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 clichéd 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!