Writing Short Fiction

Or: The Impact of Short Fiction on Longer Novels

Or: Why Writing Short Fiction is Good…

*Disclaimer: this can be read as a “writing advice” blog post but please don’t take it seriously or personally. What worked for me might not work for you, everyone’s writing process is different and art is, as always, very subjective. So if you resonate with anything here, great. If not, also great. Thanks for reading.

I strongly believe that if you’re going to be a successful writer you have to know how to write short forms. If you write fiction, you have to be able to write and finish a short story/flash fiction/micro fiction. If you write poetry or more lyrical forms of prose, you need to have some experience with shorter forms of poetry.

(And I’m not just saying that because I wrote a short fiction collection and it’s now available for pre-order.)

Some of you out there might be reading this and thinking:

  1. I’ve written full-length novels but never short stories and I’m successful so what gives?
  2. That’s exactly what my awful creative wiring teacher said and those “old school” ideas about how to be a writer are way more harmful than helpful.
  3. I don’t like writing short fiction/short fiction isn’t my goal so I don’t see the point in this.

All of those thoughts are valid. I know writers who only write long fiction and they are happily existing not writing short stories. I know writers who think that the only way to be successful in the traditional publishing world is to sell short stories to well-known magazines first and then get picked up by a larger publishing house (Ray Bradbury and I think Stephen King did this as well).

And as for that third question; I’m a poet. I don’t like writing sonnets. I know how to write a fucking sonnet. Not because I was pressured into following some gatekeeper’s rules or had an awful teacher in the past, but because it was part of the craft I wanted to master (not that I’ve mastered poetry in any way, shape, or form). So I learned how to do it.

If you want to get good at playing the piano you do scales. If you want to get good at writing, you practice writing.

Short stories force you to make up an end.

They force you to be specific and concise with your narrative.

(Back to poetry)

When I first started sending out my work to get published I was met with a flurry of rejections. But I’d revised and polished and revised again. I couldn’t figure out why editors were rejecting me.

Now, I wasn’t writing long poems but they were directionless. They were pretty word pictures with either very vague or no purpose.

How did I realize this? I discovered micro poetry on Twitter. And then I tried writing micro poetry and I found I was shit at it. I learned that if you can’t make a small version of the thing, you really can’t make a big version of the thing.

So I worked on it and got intentional and specific with my language. I wrote lots and lots of micro poems. And then my longer pieces started getting published.

The point of all this is you can use short stories to

  1. practice writing
  2. develop your voice
  3. make your writing better

And it’s also pretty damn satisfying when you can write THE END on something. Even if it’s a piece of flash fiction. You completed a project! Good job!

I’m writing a nine to ten book grimdark paranormal fantasy series. I’m constantly scanning the big picture and a lot of the time I get stressed out because I can’t see the trees for all the forest.

I know where the story is going but I don’t know how to get there. I get hung up on the minutiae and everything stalls.

I’ve re-written Book One four times since 2018 and I’m about to start on the fifth and final re-write. How do I know this is the final one? How do I know I’m not just going to repeat the cycle of incompletion over and over again and never get my book done?

Spite. Sheer spite.

And writing short fiction. When I get stuck I jump to something else, a different character or a different part in the series. Sometimes I make a short story out of it. And that short story helps me fill those plot holes and move on.

Short stories help you practice how to end things, remember.

Not all the short stories in Pulling Teeth came about that way. I seriously love it when a writer adds companion and/or prequel pieces to their series. I will eat that shit up.

So, if you’re a writer and you’re stuck on something, try writing an unrelated short story. See what happens. Let me know 🙂


Photo by Raphael Schaller on Unsplash

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