Short Stories Don’t Count

But have you written a novel yet?

I got asked that question often when I was writing short stories. What is it about novels that people assume every writer wants to write them? Is there a certain prestige for the writer who can add “novelist” to their CV?  Forget the fact that short stories are challenging to write, keeping the word count to a minimum, writing tight prose, finding the perfect flow, most people seemed only to care if I’d written a novel. Some how the 40+ short stories I’d managed to get published did little to impress some. (Not that I was looking to impress. I was just looking toward that next submission, that next chance to see my words in print.) Truthfully, I knew my stories would be read by a few as literary magazines are pretty much available only through submission, and circulation numbers tend to be low. Still, that didn’t matter. Someone, someone who knew something about publishing, wanted to publish what I’d written. Yippee!

What is it about writing that causes some people to ask  such a question? Would they look at a potholder someone sewed and asked, “But have you made a quilt?” A pair of knitted mittens and ask, “Have you knitted an afghan?” Does this mean the short story is looked at as something less, as if the writer isn’t good enough to write a full-length novel? Maybe I’m just sensitive.

Perhaps in some people’s books (pardon the pun) real writing comes in a book bound with your name and your name only, the rest of it doesn’t really count.

Well, I’m here to say that writing short stories is REAL writing. Writing is writing, simple and true, and has little to do with the length of a story. The story is what counts. Some stories are short while others have longer, more intricate plotlines.

I happen to consider myself lucky. I have many wonderfully supportive friends and family who would cheer me on if I had a paragraph published. Seriously. They’re really the best.  They help keep me going those times when I feel like forgetting about it all.

I know it is a goal for many writers to craft a novel. It’s an admirable goal. There is nothing wrong with it. In fact, it’s right, more than right. Why not? Heck, having an entire book with your name on is nothing less than sweet. But while it’s nothing less than sweet, it’s not the goal of every writer out there nor should we assume it is.

 Here’s another thought as well, once you’ve had enough short stories published, a publisher somewhere may be interested in publishing your work in a collection with YOUR name on it! Now there’s an admirable goal as well. :)

What are your goals, writing or otherwise?

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  1. All writing counts. Even tweets, if they are original. :)

    • I absolutely agree. Poetry, short stories, novels, blog posts and even tweets. They all count. :)

      Thanks for dropping by and welcome to my blog. :)

  2. Read Edna Ferber, Guy de Maupassant and Arthur Conan Doyle for example. I enjoy the short story very much.

    • Thanks, I will check them out. :) I kind of miss writing short stories but have made an effort to submit a few lately that heave been sitting stagnant for a few years. Maybe I’ll get back into it again.

  3. My first thought when I began reading this post was: Book publishers think just the opposite: Have you had a piece or two of short fiction published somewhere?

    I’ve been told by many who offered suggestions on how to get a book accepted by a publisher that I need to get a few short stories published first, earn a little credit, get some attention…then the publisher will look at me.

    That’s not fair either. As you say, short stories are tough to write and just as not everyone can or wants to write a novel, many don’t want to or can’t write a short story.

    I agree: Writing is writing and whether you excel in short or novel-length stories, essays, magazine articles or newpaper reports, you’re a writer. I’m not sure why the general census is that you must get a book published to earn the right to call yourself a writer. It’s right up there with my confusion with people believing writers should work for free because ‘everyone can write’.

    My goals? Funny you should mention goals and short stories in the same post. I just finished the first draft of my current short story I’m working on–The Man Who Reads Obituaries. This is the fourth short story I’ve completed in a year. I want to write two more and then release the collection. I find it very difficult to write short stories–under 6,000 words is a killer–but a few of my ideas can only support that length. We’ll see how it goes. So that’s my goal: to write six short stories.

    • Wishing you all the best with your remaining short stories, Diane. and completing your collection. :)
      While writing short stories isn’t as easy as many might think it to be, the one thing I will say about it is this, generally speaking they don’t take as long to write as a novel. If you’re looking to send them out it’s easier to keep them circulating. A novel can take many years to complete. So in that respect they can be a good starting point, but only is you want/need feedback while learning your craft.. I suggest reading plenty of short stories to get a feel for them, see how other people put them together. However, some people like having more space to move around in a story. They know that right from the beginning. It really is an individual thing. None of which is half as easy as we writers make it look. Which means we’re just really good at what we do. :)

  4. Laura, this is one of those times you have to “take it from whence it comes.” That is, the person who would asks such a silly question has been deprived of the richness of amazing stories in literary history. O’Henry never wrote anything but short stories. The bulk of her life’s work, are the short stories Doris Lessing wrote. Her novels were to compliment then, not improve on them.

    There are dozens of examples of great writers who either did only short stories, novellas or poetry and never wrote novels and dozens more whose short stories far surpassed their novels. Write on :)

    • So true, Florence. Anyone who understood writing would know the difference. Alice Monro always comes to mind as one of the great short story writers of our time. She’s done quite well I think. ;)

      • I think you should send your stories to Glimmer Train and other similar lit. mag. I think they would love the tone of what you write, Laura :)

  5. I agreed that writing is writing no matter how short or how long. and you’re right, it is the story itself that matters.

    I have no real goal except to write a complete novel and that’s about it. if only I manage to finish the first draft.

    hope you have a sweet day.

    • First drafts are challenging for sure and that is an admirable goal. :) Many people are unable to make it that far.

  6. Writing is hard in any form, but I’ve particularly struggled with the short form. Speaking as someone who formerly read very few short stories, I had no idea writing a successful short story might be harder than writing a novel, so I’d say it’s just ignorance that prompts such a question.

    • Any form of writing can be challenging for sure. It always helps to read plenty in the genre you plan to write.I know it helped me a lot when I first started. The reader is lucky because they only ever see then end result that is polished and as close to perfection as we can get it. Perhaps we just make it appear too easy. :)

  7. My writing goal is to finish something, hopefully something worthy of submission. I have the beginnings of what might be short stories, but I don’t know yet, they haven’t told me. Thanks to two years of NaNoWriMo I have a novel maybe 2/3 written, no editing done yet. And I have the rough drafts of a few children’s stories (picture books?). *sigh* Now what I seem to be doing more is reading other writers’ books and writing reviews of them on my blog (which is another form of my writing). I think that is helping me in some way … either through the experience of writing what I ‘see’, or seeing what can be done to cleverly construct a good story — and what not to do.

    I understand the view that the NOVEL is REAL writing, but unless a person has tried he/she can’t grasp how hard writing really is … although it may be a passion or a joy or a saving grace it is still not as easy as writing one’s name or grocery list.

    So, to the misinformed and misspoken (is that a word?) I say … pish tosh!
    And now I need a nap. Sometimes ideas come to me then. :)
    As was already said … Write on, Laura!

    • Lynn, I have every faith that you will finish some of the work you have started. And I’m impressed by all the work you have on the go. You seem to have lots of great ideas circulating in your brain.. :) That’s a good thing.
      Keep in mind that all writers have work sitting in files that they haven’t completed. It’s not the end of the world because when we’re ready we can always go back and work on them again at any time. What did we ever do before computers?

      • Of course my blogging and book reviews are on computer, but most of what I write is in longhand .. piles of papers in various places. My connections are mostly via computer, though. I would be quite lost without my computers. For example, how would I know anything about you and your accomplishments without the Internet? Exactly! As you said, “What did we ever do before computers?”

        • I give thanks every day for my computer, Lynn. I’ve met some pretty nice people, not to mention being able to stay connected with people I meet during book signings. :)

  8. At a conference luncheon we were introducing ourselves around the table and saying what we wrote. After several of us mentioned our novels, one younger woman said, “I just write short stories.” Boy, did the rest of us ever jump on the ‘just’ in her comment! We agreed a well-written short story can require even more work than a novel, and those who suggest otherwise are ignorant of what is involved.

    While I’ve written a few short stories, they aren’t my strong point. I like novel-length fiction and non-fiction articles. My goal at the moment is to keep working on an ending for my current novel, as well as finish a non-fiction piece for an upcoming conference contest. If I accomplish the latter in time, I *may* work on a short story for it, too, but that’s not a firm goal.

    • I hope you find that ending you’re working toward, Carol. :) Oh, but a good ending is challenging as is short story writing, novel writing, article writing.. Let’s just face it all forms of writing is a challenge and one we obviosly enjoy. :)

  9. An hour television show is a short story. Any writer knows it takes a lot of talent to be able to hook a reader, create a memorable protagonist, and tie everything up in a nice package by the end, satisfying all. I’ve been asked a few times why I don’t attempt a short story. Because it requires a depth and skill I’m not sure I possess. Either that or I’m too lazy.

    • Now Joylene, never assume where your skills lie. You may be just as good a short story writer as you are a novel writer… Have a little faith. :)

  10. Short stories are very diffficult to write. I am so glad though that I started out by writing short stories as that is what helped me hone the craft of writing. Having that short story published in Country Roads is what gave me the confidence to complete my novel and send it out. I still write some short stories when I can to keep up the practice.

    • Yes, they are difficult to write. I do think it’s a good starting point for a writer becasue you can have stories out there circulating which could potentially give you feedback. As a rule novels takes much longer to write. For me it was a good place to start at a time when I didn’t even know if I had a longer story to write. :)

  11. we are so quick to dismiss someone’s accomplishment. kind of like the published poet down the road who considers mine “middle class and fluff”. I’m not sure why we do this. Why can we not celebrate others’ accomplishments and rejoice in their creative expressions?

    • I agree, Joss. As writers we should support one another and never put down someone else’s work because it is different from our own. We all bring our own uniqueness to the page. It all is meaningful and worthwhile.

  12. I didn’t know you wrote short stories. I would much rather write those than a novel. :)


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