Five Reasons Why You Should Write A Short Story

Thursday, March 07, 2013

Many writers fantasize the day they accept the Pulitzer Prize or Newberry Award for their novel they slaved over for years. Few authors daydream about receiving two contributor copies after having a short story published. Yet, writing short stories can improve your writing skills and increase your marketability.

Writing short stories gives you a sense of completion. Writers often complain, “It took me years and years to get my novel just right.” Novels are like spaghetti sauce, simmering for days; whereas short stories are like the noodles—boiling and ready in twenty minutes.

Completing a manuscript gives a feeling of accomplishment. Just like an artist enjoys displaying a finished painting, most writers love to share their work. How wonderful it feels when a complete piece can be revealed for enjoyment or critique. In any profession, it is important to experience accomplishments, such as an architect who views her new building  or an author seeing her work in print from beginning to end.

Getting anything published is hard work. You must be dedicated to rewriting, rewriting, and more rewriting. You have to research the market, learn proper manuscript format, and write a brilliant cover letter. Getting a short story published is like playing a good game of miniature golf—it’s not as easy as it looks, but with knowledge, skill, and practice, you can do it.

Many markets exist for your short stories from magazines with a circulation of 200,000 to hard-back anthologies to your writer’s group newsletter. Contests for shorter works fill writing websites and magazines, and many of these are paying markets or have a modest monetary award accompanying first through third place.  A lot of magazines do pay in copies, but some give you a check.

Short stories present an opportunity to work on different genres. For example, a writer’s group sponsors a Halloween short story contest. Most of the members work on other genres throughout the year, such as westerns, romance, or mysteries. For this contest, each person creates a spooky story. The writer’s group does not publish the winning entries, and members are free to submit their ghostly tales to other contests and magazines.

Many writers start out in one particular genre. They begin writing what they love to read. Because people have read romance or science fiction all their life, they decide to try these genres with their novels. But what if there’s a mystery inside these authors, ready to spill out if it is just allowed? A short story is the perfect place to expand into the mystery genre.

You can use short stories to strengthen your writing skills. Maybe you need to work on writing realistic dialogue or fitting all five senses into your description. Perhaps you want to use flashbacks, but can’t seem to make smooth transitions. Or a friend, who critiqued your opening chapters, said your main character was typical and boring.

Try working out these problems in a short story, focusing on improving those particular weaknesses.

Writing a short story may help you overcome writer’s block. When writing a long piece, sometimes you find yourself in a rut and become frustrated. You avoid working on your manuscript and may waste time cleaning out your files or e-mailing your long, lost cousin. Why not do something more productive and write a short tale?
Writing something different can give you the oomph you need to continue with your novel. Your subconscious has a chance to take over and solve your plot problems. Just make sure to keep paper handy to jot down ideas for your novel.

The next time you ponder, “Why should I waste time writing a short story?” Remember what they can do for you. Short stories can improve your writing skills, enhance your marketability, and bring you a step closer to publishing that great American novel.

Margo is teaching a short fiction class for children's and YA writers, starting on April 11. It's a NEW class! For more information, please see this link:


Amsterdam Mama said...

I was just about to give up on writing short stories and focus more on blogging but after reading your reasons to write short stories, I will keep on going. Thanks for the advice Margo!

Renee Roberson said...

Margo, this post was spot on! I also have been focusing more on writing short fiction in the past two years. It's really fun because you can play around with different genres without investing a ton of time in case a storyline doesn't work! I also began writing my first stories for middle-grade readers this past fall and already got an encouraging rejection from Highlights. Your class sounds really fun and affordable!

weeghosties said...

Great post! I'm a sprinter -- not a marathoner so the short fiction format is perfect for me. Short story writing is its own discipline. It takes skill to pare down a piece to a snapshot in time instead of letting it run free to novel-length.

For some of us, it's not a means to an end (a novel) -- it's where we should be in the writing world.

Margo Dill said...

@catina: I'm so glad! It is so easy to get discouraged and wonder if we are wasting our time. I actually came up with this because of an argument that existed in a critique group I belonged to. I was OBVIOUSLY on the side that believes short fiction is important!

@Renee: So true--not everyone is cut out for a novel or memoir or nonfiction work or etc. Thank God we are all different!

Unknown said...

I wish I had better fiction writing skills. But if I'm going to dabble in fiction, I do prefer the short story. I like the economy of it, and it's seems so much less daunting!

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