25 Years Of Writing Says: Don’t Write Short Stories

23 05 2017

Hieronymus_Bosch_096

As noted before, I’ve been sending stories out since 1989. Am I a famous author? I am not. But I have been professionally published, and for the indulgence of other rewarding interests, I may have been farther along in my writing career.

What I have learned about writing and its profession:

If you are going to write, write novellas or novels. I have always had very good ideas. My interest in getting into short story markets made me edit these ideas down to the market optimum 4000 words. Editors would respond “Needs more”. I would move on to the next idea which I would cut down, etc. I thought ideas were putty that could be massaged into any length. An idea is a block of marble. Cut one wrong and the whole statue is ruined.

If you are going to write short stories, get paid for them. Thankfully, I always had this rule. Getting upvotes in your writing community feels good. Sooner or later you will want more. Cut out the middleman and go straight to market.

If you aren’t getting paid for your story, self-publish. This wasn’t available to me earlier of course, but it is something I will pursue.

Network. Life is all about “who you know.” It’s uncomfortable. The good news is everyone’s uncomfortable too.

Save originality for later. I went straight for “sensational”, “innovative”, and “original”. What I didn’t learn was “structure”, “character development”, and “simplicity”. One idea per plot. Write your slash. File off those serial numbers. Study your authors and write pastiches. That said…

Invent your own magic system. Play in someone else’s sandbox, they get the right to pick nits.

Be nice. Any professional community is like High School. One tweet can set back years of work. Small communities thrive on making outcasts. Be nice.

I used to think “write what makes your mother uncomfortable” and the audience will find you. Instead, your priority is “write what you love and look for your audience.”

Ignore other writers. You can become distracted, frustrated, and despair. If you can’t ignore another writer’s work, that’s one of the few writer you should study.

Classes, conventions, retreats, and Clarion-Odyssey-Taos Toolbox-that thing Tom Monteleone does…do them. I have wasted tens of thousands of dollars sitting in coffee shops. The writers who have gone to bigger things sacrificed to do these activities to learn and network. That said…

The Most Important Advice:

Accept that any of your ideas may suck. No amount of rewriting or networking will help an idea that sucks. Move on to the next idea. I wasted about four years rewriting a bunch of half-baked, “sensational” ideas. They sucked. I should have moved on. Now if a story doesn’t get published in the first few submissions, I trunk it and move on.


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3 responses

23 05 2017
dariusjones

Tim,

This is a great post, one of the best I’ve read. A struggling writer thanks you for your insights!

DJ

24 05 2017
timwburke

You’re welcome. I’m still figuring out how I can be of service to others. Maybe getting annoyed at something is a key…

25 05 2017
dariusjones

Annoyance does seem to work for blog posts sometimes!

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