I think one of the biggest draws of the novel is the idea of having written a novel. Depending on the author this can be a pro, con, or both. There’s something romantic about being able to say that you’ve written a full novel. It’s one of the reasons that National Novel Writing Month has so many people take on their challenge.
Yet the idea that a writer can only write novels, or maybe should only write novels is a disadvantage. For the first two years of my writing career I stayed away from short stories because of this idea. While it did help my writing progress it also hindered my editing progress.
Pros of writing a novel: You can say you have written a novel. If written from start to finish that’s a lot of time spent writing, which is great for honing the craft. It’s better for working on long term foreshadowing, long term character arcs, and pacing.
Cons of writing a novel: It’s a big time investment. It’s an even bigger time investment when it comes time to edit. Because it’s a large piece an author can sometimes feel overwhelmed, or bored, with the project.
As a fledgling writer I didn’t write short stories because they’re only a short story. That perception is one of their biggest drawbacks. To a writer it almost feels like dabbling in the art, instead of taking on a ‘fuller’ piece of work.
Yet artists do warm up sketches before working on professional pieces and athletes stretch before playing in a big game. Perhaps it would be worthwhile to think of short stories as warm up pieces. Works writers use to practice new techniques, or just have fun with.
Pros of writing short stories: They can be started, edited, and sent out in a week or two. Because they’re short they’re a great way to try a new writing technique, prose style, tense, or view point. There are a lot of markets for short stories, all of which have the potential to improve a writer’s audience. When trying to market a novel it’s nice to show previously published short stories.
Cons of writing short stories: Because they aren’t as big of an undertaking they can feel like less of an accomplishment. Since they‘re short they aren’t as good for figuring out long term foreshadowing, long term character arcs, or pacing. It can be hard to fully explore an idea in a short story.
Now that I’ve had experience writing both novels and short stories I find that figuring out which ideas would work best in each format, using the pros and cons listed above, is one of the most important decisions I have to make.
- Shannon Kauderer
We’ve all heard of NaNoWriMo. That crazy month of November when we do nothing but write. What many people don’t know is that there are two other months for writing. NaNo calls the months of April and July “Camp” months. The goal here is similar to that of November, but there are some differences.
The first difference is your goal. During November you have to write 50,000 words. Camp is much more flexible. You choose your own goal, any amount you want. This allows people with busy lives to be more realistic about what they can do. It also let’s overachievers show their progress. You can also change your goal as you go, usually until the last week of the month when winning starts. That way if life got in the way you can still win, or if you’re doing better than expected you can surge ahead. This year my goal is 15,000. I think that this will be enough to finish my current work-in-progress.
That is another difference with camp. NaNo asks you to start a new project, Camp does not. You can if you want to, but you can also continue an old one, or use the time to edit or revise. Basically, as long as you are working on some type of writing, it works. I often use camp to finish the novels I start in November.
Another major addition to Camp is Cabins. Cabins allow you to have a specific group of writers to talk to. During NaNo we have the message boards. Cabins are more like a chat with a smaller group. There are a few ways to get a cabin. I usually form a cabin with people from the local NaNo group. We add as many people as we can and often end up with more than one cabin. One person sets it up and then adds the others. I like doing this because these people already know my stories and personality, so I don’t have to explain myself as much. You can also get added to a random cabin. You just select this option and the powers that be put you with a group. This can be interesting because you are interacting with new people.
Overall I like the flexibility that Camp gives, especially as someone who works, a lot. It gives me the motivation I need but at a pace that works better for my life. Happy writing everyone!
Image from Pixabay
Or: how to say no so that you can survive to write another day.
I once knew a gal named Jane
who wanted to write, work, play, and find fame
but she always said yes
no matter who asked
so instead of writing she helped, and went insane.
Saying no is really hard for me. Taking on new projects to help out friends, family, or even strangers, adds a lot to an already busy plate. So I've been learning how to A) back down from commitments made and B) say no to new commitments. Both are hard, but A is laced with more emotion, predominantly guilt, and causes awkward feelings between myself and others. To avoid that, I know I'm better off saying no initially to helping Aunt Tilly pickle her tomatoes, or setting up a bridge tournament for the rehab hospital. An up front NO means they'll go find someone who can. It means the task gets achieved without me losing steam or time.
The writing process for almost every writer includes a secret element beyond angst or love or pain or even inspiration. It includes TIME. Saying no to a new volunteer position (no matter how worthy), more hours at work (depending on your debt load- the thing about writing is you still need to eat!), helping someone move or walking their dog or any of a number of things we get hit with in life, means we are making time for our writing. It may not always feel like daydreaming or reading Murakami or working through old versions of your manuscript is productive to your WIP, but it almost always is.
Writing in it's finest moments is when the process, the inspiration, and the time you invest blend to create work that makes you shine like you swallowed a piece of the sun. It clicks together in a way that can't be rushed between driving kids and folding laundry, nor improved by the beach or good rum. When you add to your already busy day helping your neighbor diy their plumbing, the impact on your writing is magnified; not only do you lose time to work, but your mental place changes, becomes more crowded and rushed. Saying no at 3:30pm for a 4pm PTO bake sale means bad feelings all around, everyone is better off if we let them know out of the gate.
It is always up to us to determine when we are truly too busy to say yes. But it is also our call when something more important comes up (driving a friend to chemo would trump thinking time, I know my limits!). In order to find that balance, in order to put in enough time and feel good about it, it's important to be able to say you really need time to get your work done. To appreciate your own boundaries. The recipe for great writing is not a science (we've discussed this before), but without giving yourself enough time (to edit, think, tap the keyboard, read out loud, etc.) you surely do yourself (and likely your friendships) a disservice.
When I started to write fiction, my first story was a full-length murder mystery with a romance woven in. I struggled with plot points, turning points, and character development. Basically, I had difficulties with everything. The whole thing of writing 70,000 plus words was intimidating.
This is a problem for most new writers. The feeling of being overwhelmed can stall and even turn people off. But I keep chipping away at my murder mystery. It’s still not done but I’m persevering. I’m sharpening my writing skills and getting better.
However, if I had to do it over, I think I should have started with a short story or a flash fiction. Small steps are definitely a better way of easing into something. Here’s a flash fiction I did for a contest for Edgar Allan Poe inspired stories with a word count 250 words or less.
I didn’t do it. At least that is what I told everyone, and to my amusement, they believed me. Funny how a young innocent face can manipulate opinion.
It was a cold snowy night, and I just finished my shift at the diner. The walk home wasn’t something I relished. A car stopped, and I snapped at the chance to be warm.
Opportunity. It all came down to that. Months had passed since the last time I felt the euphoric plunge of the knife.
“You want a ride?”
“Yes, thanks,” I said.
“No problem. You’re the dishwasher at Ruby’s, right?”
We exchanged small talk for the next few miles. She was pretty for a middle-aged woman. I usually targeted the less desirable, but the redhead fascinated me. With each swish of the wipers, the need inside me grew. My fingers tightened around the hilt of my knife.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
That was all it took. Three downward thrusts of the blade and I had my high.
It has been days since my ride with the woman, and I smile at the power I yielded that night. The town is in a quandary wondering who did it. Fools. They’ll never figure it out. I pull my coat tighter against the cold wind and quicken my steps toward home.
“You want a ride?”
“Huh?” I lift my eyes from the road and pause.
Thud. Thud. Thud.
With my lifeblood staining the snow, I realize not everyone was fooled.
Thanks for the read. Give writing a try. You never know, you might like it.