Writing and Other Afflictions

"If it was easy, everyone would do it." –Jimmy Dugan, "A League of Their Own"

Short Stories vs. Novels

The question came up over the weekend about writing short stories versus writing novels. Lots of beginning writers try to dive into a novel first time out, and get discouraged because of the scope of the project. For some of them, it might be easier to work on short stories. You get the positive reinforcement of finishing a project quickly, and restricting the scope of your writing makes it seem more manageable.

But the drawback of short stories is that they are short. If you are interested in long character arcs, societal change, or other big ideas, you may not be able to work in anything less than novel form (though to be honest, most writers end up doing both at one time or another–one of the English language’s most famous novelists, Charles Dickens, is perhaps best known for his short story/novella, “A Christmas Carol”). In that case, you should be looking at breaking up your novel into manageable pieces. Write an outline. Write a chapter. Set milestones that are nearer than “finish the novel.”

Another thing I think is more important with novels than with short stories is to write a first draft without letting your inner editor get in the way. Because you have so much more to write, it’s important to get it all down. With a short story, the process of editing is smaller and more contained, and you can let your editor interfere a little as you’re doing your writing. With your novel, you’re going to throw out whole sections anyway. Don’t bother correcting your grammar or word use when drafting. Don’t let yourself get hung up on research. If you know there’s a thing you want to include, but you don’t know the name, just write [later] in your text. I use square brackets for in-manuscript notes because I never use them for punctuation in a manuscript. Then I can just go back and search on “[” and “]” and find all the notes I meant to fill in later. The important thing, again, is to get the draft down.

Then you can worry about getting motivated for the editing. :)


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