Posts Tagged ‘short stories’

I’ve recently devoted a couple of posts to advice that new authors get which may or may not be worth its weight in gold. After all, everyone agrees that there are no real “rules” in writing–except when there are. (Seriously, no. 3.) What I thought I’d like to do this go-round was offer some tips that I’ve come to value over time. These aren’t rules, so you don’t have to worry about following them. On the other hand, they might make your life easier.

  1. You don’t have to write every day. Stephen King says you do, and he probably knows more than me, but, really, you don’t have to. It would be great if you could, and you should want to, but it simply isn’t practical. We have spouses, kids, work, hobbies, friends, lives… Unless and until you’re writing full-time to support yourself, don’t feel bad if you take a day off. Or the week-end. Burn-out is a real thing. Which brings us to…
  2. If the story isn’t coming to you, walk away from it. Writer’s block is real. Staring at the screen for an hour in mounting angst isn’t going to make the words flow. (Unless that’s your process. I’ve even seen it work a few times.) But while writing should be work, it should not be combat. It’s okay to get up, take a walk, play with the dog…exercise is a great way to free your mind. But don’t feel you’re goldbricking if you take time off to charge your batteries. (See no. 1.)
  3. Do whatever you want with your first draft, because no one will ever see it. (This comes courtesy of Anne Lamott, who wrote the greatest writing book I’ve ever read, Bird by Bird. I know this isn’t a list of rules, but trust me, buy this book.) You don’t show anyone your first draft, because (a) it’s going to suck, and (b) knowing no one will see it gives you the freedom to put down any old garbage, in the interest of getting the story written. You can always edit it away, and who’s going to know? How many drafts did Tolkien take to write Lord of the Rings? Beats me, what difference does it make? You only get to read the final version.
  4. Trust your instincts. If you feel a passage isn’t working while you write it, your reader isn’t going to like it, either. Feel free to trash it. I once had to delete and re-write the first 20,000 words of a novel. It hurt, but I went on to finish the book, which wouldn’t have happened otherwise.
  5. Don’t expect perfection. You won’t get it. Eventually, you reach the point of diminishing returns. Let someone read your third draft. Submit the story to some markets. See what happens. And get started on a new story. One of the best ways to deal with rejection is to know you already have something even better working.
  6. Don’t get discouraged. You will, of course. It’s inevitable. It can take years (decades!) to sell even a single story. Even when you’ve done that, there’s always another step to climb, another plateau to reach, another market to crack. Take a breath, look behind you, and see how far you’ve come. (Or try re-reading some of your earliest stories, if you dare.)
  7. Defy rejections with persistence. Send that story out again. And again. And again. I’ve sold stories to top-paying venues that had been rejected two dozen times. I sold one story that had been rejected 44 times. “Never give up. Never surrender.”

The classic image of a writer is a loner crouched over his desk in a freezing garret. It may be classic, but it’s not true. You’re not alone. We’re all in this together; we understand what it’s like. And take one last tip from me: It never gets any easier.

But it’s worth it.

ETA: There are no original ideas, and somebody is almost always writing the same story (or blog post) as you, possibly better. Case in point.



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One of the bad things about being a writer is that you are your own workforce. If you take time off, no one picks up the slack. You also have to live with your decisions, good or bad.

One of the good things about being a writer is that you are your own boss. You set your own goals, your own hours. You want to take a week off, you don’t have to ask anybody. And if you want to change your business model, you don’t have to run your new plan by a committee.

So I’m changing my business model. And while I don’t have to run it by a committee, since it’s sudden and runs smack into the plan I was publicizing as late as a week ago, I felt like I should say something.

I am taking an indefinite hiatus from self-publishing. It’s for the obvious reason: economics. I have proven to myself that, given the proper motivation, I can write a lot faster than I had been, which is essential to self-publishing. You have to push a lot of product to the market. Unfortunately, this is only half of the equation, in that once you have put product on the market, someone has to want to consume it. And therein lies the rub.

The most formidable obstacle to successful self-publishing is discoverability. This is not a writing problem, this is a business problem. According to the numbers, I do not have the business acumen to make a go of self-publishing. It takes about twice the time I was putting in before, and it provides about the same money. I may not be a business genius, but even I can see this makes no sense.

So I’m going back to writing short stories, and with any luck I’ll be able to apply some of the lessons that I gleaned while learning to write a novel in two months. My backlist will remain in print, of course, so theoretically I will soon have two income streams.

Being the boss means sometimes you have let go of an employee. Or a business. I’ll miss being a self-published writer; I just won’t miss being a self-publisher.

Okay, I’ve got to go. My boss is yelling at me to write something. Short stories or novels, some things never change.


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I’m number 1! (Or at least in no. 1.) There’s a new flash fiction magazine coming in February called Factor Four, and they just bought my story, “The Deadline,” for their first issue. It’s a short glimpse into a long-term successful marriage that is hiding a very large secret.

I’m thrilled to be in at the beginning of what I hope will be a great success story. When the issue goes live, I’ll be sure to mention it here.



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Balancing Act

There is only so much time in a day. The trick is to make the best use of that time. Hence my problem.

I have switched in the past year from writing short stories to self–publishing novels. This creates difficulties, because it turns out that writing novels on a self-publisher’s schedule requires even more time than writing a respectable number of short stories in a year. (This is exacerbated by the fact that no one expects you to write short stories on a schedule.) It requires, in my case, about twice the time.

Given this, I have abandoned writing any new short stories for the foreseeable future. I still have a catalog of unsold stories, however, and I am still trying to sell them. In our wonderful Internet age, new markets spring to life every month, unlike the Dark Ages of the Nineteen-Mumble-Mumbles when I started. So all those stories that haven’t yet found a home need constant attention in case a new possibility opens up.

But what happens when a new market opens that fits a story in your inventory perfectly–except that the story’s the wrong length? Can you extend a too-short story? You can, but it’s a tricky and dangerous game. Cutting down a too-long story is easier, but not easy, particularly when (as in the example which prompts this post) you’re talking several hundred words (a typewritten double-spaced page).

On what do you spend your time? The short story, which if sold will generate a few hundred bucks, or the novel, which is going to be published but each copy will only generate a couple of dollars and whose ultimate sales numbers are as speculative as that story sale? Not only that, but the story market has a finite closing date, whereas your book has a publishing schedule that you’d really like to keep.

If I were a best-selling novelist, this wouldn’t even a issue, but I’m not and it is. I know which way I’m leaning…



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I am excited to announce that I have sold a story to Galaxy’s Edge magazine, edited by SF legend Mike Resnick. “Relative Fortune” is about two brothers whose lives took wildly unexpected paths after the death of their father. Now one is living the life that his brother imagined–but is what you gained always what you dreamt, and is what you received instead always less?


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While the excitement of finally bringing a new novel into the world is energizing, it tends to fade a little while you’re waiting for it actually to come out, and in the case of an e-book, that means while you’re formatting and prepping and ordering the cover, etc., etc. This means that at some point, even though you’re not really finished with your massive project, an unwanted thought is going to invade your brain like an insidious virus sent from your Overmind:

What Am I Going To Do Next?

For some, this is not an issue. Some writers routinely juggle two or three projects at once; for them, finishing one simply means focussing on another (and maybe starting something new, but there’s always a list of those). For others of us, though, starting a new project is a daunting task. We can postpone it by saying, “Oh, I’m still editing,” or “While that cover is on order I’ll make sure my e-book is formatted,” or even the time-honored “I deserve a vacation,” but eventually the Overmind rears its massive head and thunders: “You Have To Think Of Something To Write.” (Yes, the Overmind always speaks in capitals.)

Guess where I am in the process?

Often when in this bind, I have taken the coward’s way out, and simply started another novel. Novels are easier: You have only one story to tell, and it takes a long time, so starting something new is a problem you can put off for months. But I have consciously decided to concentrate on short stories for 2017, so that option is barred. And now I am almost done with formatting The Cosmic City, so that’s no help, either. What’s boy to do?

Well, to start, he can write a blog post so he feels like he’s being creative…

The world right now is ripe with subjects that lend themselves to a science-fictional slant, problems that can be addressed through a speculative lens, making them seem less political because they aren’t happening in the here-and-now. I’ve done it before. But it’s very easy to become pedantic and transparent, which in turn makes the work hard to sell. I was hoping to focus more inwardly, touching universal truths by exploring personal truths. This, however, involves much spilling of blood all over your screen (or page, if you’re a Neanderthal like me), and we just vacuumed the carpets. So there’s that.

In the end, this is a question that I’ve faced (and answered) many times. I have developed various mechanisms over the years to deal with the issue. Most involve reading–a pastime which has suffered greatly of late–but all involve sitting down in a chair and writing.

You know, the kind of thing I’m doing right now, Mr. Overmind! This is over 400 words right here! And then there’s my tweets, they count, and I still haven’t finished formatting my book…


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Hooray! “Grinpa,” the story of a little boy who’s more concerned with his dying grandfather than with the HUGE events occurring in the world outside of that little hospital room, is going to be reprinted by Digital Fiction. I am very proud of this story and excited to see it venturing out into the world once more.

This marks my seventh sale of the year (a record), and my 30th overall. When I think back on all those years I worked and dreamed (and despaired) about ever being published, having done so seven times in one year, let alone for the 30th time, is a little hard to process.

As always, I will post here when the story is available. (In the meantime, there is a rumor circulating that there may be more of these announcements in the near future…)


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