Should You Be Taking The Shortcut?

By David E. Sharp

Originally posted August 29, 2019


Yes, you should.

I’ve worked in libraries and bookstores for about two decades. I have seen that, from a reader perspective, we are a novel-centric culture. I’m not sure if people feel that short stories are beneath them or simply forget about them as a literary medium. For aspiring writers, it may seem wise to move straight into the longform opus. Why waste time on short stories if there’s not much readership for them?


1. For one thing, they’re short.

We may as well start with the obvious. My first novel took five years from its first draft to final publication. There were a lot of rewrites in that process. And feedback, rejection letters, periods of creative simmering, etc. That’s not an efficient way to build up a writing portfolio.

In that same window of time, I had opportunity to publish four smaller pieces of fiction and several articles. The number of short pieces I had written that remain unpublished is more than I can recall. While writing a long work is an exciting endeavor, short stories are a great way to get your foot into that publishing door.

You can go through an initial draft, love it, hate it, threaten to end your writing career and become a banker, re-evaluate everything, draft five to ten rewrites, fall in love with it all over again and decide that you’re a genius all within the space of a week! What’s not to love about that?

2. Short stories function as a literary laboratory.

Just A Few Drops of Metaphor And A Dash of Hyperbole. Let’s See If It Explodes.

Short fiction offers opportunity for experimentation. You can tell a story from the perspective of a wine glass. You can rewrite an old fable through a series of newspaper and magazine headlines. You can infect your prose with bizarre and innovative techniques that won’t destroy months or years of work if they don’t work out. Or perhaps they will work out, and you’ve got something you can implement in your longer narratives.

3. Short stories also function as an idea warehouse.

Numerous are the authors who grew a novel out of a short story. In the case of Ray Bradbury, several short stories set to a fictional timeline became a “novel” in The Martian Chronicles. Not every literary seed will germinate, but you may be surprised which ones take root.

A file of your own short stories is a great tool for overcoming writer’s block. Maybe you have some that will never see publication. Disassemble them for parts. Take the best ideas out of them and utilize them somewhere else. You can reuse your own creativity to give your novel some momentum in a slow chapter.  

Short stories can serve you well even if you never plan to publish them.

4.     They’re more relevant than you may realize.

We’ve Heard You’re Fancy Novel Making All Of The Talk. Well, We’re A Collection And We Don’t Appreciate Your Tone.

This is an age of brevity. While our novels may be comparable to movies, a short story is like a Youtube video. You can read them in a single sitting, share them with friends, and lose an afternoon to a good collection.

There are several avenues by which you can deliver your short fiction to its readership. For one, literary journals often feature brilliant short fiction to a wide readership.

Here’s a list of fifty you may consider:

Or, here are another thirty digital journals:

If you’re into competitive brackets, there are some excellent short story contests including those sponsored by NYC Midnight (a great source of feedback, by the way).

And there are some high-quality compilations as well. Such as this lovely edition recently curated by the Northern Colorado Writers:

Bradbury challenged writers to write a new short story every week. Could you hold yourself to that for a year? Imagine the ideas you’d have!

What’s a short story you’d like to write? Let us know in the comments. And then go write it! (What’s it going to take you, a few hours?)

Published by Writing Heights Writing Bug

A blog by writers for everyone interested in books, reading, writing, and just about everything in between.

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