This morning a friend posted on Facebook a quote from another writer, inviting comments in response. The quote went:
Writing 20 short stories of 5,000 words each will teach you more about writing fiction than writing a 100,000 word novel. And they’ll make more money for you too.
The quote is from an article “Writing short stories: 3 tips for creating characters readers love“
I certainly agree with this statement.
Instead of one set of characters and one setting in a novel, you will have multiple settings, you can experiment with different voices and points of view, and include various types of characters in 20 or so stories (unless the stories are in a series written about one character).
Dealing with a diverse range of characters, settings and so on would certainly hone one’s writing skills. For beginner or emerging writers this would be particularly helpful. And to those writers my advice would be “Just write” – anything and everything. The more you practice any skill, the better you should become. Of course, mentoring and getting advice from experienced writers helps too; that’s why I did a Master of Arts (Creative Writing) a few years ago. I would also encourage the devouring of as many books and articles about writing as time allows.
Ray Bradbury (Science fiction writer) once told an aspiring writer to go away and write a million words – then come back and he’d mentor him. Malcolm Gladwell (“Outliers“) says it takes 10,000 hours of practice to develop expertise in any field of endeavour.
I never had much published until I had passed both of those marks. Once a writer has achieved those benchmarks, THEN it is time to tackle that 100,000 word novel – if that is what you want to do. By then you will know how to write, how to develop a character, how to plot and have a fairly good grasp of what it takes to be a writer. As an aside, I spent 35 years in elementary classroom teaching; it was only in the last few years that I caught myself saying that “now I know what this teaching thing is all about.”
By the way – later this year I should pass the 3 million word mark and next year the 20,000 hour mark. Despite this I have so much more yet to write about, and the more I write, the more I discover and imagine to write about.
I’ve only covered on small quote from the article my friend found. It has far more to say, especially about turning those short stories into e-books to make more money than a novel might ever produce.
Thanks to Jade for the inspiration to write this post.
“Writing is like breathing.”
Julia Cameron in her book The right to write.
Breathing is essential to life. That’s given – try existing without breathing and you’ll see what I mean.
Likewise, I agree with Julia Cameron. I am at my most alive when I am writing, carving words and ideas out of the air, my imagination shaping them into sentences, stories, poems and articles. Many times the writing becomes so automatic, so involuntary that, like breathing, I am unaware of the processes at work: I just write.
When this happens I find it exhilarating. The words flow, the ideas come galloping into scene after scene and before too long I discover I’ve written 1500 or even as much as 3000 words in a day (though a figure that high is rare). I’ve even had occasions when the characters take over, demanding things happen their way – forget that there is an author at work. They almost demand to be heard. I find this fascinating. It’s almost like the oxygen I’m breathing in has given my characters life. (There is a spiritual analogy embedded in that last sentence, but I won’t go there.)
This all sounds very exciting, but the reality is that I also have days when I am drowning. One of the hallmarks of drowning is a lack of air. When the ideas don’t come- or won’t come, when searching for the right words – or sometimes, any words – is like gasping for air, the sense of drowning is very real. Like a drowning man, the panic soon sets in and flailing of arms is replaced with frantic grasping at anything. The swimmer quickly sinks into despair, the shore beyond reach. The writer wonders if the story, poem or novel will ever be written.
How to prevent drowning: learn to swim. No guarantee, but it minimises the risks.
How to prevent writer’s panic: learn to write, and keep on writing. The more I write, the easier it becomes. The more I write, the more the ideas and words flow. It is never easy and it is hard work. Swimming isn’t easy either; one has to work hard at it – and learn to keep swimming if you don’t want to sink.
And it might also help to keep breathing too.
“When a writer is born into a family, that family is doomed.” Czeslaw Milosz
Write what you know.
Generally that is good advice, especially for writers starting out on their writing journey. Draw on your life experiences and use those in your writing. Your life is what you know best, so it’s a good place to start. A big part of those experiences revolve around your immediate family, so write about them and draw on their experiences too. In your formative years as a writer, especially when you are young, this might be all you have to draw on for your inspiration.
I know that my early stories and novels I drew heavily upon my own experiences and those of my family. Much of this early writing may never see publication; it is part of your apprenticeship in the craft of writing.
As I developed my writing skills I was able to cast a wider net. Now I find I am able to let my imagination soar and take over more and more. I am now less reliant on personal experiences and more on imagination.
To help you develop your writing skills, try one or more of these ideas:
- Start writing a journal about your every day activities.
- Write a page or so about your favourite toy.
- Describe the place you went for a holiday when you were young.
- What happened on a camping trip when you were still at school.
- Think about your least favourite relative; describe why you don’t like that person.
- Write about the events leading up to an accident or tragedy in your family or friendship group.
- Write about your favourite teacher at school.
“It’s never too late to be what you could have been.” George Eliot
Do you want to be a writer?
I have – ever since I was eight years old. I dabbled in writing stories and poems in high school but then became sidetracked in teaching for 35 years. Teaching was always my second choice. All through my teaching career – a reasonably successful one I might add – I continued to consider myself a writer but could only devote serious time to it during holiday periods.
My writing received quite a boost when I bought my first computer in the late 1980s. All through the 1990s I built up a considerable body of writing and had limited publishing successes. I always considered that I would begin to write full time and very seriously when I retired. In part, I have succeeded in that goal. For the last six years I’ve written thousands of articles on my three blog sites. I’ve also written many short stories, poems and a novel for children.
The point of all this?
I agree with the Eliot quote above. Last month I celebrated my 63rd birthday. I’ve just completed the requirements for my Master of Arts Creative Writing degree. The novel I’ve just written will be submitted to publishers in the new year. My best writing years are still ahead of me. It is never too late.
Five years ago I would have scoffed at the idea of having a university degree. It is never too late.
Five years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed of writing so much, but now I’ve written nearly two and a half million words. It is never too late.
Five years ago I could only dream of making money from my writing, but now have a steady income from my writing, especially blogging. It is never too late.
Five years ago I had very few readers but now hundred of people around the globe read my words every day. It is never too late.
Good writing: it is never too late to become a writer.
“Do, or do not. There is no try.”
Yoda in Star Wars Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back.
Fact: Many people would like to write a book.
Fact: Few people actually start writing a book.
Fact: Very few people actually finish writing a book.
Fact: Of those that finish writing a book, very few get published.
Like Luke Skywalker in Star Wars, people have a go. They try to write a book, not realising the long journey on which they have embarked. When the going gets tough, they give up. So many give up so easily.
You cannot “try” to write a book. You must do it, or not. If you don’t have the persistence, don’t even start.
Harsh words, yes, but that is the reality.