The Long and the Short of It.

As you will know, if you are a regular visitor to the blog, I spent a fair part of 2014 writing short stories and pieces of flash fiction which included a high rate of participation in the Twitter flash writing game, Friday Phrases (FP). You can even find some of the short stories here and here if you so wish to torture yourself with a variety of pieces of fiction  which I don’t hold in particularly high regard.

Now, at the time, I enjoyed writing in this form. I guess, as I was pretty depressed for the first half of last year, writing flash fiction and shorts gave me an opportunity to carry on writing when I didn’t much feel like it. Also I needed feedback as to how my writing was developing and it felt the quickest way to achieve that.

You see, for me writing a short story is a little like the practice for the big event, the novel. Now I say ‘for me’ with good reason as I know this is not the case for a huge number of writers. Many I know in fact only write short stories or novellas and like it and are very good at it. It’s their thing.  However, it is not my thing I have discovered. This is because, when I write a short it’s usually from a ghost of an idea that flits about my mind (which does not happen nearly as frequently as perhaps it should) and then I just write it. I don’t outline, I don’t plan characters, I don’t  worry about it or have sleepless nights about it. I draft it, then I edit it and it’s done. It can feel like an accomplishment of sorts when I’ve not worked properly on my novel, but it does not satisfy me fully. Possibly because I do see them as an exercise in writing rather than something I’d aim to have published.

Now, the trouble was last year I became a little distracted by writing these short stories and flash fiction, as well as this blog and  all of those things combined only served to take me away from what I actually love working on which is my novel(s).

I have a theory as to why I became distracted. The main one being that I don’t consider to myself to be a true writer in the pure sense of the word. Simply I don’t feel a deep seated need to bleed ideas onto the page lest I die, as other writers speak of. Unless I am in a state of heart break. Which I very much was until I bled all that out in this blog post. Seems writing really does have the power to heal.

No,  the only thing I feel a need to tell is the story in my novel, and in truth, it’s the only story I have to tell. Really. All those other ideas which found their way here last year could have quite happily remained in the recesses of my mind and no one would have suffered the worst for it. Me least of all.

So whilst I was writing shorts, and blog posts, and participating in FP, my novel sat without moving off the 18,000 word count it’d been on for months and months. This bothered me of course but I justified it and comforted myself with the idea that at least I was writing. Something, anything. No matter what came out. Oh dear.

Then, without my conscious knowledge my participation  in FP began to dribble off in the final quarter of the year until, in December, it became none existent. I pondered on why this was the other day and realised it is mainly because I have no ideas.  They’ve dried up and this I put down to my not being utterly depressed and heartbroken. In February, March, April time when I was perhaps at my lowest I look through my notebook and there were perhaps six or seven Flash Fiction FPs a week. It seems, as I’ve alluded to before in another post, I need heartbreak for my emotions to really surface so that I can have the ideas to then develop further maybe when I’m not so down. My emotions are heightened and so apparently is my creativity.  (An ongoing debate which many have written about before.) This in turn meant my well for short story ideas dried up, and in all honesty I lost interest in writing shorts altogether. I have two sitting half finished in draft form, but I doubt I’ll be finishing them in a hurry.

Anyway,  with news from the publisher in mid November that they were interested in my novel and passing it onto marketing and production to make a decision, I figured I desperately needed to get back to the second book which leads on from Book One. The word count now stands at just over 53,000 which has grown from those 18,000 in early November and which had been sat at 18,000 for a good nine months previously. Not my most productive writing phase.

Getting back to the novel, really getting back into it, has made me realise this much: I much prefer writing a novel to short stories. The process that is. Despite the fact that it is, in my opinion, much harder. It is for me at least so much more enjoyable.

This then got me thinking about different writers and how they view the long and short form.

I know many people in the writing world who very much enjoy writing short stories, even prefer it to novel writing. They submit continuously to websites and magazines for publications and are sometimes successful  at being published, at other times they are not. Nevertheless, they write and write and write and seem to do little else with their spare time from their day job.

They seem to be able to write story after story after story, having so many ideas flowing from them they don’t know what to write next.

I don’t. I just don’t have that many ideas floating around in my brain. I did back in February/March/April time but generally I don’t.  Hence why I can never really consider myself a proper writer. What I do is a hobby as I have too many other things I love to do in my spare time too. My novel is, nevertheless, a hobby I hope one day to have published and be able to share with the children of the world. I have other writers being kind enough to recommend places to submit short stories and poems to or competitions to enter, but truth is, I have no real interest in this. Maybe that’s cutting my nose off to spite my face.  All these other writers who write and submit, write and submit will one day get their break. The law of probability is on their side. I’m not making it easy for myself by not doing those things too, this I know. However, I wouldn’t submit my shorts as I know they are simply not good enough. Also, maybe I just like the thought of a long hard slog on one project which I can eventually feel proud of. I’ve never felt especially proud of my short stories, (probably because they are not that great, or original) but I feel very proud of the 130,000 odd words I’ve written so far over the two novels.

On the up side though, writing shorts has helped me develop such technical skills as: showing not telling or playing around with viewpoint and structure. For me this feeds directly into my novel -the big project, the one I am passionate about. I don’t have that same passion for writing short stories. Maybe, if I’m really honest, my passion is not even for writing itself ; it is for the process of creating. I’ve created a whole world with characters and a plot and a history and timelines and maps and family trees. Writing is just the form this has taken. If I was any good at art it could have been a mural or a comic strip. I don’t know. But to perfect that form I’ve had to pay attention to the technical stuff and writing shorts and flash has indeed helped me to focus on the actual art of writing.

To my mind, and perhaps this may be controversial in writerly circles, (as I generally have no clue what I’m talking about having never attended a writer’s club, forum, support group or workshop) the process of writing a short compared to writing a novel is completely different.

When writing a novel, for example, there is more opportunity to develop characters, get to know them, play around with them, shake them up when need be. In a novel the characters drive the story, where for me in short stories it seems the plot drives the characters.  (Maybe because I’m doing it all wrong!) The characters in short stories don’t seem to do unexpected things because there is a ‘punchline’ to reach and it needs to be reached in a specific word count.

Writing a novel also means weaving multiple different threads together. So much so it can feel almost like solving a murder mystery and really gets the brain thinking. It can make it ache too, but in a good way. Weaving multiple narrative and making them meet is  a form of problem solving and it feels great when it all comes together. (Especially if you’re a bit of a pantser like me!) This feeling of accomplishment is something I have never found I gain with writing in the short form. As I say, with a short the ending presents itself like a flash of inspiration and then you run with it until you reach it. The biggest problem solving you have when writing a short story or Flash Fiction is to convey what you want to say in as few words as possible. We all know I’m verbose to the extreme, so perhaps this is why I prefer novel writing!

Now, on a personal level I do actually like reading short stories very much. I loved all Roald Dahl’s Tales of The Unexpected and other short stories when I was a teenager. He, to me, is a master in the art of short story telling, and the novella “The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar” is one of my all time favourites. However, as a writer, they simply do not give me the same pleasure (and perhaps the same pain!) that writing a novel does.

Those light-bulb, Eureka! moments in the shower when you work out, almost subconsciously, how to fix that plot hole that’s been bugging you for months or maybe that you didn’t even know was there until a couple of characters started a conversation in your head whilst you were washing up! That is a complete thrill and once you get it written down, utterly satisfying.

Writing a novel is a marathon over the sprint of a short. It’s harder, certainly; it’s more gruelling, but the feeling when you finish it is far more exhilarating.

These are just my thoughts of course.

What do you writers think? Do you prefer the marathon or the sprint? Which process do you enjoy more?

What do you readers think? Do you prefer to read short stories, what with the busy lives we now all seem to lead, or do you prefer something you can get your teeth into?

I’d be happy to hear your thoughts in the comments box below. 🙂

Thanks, as ever, for reading.

 

4 Comments

Filed under Designing, Editing, Plot Development, Publishing, Writing

4 responses to “The Long and the Short of It.

  1. One thing I’ve struggled with is fitting the mold of “a writer.” You see many folks throughout Twitter and the blogosphere who are supernaturally productive in terms of their own work, be it shorts, novels or what have you, and able to read 100+ books a year. This is SO not me, and I wondered for a long time if that meant I couldn’t call myself a writer as well. It’s still a struggle sometimes, but as the old TV theme song goes, it takes different strokes to move the world. I’m a writer, you’re a writer, and if we were all the same our stories would be pretty bland. My problem is that I lean to long form, both in what I read and what I write, but I’m short-fuse impatient, which can be a frustrating combination. And the ideas can come and go – just today I had an idea for a children’s book based on something funny my wife said. On other occasions it feels like months lost in the desert. Just be you and as long as you love it, keep doing it, whatever form it ends up taking. Everything else is background noise.

    • As always, wise words 🙂 I identify with the short-fuse impatience, totally. I am also stupidly easily distracted which I guess is why I can have months without working on my novel! But yes, it is mostly background noise and you have to tune that out a lot of the time. 🙂

  2. You are my polar opposite, and I love it! I continually learn from you.

    My favorite books are actually collections. One is The Dark Tower series by Stephen King (definitely long form) and another is Clive Barker’s Books of Blood, a collection of short stories (novelettes/novellas). I also enjoy reading Ayn Rand and Richard Matheson, both of whom write shorts as well. I am more comfortable writing the short forms, too.

    I say that, but I’ve never written a novel. I have made three attempts, gotten to over 15k words, and lost interest. I don’t know if this speaks to my preferences or to my lack of experience. I’ve only been writing 2 years, and even in that short time I have evolved. I won’t say I’ll never write a novel, but I enjoy what I’m doing now.

    Those Ah ha! moments (typically in the shower or while driving) tend to grab me and I rush to get it out. I focus on what makes the story for me, that part I love, and build around it. Sometimes it’s a word or phrase, other times it’s a first or final line that slams into me.

    However inspiration strikes, I’ve learned that the ideas will not stop coming. For me, they simply don’t. They keep coming until I get a headache unless I get them out. I have the longer works floating around, and those I’ll keep working on as fast as I can. In the meantime, I’ll keep writing flash fiction and short stories to keep my workspace clean, so to speak.

    Some of them will go to the blog for free. Others will be published in due time. I put forth the same amount of effort for each, though, because I love the process of creating, polishing, and setting them free. It’s how I let each idea go to keep the “big ones” clear in my mind.

    Reading this post was very interesting for me, as it offered me a peek into the mind of a novelist, an opportunity I welcome as I have a great deal of respect and admiration for those who can stick with one project for so long. I hope to do the same myself, one day. Until then, like you, I’ll use the shorter forms to learn and improve as a writer. Maybe we’re not so different after all. 😉

    • What a great comment Jess! Thank you. Yes, it’s weird but when I started writing my novel I would never have thought I’d stick with it. Was just saying to Graham how I’m far too flighty and easily distracted, get bored. But with this I just never have lost sight of what I want to achieve. When I found Twitter and Blogging and other writers I thought “Oh heck, I’ve done this wrong. I should write shorts and novellas first and build up to a novel. But as I say, I’ve found I really have passion for this and not much else! However it is great we are all different, otherwise I suppose we’d all be writing the same stuff!
      Thanks so much for your thoughts 🙂

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