Short and sweet or sour?

Ok.  I’m at 35% and taking some time today to flesh out more storyline (before I run out) and bore you with a few blog entries. 

Anyone doing novellas, short stories, blog entries, flash fiction or even 100 Word prose?  What’s it doing to your writing and how is it working for you?  Are you learning anything about the craft and gaining experience as a writer?

I read both Ray Bradbury (Zen in the Art of Writing) and Stephen Kings (On Writing: A memoir of the Craft) books on writing (I recommend them) and what struck me most is how they spent the first years (perhaps even first decade) of their writing lives publishing (or attempting to do so) using the various short forms rather than trying to write the next best novel.  It is almost as if they put in the 10 000 hours in much shorter manageable works before attempting something larger.  To summarise Bradbury, he suggests that new writers try a short story a week for a full year instead of a novel.  Both options provide you with the same amount of experience & practise you need to learn the craft and become a writer but chances are you would be more likely to have a short story or two worth publishing rather than a novel that may be a decent first effort and still bomb.

I have been wondering if there is any merit to this approach for myself.  Beyond the obvious need to get words on paper and learn the craft as I go, I have stacks of ideas in old moleskines, notebooks and more recently in Evernote that I doubt are strong enough to warrant full length novels but could quite easily fit into short stories or perhaps even novellas.

I did a Google for “short story a week” and found well over a million hits and hundreds of websites that run a story a week challenges so there must be some merit to the madness.  I also found an interesting blog entry by Austin James where he has a similar discussion and made some interesting points. (I’m not gonna regurgitate his entry here, follow the link to read it yourself).

There are the obvious things about using the shortened form:  They are quicker to write and you can learn from your mistakes quicker;  Short stories are different to novels and require different skills and techniques to get right (Duh!);  You could make a living in the past selling only short stories (maybe you still can?).

Some of points Austin (no, I don’t know him but I figure this is informal so I can use his first name) raised that caught my attention relate (in my opinion) not to the craft, but to the changing world of books, publishers, authors and readers.

Book length and reader attention span in the age of e-books – perhaps this is something that has some merit – people pulling out their iPads and Kindles on the train or bus to work only have a limited time to get through something?  Maybe.  I had a little cash left on an Amazon gift voucher, not enough for a published author in my preferred genre, but enough for two or three of the self-published e-books by authors I had never heard of before.   So I gave it a bash (lets face it $0.99 is less than a cappuccino here so who cares if its crap) and was pleasantly surprised.  Until, the book ended.  Sure, the author had dotted all the ‘i’s and crossed all the ‘t’s and the story had run its course, but at only 200 pages I felt like I had just eaten a starter instead of a main meal.  I was still hungry.  Which brings me to the next point Austin makes.

Why write a lengthy novel if you are only going to self-publish it for less than $5?  Now this one I had not thought about.  I am still ruminating on the whole self-publishing game (I’ll do an entry about that sometime) but I haven’t really thought about the effort of writing a book as having a direct (indirect yes) impact on the selling price.  Perhaps its because once the book is done, I consider it a sunk cost and unrelated to the supply/demand of the book.  i.e. its done you have created it, now sell it at whatever price the readers are willing to pay for it.  In the electronic age, does the length of a work of fiction really matter that much to the price?  What happens if you are demonspawn and can churn out a full length novel in 3 months – reduce the price because it did not take you as long?

And flowing nicely to the next point.  Building a readership.  Now this one I firmly believe in. Writers are brands and they need to market themselves and the best way to do this is to give people books to read.  Ironically, I tend not to purchase books from new authors until I see they have done two or three – the simple reason is that when I like an author, I eventually get every single book the author wrote.  If I like something and then realise that the author has not written anything else I file them away in the back of my mind hoping for something new but I eventually forget about the brand entirely.  Writing shorter stories is undeniably quicker than taking a year to write a novel and this could be a good way to keep readers interested and remembering your brand.  And you could build up a body of work where each individual effort may only sell for $0.99 but when you have twenty or thirty of them, just maybe you can afford that new toothbrush at the end of the month.

So maybe, when Nano is done, I might just see about alternating working on my novel with some short stories.  Maybe it works for me?


Trying to stop being a blob.


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