped me to start trusting in my own promises again, something that had long-since been lost. I committed to do a new short piece every week and I’ve been succeeding at that. I committed to do 4-5 of those short pieces strung together in a larger series over the period of a month and I’ve been accomplishing that, too. Now my goal is to bring together a dozen of those series’ into a year-long volume and I don’t doubt that I’ll be able to fulfill that goal, too. I’m still a little hesitant to introduce large-scale timelines to my larger novels, but for the time being I’m committing to writing a little in them every other day and I’ve been fully keeping that promise to myself. Once I’ve done that for a bit more, I expect to have confidence in expanding my outlook further.
The two problems I just mentioned–one of feeling better at planning out a story than at actually writing it, and the other of not carrying through on commitments–these together resulted in a lot of ideas, but nothing to show for them. So many, in fact, that even if I worked full-time for the rest of my life on these stories I don’t think I could ever produce them all. I was in the difficult position of having to decide which ones I would bring to the light of day, and which would fizzle out, never to be shared. Fortunately, I don’t worry about that anymore, because I’ve realized that many of the ideas I had are able to work as smaller pieces . Often instead of having a whole storyline, my brainstorming would simply have resulted in a single scene or concept, one that I intended to expand on later. Now those individual scenes and concepts are perfect material for a short story, and I can I can breathe to life within a single. I’m able to get out a lot more of the ideas, including ones I was contemplating killing off, and that feels wonderfully liberating.
Not too long ago I had some pretty productivity-decimating problems. I had more ideas than I knew what to do with, the lack of both ability and consistency to bring them to fruition, and the resulting frustration of never getting to say the things I wanted to say. The idea of sacrificing some of my novel-writing time to pen short pieces initially seemed like the worst possible distraction. However I found it provided a much-needed breath of fresh air that reinvigorated me and redoubled my efforts in all other creativity. Thus the time spent away from working on my novel has been more than made up for by my improved productivity when I come back to it. If any of my earlier quandaries resonate with you, then I’d highly recommend trying to start jotting down some short stories of your own. You’ll get a variety of rich experiences, improve your writing skills, finally have results to show for your work, and better productivity in your larger projects. While you’re at it, why not start a blog to showcase those short stories in? That way you’ll also get the satisfaction of publishing your work, even if it’s on a smaller scale.
Another way that I’ve kept myself regularly delivering on new ideas is through bedtime stories to my toddler son. I’ve invented a recurring character named Phillip the Mouse and each night is another one of his many adventures. This, too, has definitely been a very rewarding practice, and on Thursday I’d like to share a couple of these stories with you. See you then!