Writing Short Stories to Jumpstart Your Novel Writing

From Writer Unboxed:

What do you do when you reach a roadblock with your novel? Do you go for a long walk? Pour a glass of wine? Vent on social media? While all those things are helpful (at least to me), I like to go to a tried-and-true backup that I know I’m good at: short-story writing.

I got my start writing short stories in college, so they’re a comfort blanket for me. And I’ve found interchanging novel-writing with short story-writing provides a unique honing of writerly skills that I would otherwise lack if I only concentrated on my novel.

Here are some of the benefits writing short stories provide:

1. You learn to complete a story arc in a finite amount of time. And I mean that both figuratively and literally. When writing short stories that you intend to submit for publication, you often have to work within finite word counts. You have drabbles, which are 100 words or less; Flash Fiction, which is usually 300-1K words; and traditional short stories, which can be anywhere from 1k-7k words. (Anything longer is considered a “long” short story or a novella.) And because it’s not a novel, which can take months to years to write, you’re usually working on short stories over the course of a few days to a few weeks. This is especially true if you’re writing for a deadline-driven contest. You learn to increase your pacing and shorten your character arcs to a few thousand words. The skills learned by working on short stories can help your novel-writing chops by allowing you to get to the heart of your story faster, which in turn gives you more real estate to flesh out the characters and the plot instead of leisurely wandering your way to them.

2. It gives you a sense of accomplishment—and more. You can (usually) write several short stories in the time it would take you to write half a novel. This directly translates into fuel you can use to finish your novel in that it can serve to kickstart your motivation as you gain writing momentum. Getting your work published and out into the world gives you an ego boost that can help you survive the Imposter Syndrome doubt that comes from wondering if your novel will ever take shape/take off/ be successful. I use these small acceptance accomplishments to remind myself why I got into this business in the first place.

3. It can add to your writing resume. It’s a known fact that plenty of good writers get passed over by agents and editors and that rejections are inevitable, regardless of the writing quality. But publications in reputable journals and magazines can add substance to your query letters, and that may lead agents to take a closer look at your work. This may especially benefit a debut novelist seeking agent representation.

4. Submitting short story queries helps hone your query-writing chops. Trust me, after writing dozens of short story queries, or even hundreds, you can use what you’ve learned to write a knockout novel query. For example, writing short story queries helped me hone my professional voice when approaching someone for paid work. It taught me to perfect my elevator pitch, as I essentially provide one for each story I submit—again, do dozens or hundreds of these and you start to gain an ear for what works and what doesn’t.

5. It gives practice for following submission guidelines. While many novel-submissions usually just involve a basic query to the agent/publisher/editor, when someone requests a partial of your manuscript, you will need to follow their submission guidelines explicitly. I learned how to tailor my short story submissions to specific formatting guidelines just the way indie publishers and small presses demand—sure, the Shunn format is a good place to start, but not every house wants it the same way, and small details missed can get your submission tossed out. It’s important to carefully research the guidelines required for EACH manuscript submission and follow them to the T.

6. It provides a much-needed mental break. Wrestling with your novel WIP can lead to burnout. I’ve been there, and in the depths of my frustration, short stories gave me the space I needed to get into another world for a while, to handle a new set of characters that had different challenges than those I wrestled with in my novel. Or, on the other hand, you might find that writing a short story set in the world of your novel helps deepen your understanding of that world and its characters. As Amazon can attest, many a successful novella was written as a spin-off to full-length novels. They sell because fans want to know more about the characters they’ve come to love, and short stories and novellas provide that desired fix

Link to the rest at Writer Unboxed