Writing a novel can be an exciting and fun project, but it can also be something that you spend many months or even years on writing. Many of my fellow writers are sometimes exhausted or get stuck during the writing process and don’t know how to continue. In general, a novel is a big commitment to your story idea and creativity. But a short story doesn’t have to be. Most of us, myself included, tend to read books instead of short stories or short story collections because we want to immerse ourselves into the story world and live in that story for a while. Short stories tend to last only for an hour or so and then they leave us again so, naturally, we don’t feel as saturated with the story and don’t get to know the main characters that well. But this doesn’t mean that a short story cannot shake you to the bones, make you day dream, laugh or cry. It only means that the word count is lower. It’s not set in stone how many or few words make up a short story, but in general they have between 1,500 and 20,000 words. Anything longer might be a novella already. Apart from this, there are no specific rules or characteristics of short stories. Below you’ll find three of my favorite reasons for writing short stories.
Reason 1: Experimenting with genres and styles
One of the biggest advantages there is about writing short stories is that you get to experiment with genres and styles or forms. This can be especially beneficial for aspiring authors who are not sure yet which genre they want to commit to or who have the tendency towards multiple genres but want to figure out which genre they are best at writing. I, for example, read novels in English and German, my native language, from all kinds of genres except for horror and thriller. So what genre should I write in? What language even? Through writing some short stories, I figured out that I prefer writing in English – for some reason it makes me ‘think’ more in stories as it is a more narrative language – and that I really don’t want to write in one genre only. This lack of genre commitment eventually lead to a completely different form of commitment: I decided that with writing short stories I would never have to commit to one genre only. As the award winning and prolific short story writer Lydia Davies said in an interview with an Austrian newspaper a few years ago, “Since I discovered the short form for my writing, I feel free for all forms. This is the actual freedom I gained. Following this constricted way made me discover an abundance of opportunities that was hidden to me before.” The New Yorker Magazine included a wonderfully written portrait about heriinnthat is one of the best arguments in favor of writing short stories, in my opinion. You can experiment not only with genres but also with all kinds of styles when writing short stories that you couldn’t if you wrote a novel and it could still be a coherent and harmonious short story collection. Jeanette Winterson’s “Christmas Days. 12 Stories and 12 Feasts for 12 Days” that came out last year is an excellent example. In this short story collection she has love stories, ghost stories and even a fable which all fit together because of the Christmas theme.
Reason 2: Practicing and improving your writing skills
All writers get stuck at some point in their story, no matter how long or short it is meant to be. Every writing coach will then tell you to try writing prompts or other forms of writing exercises to jump start your creativity and or take your mind off the road block you encounter in your work in progress at that moment. So why not write short stories? They are easily written in the matter of a few days or even a couple of hours so they don’t take up a lot of time. You never have to show them to anybody and you can even connect them to your work in progress if you, for example, write a short story about that character you are having trouble getting to know or that sub plot that you can’t quite figure out. If nothing else, the idea of writing a few thousand words on paper are less daunting and can encourage you to start or continue your novel.
Reason 3: Publication in Blogs and Magazines
Eventually, all fiction writers would like someone to read their stories, right? Independently of the form of publication, whether you go the traditional route with publishing houses or whether you decide to self-publish, it always helps if you have some of your writing published already. Writing and publishing short-stories in magazines is, in fact, a very widespread and popular way to get yourself out there and start being published. It doesn’t have to be the New Yorker Magazine to still be credible and a renowned magazine. You can find a small paradise of writing advice and resources on the Writer’s Digest web site where you will find lists and lists of magazines world wide you could submit your writing to and what to keep in mind when you do. Most writing competitions require short stories as well.