As an up-and-coming indie author, I work daily to improve my craft. It’s a goal, not a habit. There are plenty days I’ve skipped, but I try hard to improve my writing at least 1% most days.
Part of the improvement comes from reading. There’s an old, rusty saw that states writers must be readers first. I believe it. The more I read the better my work gets — to a point. But there comes a moment where you’ve got to get out of the car and start walking.
The novel is the marathon goal for many writers (and non-writers alike). The thing about the novel is that it’s really HARD to do well. It’s even HARDER to finish one. During the three, training wheel years before I published my first novel, I wrote seven different manuscripts, all unfinished, but within 20–30 pages of done.
I’ve found, like many things worth doing, there’s a wall with a novel. We get to the hard, workmanlike parts, and we stop. All the sexy, start-up days are long done. The story isn’t quite write. The self-doubt taps you on the head — all kinds of things tell you it’s time to call it quits. And I did. Until now.
I found an antibiotic for frozen creativity— it’s the short story.
In a previous article, I wrote about my method for writing a full novel on my phone (see below). The method’s not for everyone, but it did wonders for my productivity. I’d still be writing that novel if I didn’t use my phone.
What I Learned Writing an Entire Novel on My Phone
The year was 2017. It was cold and dark outside. I was thumbs-deep in my latest novel and minutes away from typing the…
But there’s more to my mobile writing story.
The phone is great for all kinds of writing. You have it with you all the time. I found the phone is perfect for short stories too. These pieces can be as short or long as you wish. I write them within the time window I have, or piece them together over multiple writing sprints.
If I’ve got a long wait, say an hour for an oil change, I’ll hammer-out a six hundred word story. If I have fifteen minutes, I’ll start something new and write a quarter of it — maybe edit a finished story. If I have one a minute or two and I get an epiphany for a new story, I’ll quick think of a title and jot a once-sentence synopsis for later writing when I have more time.
Why write mobile shorts?
Short stories give you permission to fail fast, so you can grow as a writer. In a minute I’ll share the other half of the learning process, but these forced, fast writing sessions have really refined my chops. The shorts make me think about my word choice in the moment, versus writing sloppy and hoping the edit process will catch them later.
There are no rules for shorts. I write thrillers, so I enjoy writing creepy shorts too. But I write far outside my genre, which is another way I use them to help me grow. One day I’ll write a dystopian short. The next day I might try a feel-good piece.
If you get halfway through a short story and it doesn’t work, you stop and delete it. You learned something. You try again. Boom-bada-bing. If you get 35,000 words into a novel and you realize it’s terrible, you’ve wasted much more time and a big chunk of your life.
Short stories have a simpler arc than a novel, more like a triangle than a rolling wave. There are fewer characters to keep track of. There may be no human characters at all. You can write about inanimate objects if you want. Right now I’m working on a short story about an old man’s bucket.
What do I do with the stories once they’re done?
Here’s the other part where I use shorts to help me grow. I send them to my readers and let them vote with their feedback. If I get a large response I know there was something about the story they enjoyed. I’ll look at that piece and try to add whatever worked to my novel writing.
I send these stories in my reader’s newsletter. These give my audience a ton of extra value, free, and they offer their feedback in return. Many of the stories don’t work. The ones that fall flat get removed and I rotate in others. The most-successful ones will eventually go together in a published collection. This way I know every story in the collection is a story that readers enjoy.
One of the worst stories I wrote got a lot of negative feedback. It was a powerful lesson that taught me to stay in my lane. I wrote way outside my wheelhouse and tried to write a short story from a woman’s perspective. I told my audience this before sending it. The experiment didn’t work and I made quite a few people angry. But I learned and I adapted for later.
Just because they’re short doesn’t mean they’re easy to write
Short stories teach you to be concise. They’re simple by design, but the execution is something else. Ray Bradbury is famous for saying if you want to be a writer don’t start with a novel. You should write a short story every week, because it’s not possible for a person to write 52 bad short stories in a row.
My first few short stories were terrible. Yours will be too. This is how I learned. I just sat and wrote. I found my voice. I fell flat. I had some stupid ideas and some great ones that made me cry as I typed. Sometimes the work comes from nowhere and sometimes the muse is on vacation.
As long as I’ve got my phone in my pocket, there’s a short story waiting to be told.