I am perfectly happy to follow up on Elizabeth’s post too.
Yes, as Kelly said, write what you want. The days of write short fiction, get published in the mags, get noticed by an editor, get a book deal, those are long gone. There are plenty of authors who don’t do short fiction. So if all you want to do is crank out your Encyclopedia de Fantasia, feel free.
However, I want to point out two things from my experience that I found valuable about writing short fiction.
Number one- you can screw up faster.
When I first started writing, I was trying to do short stories. At first, they never went anywhere. Then one started to go. And go and go and go, until suddenly I had a book, not a short story. Now in some ways this was great- I’ve never had that fear of how do you write so long that I’ve seen plague some short story writers. Because it just happened. But that first book… It had issues.
That’s fine. Newbie writers have issues. Everybody needs practice. But damn, it kind of sucks to see eighty-thousand words worth of issues all in one big pile.
That’s why, after I finished that first book, I did short stories and started getting them critiqued. I quickly had all sorts of things pointed out to me– everything from my habit of sometimes making my language so baroque it broke, to not being able to properly use ‘to’ and ‘too’. Also, commas. I cleaned them up and ended up with some pretty decent writing, in a lot less time. And on the few occasions where the story was just too broken, I was able to drop it without feeling like I’d wasted months.
All in all, short stories felt like a less-bruising way to learn the craft.
Number two- short stories make you write short.
Novels can be long. Sprawling. Chocked full of detail and character development and all sorts of literary tchotchkes. I mean, good lord, look at some of the fantasy bricks being sold today. I think Jordan’s “Wheel of Time” deforested a few countries. When I’m doing a novel, I love that. It’s great to be able to sprawl a little. But sometimes, things need to happen, and to happen fast.
Short story writing teaches you economy. Because the word count is limited, you learn how to get the point across quick. How to describe a scene in a sentence, not a page, how to hint at a deep backstory without dragging it all out, how to do an infodump without backing up a truck.
These skills are useful even in a looong novel. Just because you have all that space doesn’t mean you should wander aimlessly around in it. There’s a reason people put books down when they start muddling around in the minutiae. And when they do, there’s a chance their not going to pick them back up.
Sometimes, you have to know how to keep things short. Because if you don’t, people will never buy your five million word duodecology.