One thing I’ve really noticed about my writing process this year is the difference between writing short and writing long. When I write a short story, it seems as if it’s a struggle to wrest 500-1000 words out of my brain and onto the page. I end up making a lot of erasures, eliminate pieces, and often can’t see my way through to the end of the story in one sitting.
On the other hand, when I’m working on a novel, I can easily go through 1000-2000 words a day. Right now my current goal is to get 2000 words down on one novel, 1000 words on a second one. If I have several hours to work, it’s doable. When I’m working on a novel, it’s usually in 700-1000 word scene chunks and it just seems to unfold much more easily.
In part this is because my natural writing length is that of a novelist. Many of my short stories start out reading like the first chapter of a novel and need a LOT of pruning to eliminate that aspect of the story. I like complex plots with lots of twists and turns, but…you can’t do a lot of that in a short story (note the phrasing there; short story complexity often is not plot-driven but theme and character-driven).
Additionally, the novel can sprawl while every word in a short story has a purpose–sometimes even multiple purposes.
This year I’ve written four short pieces and am working on a novel. Of those shorts, one is a 6k word self-published short (Inconvenient Truths) tied into my Netwalk Sequence world and coming out on July 4th. Truths was intended to be a submission for one of the many new anthologies out there reacting to Donald Trump’s election. It didn’t fit (well, I thought it did, but I’m not the editors) and, since it was a Netwalk Sequence story, I decided that it could go out on its own.
(We won’t talk about why I’m finding it extremely difficult to write political fiction without placing it in the Netwalk Sequence world and evoking Sarah Stephens. Let’s just say that it’s my head thing and leave it. I could write several–many–political stories, but that would be violating the trust of people I know. The perils of being an ex-activist….)
Needless to say, I hadn’t really planned for Truths to happen, though it illustrates a crucial turning point in the Netwalk universe.
Another story, Exile’s Honor, is a Goddess’s Honor novelette that was somewhat planned for, and lays a foundation for elements within the current Goddess’s Honor novel, Challenges of Honor. I tend to use short stories as means to explore the series I’m writing, and Exile looked at an important development in Goddess’s Honor.
But then there are the other stories. Both are somewhat solicited, in that they’re aimed at anthologies that I was invited to participate in. One’s somewhat goofy and not at all political; the other has political elements but doesn’t move into territory that makes me want to revert to the Netwalk Sequence. Still, I agonized over both of them, and the goofy story requires more attention from me before I send it out. 500 words a day was the best I could do on either story.
Ironically, when it comes to publishing, short stories fill most of my traditional credits. Part of that reality is market-driven. Even in today’s tight publishing market, there are still more options to sell short stories to a legitimate publisher than there are novels. That’s just the way things work. The shorts may not earn me a lot of money, but they do earn something, which is what the novels (except for Pledges of Honor) don’t exactly do. On the other hand, given the amount of time it takes to produce a short story (especially on spec, where it can take anywhere from 2 months to 10 years to sell), I’m better off working on the longer works. For whatever reason, I find that the older short stories in my portfolio are the ones who sell.
So it is a puzzlement at times. Short stories earn me visibility and a shot at higher recognition. But they require a lot of energy, attention, sweat, and blood for me to make them work. Really, I need to write them, then shove them in a closet to marinate and mature before I send them out. I can’t count on them to be easily saleable, especially when writing a spec story instead of a solicited story.
Novels, on the other hand, are a lovely unfolding of a story, a pleasant ramble through the tale (even when I’m trudging through the midpoint of the novel). I can get them written, put them aside for a few weeks, then spend another month in revisions which creates a clean usable draft for editing purposes. It takes me about six months to turn out a decent 90,000-100,000 word novel from rough draft to final independent publication. But given the realities of today’s novel market, I’m better off marketing them directly to the reader (which requires production, cover work, editing work, and a lot more effort) rather than to publishers.
That said, one reason I’m working on two stories at once right now is that I am crafting one novel to send out to small and mid-level publishers. It’s a high-concept idea that has a nice little tagline and quick elevator pitch, and it might just be quirky enough to fit the demands of today’s market–or not, depending on what Marketing thinks. There’s only one way to find out, though, and that’s to send it out. I’m not planning to hit the Big Five with this one because I don’t feel like wasting my time waiting for it to take two to five years to work its way through the slush pile. But I would like to find a decent mid-to-small press where I could market some of the quirky standalone ideas I have.
The series stories? Not ready to market those elsewhere yet, especially since I want the freedom to be able to sell related short stories and the like. But the quirky standalone books? Oh yeah, if I could find a market for those…that would be a different tale.
So we shall see where this takes me.