“If you want to publish short stories, definitely write short stories…. if you want to write novels, you should go ahead and write novels. Lots of people sell their first novel without a significant record of short stories.” – James Enge, in an interview on the Adventures in Sci-Fi Publishing podcast.
If he’s right, I’ve been working under an outdated assumption for a very long time. The working model used to be that you write a lot of short stories, get them published as a way to get your name “out there,” and then write your novel.
I still think there’s some wisdom to that approach, but not for the reasons that used to be true.
Used-to-be’s: There used to be a robust market for short fiction. There used to be a huge readership for short fiction. There used to be a way to make a living writing short fiction.
That said, short fiction is still a fantastic way to learn to write. I continue to work and struggle with short fiction, in spite of a tendency I have to make everything I write a novel. I’m a big-picture thinker.
I can put a short story through my critique group, rework it, have it critiqued again, and rework it until it shines. Try doing that with a novel. You’ll go to your grave with a very large stack of unpublished paper. Honing your craft with shorter work will help ensure a better first draft of a novel.
Plus, there’s the added bonus of being able to finish something quickly. It’s a very gratifying feeling. You can dive in to some new characters, a new setting, get out and move on.
But Mr. Enge’s comments certainly opened my eyes. I’ve gone through a bit of a busy spell with work and my other extra-curricular activity (I sing in a small group in NYC), but I’m ready to dive back into my young-adult fantasy novel, even as I edit my finished adult fantasy novel.
So I guess I’m on the right track after all!
Well, Brad, the “wisdom” I have from writers is that you write what feels “right.” Some feel that short story writing is not something you should go to UNTIL you write your first novel. Faulkner was that way. Then there are authors (Flannery O’Connor, Grace Paley), who only wrote in shorter forms, and then there are those Who never went to short stories, or who found it “too hard.” “Bottom line” from the folks who got the awards, etc, is that the forms are as different from each other as poetry is from either – and no one would ever say poetry writing preps you for novels, or vice versa. Got to go with what feels right.