So you want to be a writer? Are you planning on working on the book-length manuscript for as long as it takes? And then market it to agents for as long as it takes?
How about being published in the meantime? Nothing is better experience for the novelist or memoirist than writing and publishing short stories or personal essays along the way. If you don’t have what it takes to go through the process successfully with short pieces, what makes you think you can do it with a longer story? Additionally, earning bylines along the way may help get your first book published.
Windy Lynn Harris has written the definitive book to help you get started. Writing & Selling Short Stories & Personal Essays: The Essential Guide to Getting Your Work Published provides valuable guidance for crafting and fine-tuning those shorter pieces, as well as providing a step-by-step plan for getting published. This system includes finding markets, preparing your manuscript, and how to submit those pieces to magazines. She even gives pointers for how to deal with rejection, an inevitable part of every writer’s life.
After you follow the advice in this book, I suspect you will have acceptances, too, as Harris’ information is practical and grounded in the realities of the publishing industry. I suggest purchasing a paperback copy and keep it at hand and well-notated on your desk.
I posted the above review for Windy‘s book on Amazon and Goodreads. But I’d like to expand on the idea of going short before going long. I know I’m going to step on some toes here. A huge number of writers go straight to writing book-length manuscripts. That’s great. They often self-publish and tend to learn from the experience and the books improve with practice. I’ve greatly enjoyed many books that developed from these origins.
But my philosophy is that the best way to learn craft is to start by writing short stories or essays and revising them until they shine. Then send them out and get some publications under your belt. While you are doing this read like crazy. Revise like crazy. Find experienced beta readers who aren’t crazy. I think this is what takes good stories and turns them into literature.
Don’t throw things at me now!
46 responses to “Write Short First”
Nice, looking into it!
Well worth the money!
Very good advice, Luanne. Welll put. Nice piece.
Thanks, Roger. Windy’s book really motivated me to say what I had been meaning to say for a long time.
I think I will take your advice one of these days. 🙂 It will be a good change of pace.
I can’t wait to see your first short piece (I hope I get to)!
I agree with you 100%. I’ve often wonder how I can expect myself to produce a coherent novel when I still struggle with my short stories. I do think many self-published authors go completely for the novel because they want to be a big star and because saying “I write novels” sounds sexier than “I write short stories.” Now, your readers can throw things at me 😏
Sexier? I’d love to be sexier! I didn’t think writing could do it! 🙂 I also think you are right. People want the whole enchilada!
LOL, I should have pounced on that word hahaha.
That might be true for some people. For some it might be the idea of money, thinking that short stories make zero to little money. Articles, of course, sell much better! And for others I suspect they really don’t think of short stories as they are used to novels. Many people probably don’t even read “personal essays,” or if they do don’t realize what they are. Watch out, I think somebody slung an egg at me . . . .
Hahaha … I’m sure my opinions developed in part from following so many writers who only want to write novels, who want to write the next “Great American Novel.” I should shut up now …. the eggs are flying 😉
I feel them!
Great food for thought, Luanne. I also recommend reading short stories. I recently re-discovered Ruth Prawer Jabvala’s marvelous short story collection “Out of India,” and it’s inspiring me to go short, at least occasionally.
Oh fabulous! Good short stories are so wonderful in how they pack a punch so often. The literature that has most stuck with me from my childhood is not Steinbeck’s The Pearl or The Vicar of Wakefield, but stories by Saki and O. Henry and a couple of other stories that I don’t know who wrote but are wonderful. I read these in 5th and 6th grade and I can’t get them out of my head. Since then I’ve read so many other wonderful short stories.
Great advice, Luanne! I love to write short stories, they’re always a challenge. xo
They are a challenge, and yet a manageable challenge, I think. I love the punch of a short story!
Great advice. I’m not a “novelist” but more of an “essayist.” I’ve tried to get my articles published a few times but apparently I don’t have the “stick to it-iveness” required. This book may help. Then again, I am a lazy person….
Yes, it will help. You’re right that it is a lot of work. I am trying to overcome my basic laziness. I was called lazy enough when I was a kid. And not unfairly.
Great blog! I have to admit, I started with a novel, but have read that it’s a good idea to start with something smaller-an article, short story, or even blog posts. Something you can finish and make shine. Whenever you write you are hopefully gaining experience and getting better at your craft. And like you said, it doesn’t hurt to have a couple publications under your belt when approaching that literary agent or publisher 🙂
It’s so true that the more you write (and read) the better your writing gets. Yes, as Windy (below) says the publications DO help with getting an agent!
Terrific advice, Luanne! I agree. Writing short stories and essays is a terrific way to master the craft. And it feels great to see something get published! Another great benefit: Having so many short things published won me points with agents when I was ready to query my novel. I actually had to choose from interested partners. Thank you for the shout-out and review my new book! I hope it leads writers to a byline-filled career :)!
So good to hear such wonderful news about finding an agent, Windy! All my best on your success with this book and future books.
Thank you, Luanne!
I’m not much of a short-story writer, though I have written some. I haven’t submitted them though. Too busy working on my novels. 🙂
Are you throwing an egg my way, Carrie ;)? Yup, too busy working on your novels, which is why you don’t need to do the short method (if you don’t want to) at this point in your career! But for writers starting out or nearer to starting out it’s more often a good training in writing to start short.
Haha, I agree. No eggs here. 😄
Maybe it was one of my cats!
I’m thinking so. 🐱
Excellent advice, Luanne.
Thank you, John!
Luanne, this looks like a great resource! It’s especially hard to sort out the marketing part of short pieces. Thanks for sharing this! – And, I love your adding your own thoughts. I especially liked this, “While you are doing this read like crazy.” – So often we forget that we can learn so much from reading other work and figuring out how they did their craft, so we can improve our own craft. Nice!
Excellent advice, Luanne…I’ve been writing a few pieces for The Drabble which has a 100-word limit for submissions. Boy, 100 words is a tight fit! But it’s taught me how much I really don’t need to say. 🙂
Tell me why you like the 100 word limit. It doesn’t seem TOO small to you? Do you write a certain kind of thing that works well for 100 words? I’m still not quite sure how I feel about anything less than 250 (though twitter should stay where it is haha).
I start out with something longer – maybe 250 words or more, and then I cut to the words that I feel are essential to whatever I’m trying to say and if I’m not at 100 words, I cut it again.
It’s interesting and a great exercise for me to choose words that are really important when I work on my longer pieces.
Might not work for a poet!
I’ve heard many writers say that writing a good short story is more difficult than writing a novel. Your advice is sound and on the mark. And thanks for the heads up about the Writing and Selling Short Stories book. I will look it up!
Thanks, Pam! I have heard that, too, about short stories, and I sort of get it because there isn’t room for anything that doesn’t ring true or that other “slacking” as a novel can absorb. But I also think that it isn’t as ambitious and it trains writers to be more precise and not allow that loose stuff that needs tightening, etc.
I started submitting short stories to help build a publishing history so when I started submitting novels to agents, I had some success to tell them about – I haven’t had a huge number published, but it does build your confidence and gives you something positive to put in those query letters.
That’s exactly my philosophy, and it’s also (I believe) what Windy is advocating.
Absolutely! Building that resume really does matter in our industry. 🙂
Luanne, this sounds like a practical book for every writer. I think that there is a lot to learn, especially in word economy, from writing short stories. In great literature quantity does not equate with quality. I’m sure you’ve read novels that went on way too long or could have been cut. A good short story is very satisfying to read. I’m looking forward to reading your shorts.
Carol, it’s a very practical book–and one that I hope inspires writers to work on some of the “small stuff” to help with the “big stuff.”
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