The Benefits of Writing Short Stories

There are great benefits to writing short stories for all kinds of writers, including novelists.

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I swear I’ve said this before, but writing short stories has been nothing but a benefit for my writing as a whole. When I was younger, I struggled to stop myself from turning every idea I had into a 150,000-word manuscript where every character and their mum had a backstory the length of my arm regardless of whether they featured or not.

The thing is, quantity doesn’t equal quality. Let’s get that out of the way first. Not all novels need to be capable of sinking ships. We all know this. The day I decided to write a standalone novel was considered an achievement to my friends and family. As a writer, you want people to fall in love with your world and characters as much as you do, and as such, at least for me, you want them to demand more of them—hence sequels and prequels and spin-offs and reboots. You want to convey as much about your characters as you can, even completely plot-irrelevant details that risk consuming time and energy of a prose.

Short stories are irreverent. They’re merciless. If done right, they’re perfect for teaching restraint and pacing and what is truly important in a story.

Someone I know once described chapters as short stories, just sequels of one another. I’m not sure I agree with this idea, but I have started editing them as such. Each chapter has a beginning, middle and end. For many years I struggled to work out when a chapter naturally ended; they’d drag on and on and on until I’d attend my local writers’ group and discover they’d assembled an intervention (I jest, but it did feel like that sometimes).

This kill-your-darlings nature of editing short stories is nothing if not bountiful in experience. It isn’t every day you get to edit a novel, and it isn’t easy. This year alone I’ve edited ten short stories, some of which aren’t my own, and I can use my experience later on when I begin the horrendous edits of my novel.

Writing novels can be a long and arduous process, with very little room for rewards. One can toil away for months or years without hearing input from the outside world. Imposter Syndrome can set in. Short stories can offer quick turnover, provide frequent sources of feedback, and each publication can result in that little validation you may be craving—and, as an additional benefit, it can help audiences find you. They work as bite-sized stories to let readers know whether you’re a soon-to-be favourite author.

In my experience with short stories, particularly in the range of anthologies, they can be a great way of networking with authors of a similar vein, which can bleed into a new audience pool. I’ve found authors because I’ve read an anthology with another writer I’ve liked also published in it.

Short stories can also work as palette cleansers. I’ve written to clear my head of a previous project or read, or to get myself out of a writing or reading slump, as well as encouraged myself to test out a genre I’ve normally steered clear of.

Long ago I turned my nose up at the idea of writing short stories. I’d been told it was a dying art form. Well, it isn’t, and I’m glad I was turned around and pointed in the right direction. There’s a high frequency demand for short stories, some reaching very prestigious awards and others being bought for a handsome price—of course one can dream, but we all must start somewhere. No?

If this is something you’ve considered, I would highly recommend giving short stories a go. As a writer, they are perfect for developing your craft, and as the old adage goes: practice makes perfect.

Sometimes she writes. Sometimes she doesn’t. Either way, she’s not doing what she’s supposed to be doing.

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