Write Short to Win Long

Things have been just playing themselves out in a laissez faire, capitalistic fashion in the world of indie publishing for some time now. But something occurred to me a few days ago. (I think it was while I was reading the tweets of @indieauthorhulk). Indie publishing is really just an improved way of saying ‘Self-Publishing.’ And, yes, I self-publish. Self-publishing is a dangerous endeavor. There are a million ways to screw-up. But let’s just focus on one mistake right now. Let’s focus on the least obvious mistake that a self-publishing author can make.
This mistake is writing long before you’re ready. 
You’ve got a great four-book series underway? Great. Ever written a short story? Ever written a poem with rhyme and meter? When I say things like alliteration, assonance, repetend, iambic, trochaic and allusion, do you think I’m just trying to be a confusing jerk? Because I’m not. These poetic techniques are used all the time in prose as well as verse. Prose? Verse? What’s that, man? I just wanna write a four-book series, spend a couple thousand on cover. Cha-ching! Done deal, son.
Yes, it may be a done deal. And you may make some good money in the short run, but you may be setting yourself up for a fall in the long term. 
Writing short, as in short stories, short shorts and poetry, can be a great way to hone your skills before you take on the stand-alone novel or, eventually, the novel series. I’ve seen it time and time again:  You start writing that life’s-ambition novel, you throw yourself into it, things are going swimmingly, you’re feeling creative powers awaken within you that you never knew existed. But then you look back at the first draft. Drats! The beginning is horrible and the end is so much better. Each chapter almost seems to be written by a different author. You were finding your voice while writing. You’ve just taken part in an age-old mistake. Sometimes the difference in quality between the beginning and ending chapters is so pronounced that some would-be authors give up writing forever in frustration.
In mechanical engineering design there is a saying: Fail early, fail often. Short stories and poems offer a writer the ability to fail early and fail often. A good short story has all the elements of a good novel and can be finished in two or three days (with practice). Poetry can help an author develop that mysterious and yet necessary thing known as “voice.” 
For those new writers willing to take my advice, let me give a few more pointers:
1.) Constrain your short writings (set meter and rhyme, definite short story endings). This is a period of invention and necessity is the mother of invention. Save the open-ended, ambiguous stories and the free verse for later in your career.
2.) Find a go-to non-writer to evaluate your writing. This stops a symbiotic relationship of mutual flattery and ‘support’ from forming. I think it’s called codependence. 
3.) Let your writing exist in the real world. Print it out! Hold it in you hands. Look at it. Don’t just write with your fingers. Use your mouth and your ears to measure each word as well. 
4.) Spend time playing, daydreaming and imaging your stories before you write them. Never write from a sense of peer-pressure to put a certain amount on the page. Writing fiction is not middle-class, clock-punching-time, so leave all those habits at the office where they belong. 

About davidwallacefleming

David Wallace Fleming is a U.S. writer, living in Austin, Texas. He is the author of the coming-of-age, social media novel GROWING UP WIRED, and the satirical science fiction audiobook, NOT FROM CONCENTRATE.
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14 Responses to Write Short to Win Long

  1. Rich Amooi says:

    Great post David. It’s like someone who decides they want to give mountain climbing a try. But instead of starting off with a local mountain, or something for the less experienced, they head straight to Mount Everest.

    I started out writing short stories a couple of years ago. It was kind of like I graduated when I decided to start writing a novel. I felt like I was ready, after all of the positive feedback I got from many people. That’s not to say that I won’t write short stories anymore. I truly do love them and will continue to write them on occasion.

  2. Honie Briggs says:

    Excellent post David.

  3. Mason says:

    Right on the money thoughts and observation.

  4. Linda Vernon says:

    I think you are on to something! I like this advice.

  5. Excellent advice! I’ve been reading a number of anthologies and standalone shorts recently and it occured to me that if I did start writing (I don’t yet believe I can do it or have anything to ‘say’!) then shorts would see to be a way to play at it. I say play, since “make it fun and it will get done” is an attitude that I find works.
    Meantime, this month I’ll mostly be writing reviews…which I have to say has made me really stop and think about what makes a book good – and what makes a book great!

  6. Another tip on finding your voice – and taking David’s advice to get the words out there in spoken form: join Toastmasters International: http://www.toastmasters.org and hit “Find a Club”. The core activity is the creation of 5 – 7 minute long speeches, on subjects of your choosing. The educational material provided (it’s really good, and so much more fun than I made it sound then!) walks you through use of language, choice of words, as well as the skills needed for a presentation. The audience is looking forward to being entertained and informed; you get a 2 – 3 minute verbal evaluation from another member and short written comments from everyone there. No chance of codependence 😉
    There’s much, much more to the organisation, but I’ll let you discover that!!

    • Good comments and suggestions, Rose. It somewhat reminds me of Jack London’s path to success. He joined a debate club before becoming a novelist. I hadn’t really made that connection before. Of course everyone is different but for extroverts, I think public speaking can be helpful for writing.

      • Gepeng says:

        I’m still very much impressed by this game wtheher that be version 1 or your recent 2.0 iteration. It’s very stylish and the concept is a lot of fun to mess around with.I really think this game could be taken that much further and I hope you continue to refine it as it could be a an even more incredibly interesting game than it already is. If there’s a flaw to be found, it’s that it’s still too easy to beat. But everything is much improved. If the game could exist on an ever larger scale scenario with more units (hard to do when you’re essentially holding to the balance of a rock/paper/scissors scenario) I can’t begin to imagine how awesome this would be.

  7. It takes practice, right? You have to do this thing in your own way and time. I just want to do it really well. What you describe is what I have tried to do, and it is so nice to have a sense of validation.

  8. Diana Stevan says:

    This is a terrific post. I felt rather stupid as I has to look up a few words. Nevertheless, thanks for the challenge. You bring up some excellent points, especially the one about reading out loud whatever you write. It’s amazing how much that helps during revisions.

  9. Wow. This post is getting a lot of comments. I can never predict what posts will get comments. I did throw out some big words in this post. Sometimes I just want to share the things I’ve discovered and am excited about. I really think I hit a personal breakthrough when I read the short stories of F. Scott Fitzgerald. His prose is very poetic and this exaggerated poetic prose made me realize that all prose should “sound good” and not simply “explain well.”

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