Tuesday, August 08, 2006

Why short stories?

I keep writing short stories, and I don’t think I’ll ever stop, even though my novel writing career seems to have well and truly begun. Yipppeee. :-) However, the reasons why I write shorts have changed somewhat over the time I’ve been doing it, as have the benefits. An author colleague recently asked about the benefits of writing shorts, when often the pay is low. I had a lot to say. :-) So I thought it might be useful to post something about it here, too.

When I first started out, I used short story writing to dip my toes in the waters. Much to my delight, I got positive reactions. Both my first fantasy and my first erotica story were published, so I kept at it. I viewed each short as part of the foundation for what I hoped and dreamed would be a full time writing career one day. Each short that was published represented a building block. I was learning all the time, too, learning from the actual writing and from the feedback I was getting from editors. That knowledge went on to inform my fledgling novel and novella writing.

When I began to get longer work published, I also seemed to be getting more opportunities for short story writing. Happy! There was a new discovery at this point. Working on a short story could motivate me to press on with a longer project. It’s the quicker turnaround, the buzz of making a story work and getting it accepted. Writers have a phrase for this “refilling the creative well.” Lots of ways to refill your own well, for me writing a successful short is one of them. So, when I need a boost on a long project, writing a short will give me just that. When a story is accepted, I get such a kick! Oh, don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t happen all the time, but when I do get a “yes,” it is party time again. Whoop! :-) And then... aaaah, seeing it in print, holding the book in my hand, and seeing my name amongst so many talented writers...can’t beat that feeling, just can’t…

When I approached publishers with my longer work, I had a CV of internationally published work in short story form. I hoped this would help me -- wasn’t sure if it would or not -- but it did. Happy! Berkley are marketing me on that very fact, which was a surprise, a really amazing one. “This is the daring debut of a cutting-edge voice in contemporary erotic fiction. Her short stories have seduced readers in more than 30 international anthologies. This, her first novel, is twice as hot.”

Dancing, I'm dancing! Well, wonky dancing. ;-)

I was also gaining readers through my shorts. I frequently get little notes about particular stories (got a lovely mail from a reader just today, about RICHARD’S SECRET, my story in the TABOO anthology, thank Kevin! :-) and people were signing up to my newsgroup, even though I hadn’t yet had a print novel published. Shocked and incredibly pleased. Just the other day I spotted a review of a US anthology I was in that said “with talented authors including Saskia Walker (who I love from Black Lace anthologies)” I was so surprised – readers remembered me from elsewhere. How cool is that!

That’s when I realised the most significant aspect of writing shorts. Every time I get one published, it’s introducing my work to new readers. I believe this is the best possible promo you can have. When I think about what makes me buy a writer's work, it’s not flash advertisements, it’s either word of mouth or because I’ve read something in a collection and liked their voice. I’ve asked around my friends, and this is not so unusual.

From where I began, just dipping my toes, short stories have given me so much. The fee is often the least of it, although I do enjoy receiving those cheques. Call it the icing on the cake. Maybe the other short story writers who call by here will add their halfpenny/1c to the subject.

7 comments:

Shanna Germain said...

So much of this is so very true...many of the same reasons that I write shorts. The instant gratification, the joy of seeing your work somewhere, the kind notes from readers...

For me, getting a short accepted is something that also boosts my confidence enough to keep me writing. When I have those days where the muse turns evil and starts whispering, "you suck at this writing thing," I can point to my published stories and say, "no, I don't!" Then I have the confidence that I need to go back to work (usually!).

raine said...

I haven't had a lot of success getting all of them published, but I DO love writing short stories.
There's something about the immediacy of them, the condensed nature. I love putting a whole story in such a small form and making it as rich and full as possible.

wendywoo said...

Short stories are great for giving a sense of having 'finished' something in a short space of time, even if you either don't sell them or don't get paid a lot for them. The feeling of achievement lifts the spirits! And that helps with other writing that you happen to be doing at the time...

And yes, sometimes the value is far more in just getting your name out there, than in actually dollars or pounds, isn't it?

Nikki said...

I love Steve Almond's essay on short stories - 'I believe the short story is the purest form of what we commonly refer to as storytelling'. It's at www.mobylives.com if you want to read more.

Plus, Grace Paley, who said 'life is short, and art is long'.

Me, I just like that they're so portable. ; )

Saskia Walker said...

Thanks for your comments, ladies! Interesting to see the common trends.

Devon Ellington said...

I love short stories, too -- both reading them and writing them.

It's the chance to focus on a chamber piece instead of the whole orchestration, or a single flower instead of an entire field.

I also find that, while I'm working on a novel, taking a pause to write short stories refreshes me - both by working with a different set of characters, and because I get a sense of completion by finishing the story, and that renews me as I go back to the novel.

Saskia Walker said...

Hi Devon! Very good point. I really enjoy focusing on a theme, or a twist, when writing a short.