Saturday, March 5, 2011
Should New Writers Be Writing Short Stories Instead of Novels?
Writing your first novel is hard to do, for two reasons - pressure and lack of experience. It can feel like your entire writing career will be based off of your first (often very clumsy) attempt at writing a book. And in many ways... that's stupid. Failure is a part of any learning process. Every single person who succeeds, fails at something first. Your first work is just that - your first work (and the majority of people get better with practice).
One of my favorite writers, Ray Bradbury, offered this advice to new writers in a video I watched (I'll paraphrase his advice): Learn your craft with short stories. If you spend an entire year writing and learning your craft on your first book, there is a chance you'll write a decent book, and an even better one that you'll write a real bomb (with nothing to show, but the experience you learned). If you write one short story a week for a year, you'll not only end up with experience, but 52 short stories (some of which will be bad, and some of which will be decent, and hopefully a few gems).
I'm starting to think this is good advice. Here are some points to consider:
1. Writing a short story and writing a novel are two entirely different things. This is true. But that doesn't mean you can't learn a lot about the craft from writing short stories - and (in my opinion) more quickly than taking a year to write your first novel (and many writers take longer than a year). A short story takes a week or two to write.
2. I believe that the novella (and maybe even the short story) is the future of the novel. An increasing percentage of readers don't want to read an 800 page book. They average reader wants something under 300 pages. More importantly, I believe that reading anything on an electronic device reduces your attention span. If you ever get the chance to sit next to someone on a bus who is reading the news on their phone or iPad, just watch how long they spend on each article (seconds).
3. If (as many of you believe) Self Publishing is here to stay, it's going to require that writers write faster and shorter books. If I'm going to sell my book for 99 cents or 2.99 than I'd much rather write something that is 50,000 words than 250,000. Especially since (as the SP success stories point out) you will need to write several novels (or novellas) a year to make decent money. Experience writing short stories could be helpful.
4. Short Stories give you the chance to build readership. I'm networking with writers (and plan to keep doing that). But what's missing from my platform is readers who are not writers. And the ONLY way to get readers is to release a book (or short piece of work). Wouldn't it make sense to release several short stories first, before you release your first book? I can write forever about writing, but all of that tells people NOTHING about my writing. It really doesn't. I believe that finished (well edited) short stories (that are properly marketed) are a great way to build readership. Of course, how to release such work is an entirely different story (that I'm less sure about).
5. Short Stories can be turned into larger pieces of work. Stephen King turned his 9 page short story, Night Surf, into his 1,141 page epic, The Stand. I think most new writers would be shocked at how many famous novels were first written as short stories.
6. Short Stories can win you awards. This can translate into name recognition.
What do you think about short stories? Have you written any? Is it part of your marketing strategy? Do you think new writers are better off learning the craft by writing short stories or by writing a novel? - Let me know.
- Austin James