For most of my creative writing life, I’ve tried to write novels. Novels are the pinnacle of fiction writing in the same way oil painting is the pinnacle of art. I thought that if I was going to be a writer, I didn’t have a choice but to write novels.
However, recently, my thoughts have changed. In fact, for a few years I locked my novel away in my desk drawer to focus all my attention on short stories.
4 Reasons to Write Short Stories
Here are four reasons why I chose to write short stories instead of novels:
1. The Best Writers Started With Short Stories.
Stephen King, Ernest Hemingway, and Mark Twain became famous writing novels, but before they wrote novels, they published short stories.
Ernest Hemingway wrote twenty-four stories about a single character, Nick Adams, writing most of them before his breakout novel, The Sun Also Rises.
Twenty-one years before The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain published his first short stories in a local newspaper.
Stephen King started submitting short stories at such a young age that by the time he was fourteen he had a stack of rejection letters so thick he could no longer nail it to the wall.
2. They’re Practice.
If you don’t already know how I feel about deliberate practice by now, just take a second look at our name. Because it’s not enough to just practice, you have to practice the right way.
To practice writing deliberately you have to write finished pieces over and over again. What makes short stories so great for writers is that they give you the chance to write a full-length story from beginning to end. You can practice every part of the writing process, and you can do it in a matter of days or weeks.
A novel, on the other hand, could take years to practice the whole process. And if it’s your first novel, after all that hard work it probably won’t be published.
On top of that, deliberate practice requires regular tests. Researchers as early as the 1890s have found that when people are tested, they improve significantly faster, even compared to people with years of experience at a task.
Compare that to how you write. Do you ever write whatever you feel like, and then wonder why you’re not getting better (or worse, why others aren’t responding to your “art”). Writing should be fun, but unless you’re doing the hard work of constantly submitting your work for publication, you won’t get better as fast as you want to.
Short stories are a training ground, the place where you can make all your mistakes before you jump into the much more difficult process of writing a full novel.
3. You Can Get Published Sooner
According to Duotrope, there are currently over 6,000 literary magazines that might publish your short stories compared to just over 2,700 book publishers. Combined with the fact that short stories take so much less time to write, you might find that you can get published faster if you focus first on short stories.
On top of that, getting your short stories published first can lead to finding a publisher for your book.
“Agents look to literary magazines to find talented emerging writers,” Linda Swanson-Davies, editor of Glimmer Train literary magazine, told me. “If your goal is to publish a book, having first published fiction in literary magazines gives publishers more confidence in the merit and marketability of an author’s work.”
4. Because You Have Stories to Tell.
You should write short stories so you can experience the taut tightrope walk of the moment, the inexhaustible richness of the present.
You should write short stories so your children can read them when they’re your age and think, “Wow. My father, my mother was a writer.”
You should write short stories because you’re consuming stories everyday, from books and television and movies and newspapers, because you want to stop consuming and start creating.
You should write short stories to discover what your life is for and why you’re here and what you’re supposed to do.
Don’t Wait to Write
In short, writing short stories is one of the best ways to practice writing, get feedback, and get your stories into the world. If you want to grow as a writer, this is one of the best ways to do it.
Not sure where to start? Check out our master list of 100 Short Story Ideas to get inspired. And consider joining a writing contest for the feedback, encouragement, community, and deadlines to help you take that inspiration and turn it into a great story.
(Keep an eye out—we’ll be announcing our next writing contest soon!)
We all want to become better writers. Why not start your next short story today?
Why do you write short stories? Let us know in the comments.
As you’re thinking about short stories, I want you to free write. Don’t try to write any particular story. Relax. Just let your story take shape on its own.
And if you post, be sure to give feedback to a few other writers.