It’s a piece of advice I’ve heard on many occasions: at writing workshops in college. In an enrichment session with book editors at Gen Con. During conversations with accomplished authors. While perusing countless website articles on the ever-popular topic of how to get published:
Short stories first, then novels.
There’s an undeniable logic to this “start small” progression. Agents and book publishers are bound to take a writer more seriously after he or she has writing credits from journals and magazines under his or her belt. Anyway, perfecting a story of a few thousand words must be easier than whipping a full-fledged novel into shape…right?
Unfortunately for me, I’ve never been much of a short story guy, not as a reader or a writer. In both instances, I prefer the extended opportunity to get invested in a group of characters (make that “people”) and to become infatuated with a wide-scale world, as opposed to sampling a bit-sized plot.
Call me ambitious—or maybe naïve—because I decided early on that I was going to skip the short story phase of my fiction-writing enterprise and jump right into a novel. No, make that a trilogy. Better yet, an epic series that could spawn ten or more volumes!
When Book 1 didn’t get picked up, however, that brought me back to the drawing board.
But did it stop me from pursuing book-length fiction? Nope. Even as the first installment of a new series was (and still is) being considered by a major publisher of science fiction and fantasy fiction, I began work on the sequel. Meanwhile, I created a website (even though I hated blogs), started following other writers’ blogs, and made Facebook and Twitter accounts for David Michael Williams, the author. In short, I did everything I could think of to give myself a leg up in my quest to become a published writer of fiction.
Everything except for writing short stories.
To be honest, a lack of interest in short fiction is only half of the reason why I seldom dabble in the medium. The fact is I’m not very good at it—in part because of a lack of practice and in part because it’s difficult for me to think small. My stories are seldom self-contained. The conflict is consistently complicated; the stakes, always higher. Somewhere along the line, I convinced myself I couldn’t write a good short story because of my penchant for complexity.
However, at a serendipitous meeting with the very editor who has expressed interest in my novel If Souls Can Sleep, I heard the familiar refrain: if you want to break into the business, try to get some short fiction published. And this time, for whatever reason, it struck a chord.
Instead of continuing to try to be the exception to the so-called rule, it was time for me to do as I’d been told time and time again…
Last week, I made my final edits to a sci-fi short story I had written just for fun a while back, a tale I’ve found myself tinkereing with and updating every year or so. “Going Viral” is the best of my handful of attempts to write a simple, straightforward story. Therefore, it was the prime candidate to accomplish my ongoing mission of getting something—anything—published in the fiction arena.
In up to eight weeks, I’ll know whether the good folks at Fantasy & Science Fiction magazine will be the ones to give me my first break. If not, it’s on to the next publication.
Ironically, even as I’ve been researching possible publications to submit my short story to, I’ve come to enjoy reading short fiction more than ever before. Maybe it’s because my leisure reading time is sporadic at best, and indulging in a handful of pages in a single sitting is more satisfying than letting days pass in between chapters. Or maybe I’ve come to appreciate the unique and creative challenge these writers face when stripping a story down to its essential parts.
And just maybe I’ll find the inspiration to further hone my skills at writing short fiction.