One of the many debates which comes up repeatedly among writers
is whether or not you should start out with short fiction when you
first start writing. Now, I'm certainly not going to be an
absolutist about this, and I know there are many people who have
only written novels and learned the craft writing long.
By inclination, I'm more suited to writing long
forms. But I also think you can learn faster by writing short in
the beginning. Hey, it's short. It doesn't take as long to fix.
And then there's the very practical consideration of how much
heart and soul you've put into it and are going to have to
give up when it gets torn apart and rejected again and again.
Think about it. In a year, you can easily write
five to ten stories, and each one will be better than the last. You
won't be putting as much energy into each one either -- it won't be
quite as hard to admit to yourself it's not there yet and relegate it
to the trash bin once you've learned so much you can see for yourself
everything that's wrong with it. But a novel -- a novel you can easily
put years of your life into. It's a lot harder to distance yourself from, a lot
harder to take rejection, etc. You're
going to die a few thousand less deaths when you realize
the story is crap that took you a month to write.
Another reason I think you can learn a lot from writing short
stories at first is because you have to be more disciplined.
Instead of a hundred thousand words to present the major characters
and their conflicts, get them into hot water, and let them get
themselves out again, you only have about five thousand.
I didn't start with short
stories myself. I wish someone had told me to, though. I always
thought my ideas were too big for shorts, thought I would just bumble
along in my own merry way, taking my plot and my characters
wheresoever my inclination (and theirs) led me.
By now, I've finished one novel I tossed, one novel-length
hyperfiction, and one time travel. I've been at this seriously for about
ten years. I now have
two pro short fiction sales, a couple of pays-in-copies sales, and two
hyperfiction works on the net for which I sometimes get "payment" in
speaking engagements. My first novel (if you don't count the
novel-length hyperfiction or the one I tossed) has been
requested four times and rejected
three times. I'm not counting the ones who didn't even want to look at
the complete manuscript.
I didn't start seriously writing short fiction until I went
to Clarion West,
and I am convinced I've
learned more in the few years since than I did in all the years
when I was writing long. Perhaps I'm wrong, but I suspect I might
have been able to learn the basics faster if I'd started short --
and gone on to long forms when the learning curve was no longer
quite as steep. You can learn the craft either
way, though. The point is that most of what you're going to produce
initially is practice -- so do you want to practice by writing a
novel or by writing short stories? That's what it really comes down