A long time ago, after the dinosaurs died out but before the discovery of bronze, I knew I wanted to be a writer. Yes, even then. I also knew what kind of writing I wanted to do. I wanted to write books. I didn’t want to write newspaper articles, blog content (yes, I know, go laugh somewhere else) or short stories. I wanted to write books and that was it.
Would the world leave it alone? No, of course it wouldn’t. Everywhere I looked there were bestselling authors who had worked as journalists, authors who started out submitting short stories to magazines, authors who blogged for fifty million years before they published a book. These guys had done it the “right” way, I was told. They had honed their craft. The constraints of journalism and short stories meant that they had to say what they wanted to say in the most economical way possible. They could craft a scene with three nouns and a conjunction and abhorred the dastardly demons Adjective and Adverb. They knew about deadlines.
Yeah, right, I said (insert appropriate hand gesture here). Even when my father had some success with writing short stories and submitting them to competitions I swore blind I wasn’t going to do it.
I’m no good at short stories, I blustered. I don’t have my father’s twisted mind, and some of his stories really are freaky. I worry about him when I read them, to be honest. I don’t have that kind of freakazoid nature, I said.
Of course, it was all bullshit. Of course I’ve got that freakazoid nature. For a start, he and I are related. It’s in my genes. For another thing, I write fantasy and I think nothing of torturing my main characters until they wish they still had their tongues so that they could beg for mercy.
The fact of the matter was, I was scared. I thought I needed a larger number of words with which to craft my story. The idea of having to get backstory, a plot and character development into a few thousand words scared the crap out of me. Flash fiction was the scariest of all. How were you supposed to get all this into a thousand words or less?
Now, I have since looked back at my younger self and realised I was lazy. Yes. Lazy. With a capital L and capital all the other letters as well. I didn’t want to try. No guts. The fact remains that crafting a short story is an incredibly useful exercise for aspiring writers. And other kinds of writers too.
Even if you have no intention of earning your living as a journalist, writing short stories allows you to hone your skills as a story-teller without spending thousands of hours on it, or having to wait a year for feedback. Or a rejection. People who know say that short stories are much harder to write than books, and they’re right. You still have to create an entire world, you still need a hook, memorable characters and a climax. All the things you need in an eighty thousand word manuscript, but without the six month to ten year slog needed to achieve them.
The best bit? You can submit them to magazines or anthologies and get paid for them. Now don’t tell me that’s not motivation.