I recently ran across a blog post Myke Cole made last month in which he said he believes that “if, instead of writing short stories, I had focussed on my novel writing craft, I would have achieved my dream of becoming a professional writer at least 5 years earlier than I did.” (He also says that everyone is different, so I don’t want to imply that he thinks no one should write short stories.) (And I’m also not a professional full-time fiction writer.)
Writing short stories has improved my writing a lot, more than I think novels would have over the same time period. Not that I can ever go back and test that, of course. I would say I wish I’d started writing short stories earlier, but I had to wait until I had read enough of them that I started having short ideas.
The problem with novels, for me, is that I spend all my time trying to get the plot right. I knew I had to work on setting and characters and description, but the plot always got in the way.
Since short stories are short, the plot is less of a problem, giving me the chance I need to work on other things. I’ve also had a lot more practice on beginnings and endings than I would have if I’d been solely working on novels.
Of course, novels and shorts are very different, so not everything I’ve learned has translated. But enough has that my novels are improving now too.
For now, I’ll keeep writing shorts because they let me try new things, and I’ll keep plugging away on my novels.