The Long And Short Of It

Are you a novelist? A short story writer? Or both? Neither, perhaps?

Me? Up until last year I saw myself quite clearly as an aspiring novelist. Yet, over the years, writing friends told me I must try writing shorts. Could I think of a beginning though? Never! Let alone a middle and end. “I just can’t write short stories,” I’d tell people, having thoroughly convinced myself this was true. So, I carried on writing my novels and in 2008 started a chick lit book, set in Ancient Egypt. I fell in love with the setting and characters, convinced that this twist on the genre was sure to be a success. It was time, I decided (oh the self-delusion), to have some sort of web presence, so at the end of that year, I set up the Strictly Writing blog (it’s lovely to be back as a guest, thank you!).

What has all of this got to do with writing short stories, I hear you ask? Well, about a year later, an online friend ran a short story competition and to my amazement, I was able to come up with an idea. How? I am utterly convinced this is because I’d been blogging, week in, week out. For twelve months I’d been forced to consider the short form (albeit in non-fiction) and come up with pieces that had a beginning, middle and end. Little did I know this was my first step along the road to becoming a published short story writer.

Of course looking back, my entry for that first competition was dire. I’m embarrassed to admit, I probably thought I could get away with clich├ęd writing when it came to shorts. So following the inevitable outcome (my masterpiece got nowhere), I re-joined an online writing forum and become a member of their short story group. Here I learnt a lot; studied the market; appreciated truly how much work was necessary to go into producing a good short story. Then hey presto! At the beginning of 2011, I sold a story to The Weekly News. Since then, I have also sold stories to Take-a-Break and Take-a-Break Fiction Feast, plus been shortlisted in several competitions.

Am I still writing novels? Yes, the first draft of my next one is complete. And I understand now, why writing friends used to tell me to write short stories. When I edit each chapter, my eye is looking out for different details. In short stories, every single word and nuance counts, there’s no room for misunderstanding, no room for unintended double entendres. This has taught me to make my writing in whatever form, clear and precise. I’ve learnt how to get my point across more efficiently, whether that’s to do with some character trait or plotline or a particular bit of prose.

So do I think of myself as an aspiring novelist or a short story writer now? Both, I guess, although the idea of having a book published is still closest to my heart. But if any of you reading this have never tried the short form, PLEASE DO. It will give your longer pieces another dimension. Not only that, it takes away a lot of the pressure from trying to get a novel Out There. If my current 90,000 word WIP is eventually rejected, I won’t feel as emotionally drained as last time around. I mean, let’s face it – why would anyone pine for the moon when they’ve finally got a few stars?

Sam Tonge is the founder of Strictly. Thanks so much, Sam, for this inspiring post!


Helen Black said...

Great post Sam.

Thinking about it,I always describe myself as a writer rather than an author or novelist, despite the fact that I have never written anything else. Yet.

I suppose I imagine that I will at some point.
HB x

Anonymous said...

We had a discussion about that on WW once, Helen, and i think most people didn't call themselves authors until they were published (like you).

Yes, you occasionally remind me of myself when i hear you say you can't write shorts - that was me for five years:) I bet you could write some cracking crime ones - but then, publishing novel after novel, i guess you don't feel that pull to try something else at the moment.


Karen said...

Congratulations on your sales, Sam :o)

It's a completely different discipline, but so satisfying to wrap up a story in a 1000 words or so, compared with the long haul of writing a novel!

Geraldine Ryan said...

Yay, Sam! Great post! I started as a short story writer and then took up novel writing in parallel. I don't think I'd ever take up novel writing again, actually simply because it takes too long and I have a short attention span!

Kat said...

Excellent post Sam - well done mate :)

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Karen! Yes it is very satisfying and i wish i'd started writing them earlier!

Yes, Geri, my span is even shorter than it ever was, thanks to the internet and all those distractions!

Thanks, Kat!

Caroline Green said...

Such a great post and journey, to use that naff expression. You've almost convinced me here Sam to have a go...
Here's to continuing success in yoiur fiction, whatever length it is.

Roderic Vincent said...

It's lovely to see you back here, Sam. And many congratulations on the stories.

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Caroline - go on, have a go:)

Nice to be back thanks, Rodders - meet you in the staff room later for drinks?;)


Anonymous said...

What a great post, Sam.

I've only just started calling myself a writer, despite my few successes, before that I was 'a writer in training' lol.

Looking forward to reading your next story on the writers group.

Alana x

Rosy T said...

Great post, Sam - very inspiring. It almost makes me want to discipline myself into trying to write some short stories. (Almost - but not quite!)

Debs Riccio said...

Am also inspired to try and have a(nother) go at penning a short after reading this. But they do still scare me with their brevity and pace. Fab post, Sam, and well done on founding 'Strictly' - it's a great thing to be a part of!

Anonymous said...

Thanks, Alana!

Oh go on, Rosy! I;d love to read a short story written by you:)

Thanks, Debs! I am very impressed with how you have all continued with the blog so successfully, always such interesting posts - so well done to you too:)

Gillian McDade said...

Good to read your post, Sam! Many congrats on the sales. I find shorts next to impossible though. I can't seem to grasp the basics.

Fionnuala said...

Sam it's fab to have you back!! ANd what an inspirational post... Fx

Anonymous said...

Thanks Gillian and Fionnuala!


Susie Nott-Bower said...

A really inspiring story, Sam. Just shows that Size Doesn't Matter at all. Yay!

Anonymous said...

LOL, Susie! x