Must you begin your fiction-writing career by writing short stories so that you can “pay your dues?” Or is it OK to just start writing novels?
Neil posted this question on my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page:
Hi Randy: I want to write novels but I have read that you should start with short stories. I have read short stories but I have never been interested in writing them. Should I start with writing short stories for several years or should I start by writing novels which is my end-goal?
Randy sez: The short story is a somewhat different art form than the novel. If you want to write a novel, then write a novel.
Way back in the bad old days, there were a lot of markets for short stories, and if you wrote a short story, you had some prospect of getting it published. A lot of those markets have dried up for various reasons. You can still sell short stories, but your prospects of getting paid are lower than ever.
The advice that writing teachers gave writers in the bad old days was to start with short stories. Part of the theory here was to “fail quickly” although that particular buzzword didn’t hit the world until the 1980s, and the advice on writing stories goes back long before that.
Personally, even in the late 1980s when I started writing, I thought it was bad advice. I have written very few short stories in my life. I started right in learning the novel as an art form. After nine years of working on novels, I still hadn’t sold anything, but I was getting close.
One day I got an idea for a geeky short story, “Computers in Hell.” The question I asked myself was, “What kind of computers do they have in Hell?” I figured there had to be plenty of good puns that could be made out of “wicked fast” and “blazing speeds” and all that.
So I wrote the story and submitted it to a local computer magazine in San Diego that took one short story per week. What do you know! It got published and I earned $150 for it. So it turned out that my training as a novelist fitted me to earn a few bucks writing a short story.
Shortly after that, I sold my first nonfiction book and then soon after, my first novel, and I was off to the races. I’ve not looked back to short stories. Don’t see why I would want to.
If you wanted to write short stories, I’d say to go ahead and do it. If you wanted to write haiku, I’d tell you to do that too. Write what you want to write.
Neil, since you want to write novels, write novels. And have fun! If this fiction game isn’t fun, then it isn’t a game, and the pay’s just not good enough to do it as a job.
If you’ve got a question you’d like me to answer in public on this blog, hop on over to my “Ask A Question For My Blog” page and submit your question. I’ll answer them in the order they come in.
Blog of the Day: My freelance editor, Meredith Efken, answers a really interesting question today on her blog at the Fiction Fixit Shop: “Must every scene end with a disaster?” The short answer is of course, “Yes and no.” The long answer is . . . longer than that. Check out Meredith’s blog to see what she wrote and my comment.