Monday, 15 March 2010

Short fiction to long: can you help with a poll?

As I've probably said dozens of times on this blog already (sorry, is it a sign of old age - repeating yourself? Hope not!) - I started out as a short story writer before becoming a novelist. Winning two short story competitions was what really made me believe in myself as a writer, and spurred me on to getting published.

I often mention this when I give talks, too, as for me, it really helped : I don't think I could ever have written a 100,000 novel without first having mastered the art of the short story. But everyone is different, and I know there are plenty of published authors out there who went straight into writing novels without trying short fiction first.

Well, this is what I'm trying to find out - and I need your help!

For a new feature I'm writing for 'Writer's Forum', I want to find out how many novelists (the percentage of those who respond to me) started off as short story writers, and how many plunged straight into writing novels. The more responses I get from any authors out there, the better - so I'd be really grateful for just a quick 'yes' (if you started with short stories) or 'no' (if you didn't) via this blog, or straight to me via e-mail (olivia@oliviaryan.com) if you prefer. Thanks so much, in advance! Oh - and if you've got time, and don't mind copying this request to your own blogs, to reach even more writers, I'd really appreciate that too!

That's just the first and most important question. There are others ... for instance I'd be interested in hearing from short story writers who never switched to writing novels because they prefer short stories. And in following up some of those who did make the switch, to find out whether they found the transition difficult, and whether (like me) they're still writing short stories alongside the novels. So if you're willing to be quizzed further I might come back to you.

I'll be repeating this request on Facebook and forums to get as wide a coverage as possible. Hoping the results will be interesting! Thanks again for any help you can give.

32 comments:

  1. That sounds interesting. Looking forward to reading the article.

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  2. Sounds interesting. I know a lot of novelists started out short story writers. I'm one who hasn't yet made the switch because I love the short term satisfaction of short stories, but I suppose you never know! x
    www.lydiajones.co.uk/blog

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  3. My novel isn't published (yet!) so this might not count, but I started out writing short stories alongside my novel-writing and still do it that way. There's something very satisfying about wrapping up a short story in a few hours/days compared to the long term development of a novel, and I tend to come back to the novel feeling refreshed!

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  4. Thanks to you all. Lydia, that's interesting and I will be mentioning people who prefer short stories and haven't (yet) switched. And Karen, of course you count - I'm including anyone who writes novels, published or not (yet, as you rightly say!) - I should have said that! The tally is going well but I need lots more! x

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  5. I started writing short stories first. Having my first short story published in Woman's Weekly helped give me the confidence to work more diligently on the novel I dabbled with for years. I am currently in the late query stages for that book. During the waiting stages of the novel, I still work on short stories. I've just had my first serial accepted by Woman's Weekly (to be published in May) and my second idea given the go-ahead. I found that writing the novel gave me the tools I needed to write serials, which IMO require more dramactic and character arcs than shorter fiction. I blogged a bit about writing the serials (www.inthedreamstate.blogspot.com). Hope this helps!

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  6. Thanks so much for this, Jenna! (And I do agree with you - having short stories published gave me my confidence as a writer, too). Good luck with your novel - and well done with the serials! That's something I really can't do, so I'm full of admiration!

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  7. Hi Olivia

    I've just put a post linking to this on my blog - hopefully that'll send some more responses your way!

    I'm not a novelist. However when I started writing, I did begin a couple of novels. Gave up on them at 17,000 words and 55,000 words, before getting seriously into short stories.

    For me it was time pressures - I simply don't get enough time in the week to concentrate on a novel which I think needs to be added to every day to keep the momentum going. I can't do that, but I can squeeze out a couple of evenings in which to write and edit short stories though.

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  8. Womag, you're a star! Thank you for your comments too - another good point in favour of short stories! There have been some very interesting comments on both 'sides' though, and I'm enjoying the preparation work for the feature. x

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  9. Hi

    I came over from womagwriter's blog! I might not be of much help - I've only had one short story published, one competition win (it was a tiny comp but I got £50!!! LOL!)and am deep into my Open Uni writing course - learning so much!

    About three years ago, I started a novel, it stalled at 69,000 words... now I'm finding the joy of short story writing/flash fic but I hope to return to the novel soon!

    Good luck with your article!

    Take care
    x

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  10. I'm not published yet, but I much prefer writing novels to writing short stories.

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  11. I've not had a novel published but if it counts for anything, I started right back at the very beginning - a million years ago trying to write a novel. However when I decided to take it more seriously I decided to try short stories before trying a novel again. I should maybe point out that the first attempt at a novel which was about 20 years ago wasn't very good. My second go at a book was a better effort.
    Hope this helps in some small way.

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  12. Hi Olivia, sorry to be difficult, but I started out as a poet, wrote a novel, discovered short stories then went back to the novel and improved it x100 with the knowledge I'd learned from writing short stories and flash fiction.

    Hope this helps! If not... well, just ignore me.

    Jen

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  13. Thanks everyone! All comments helpful, all will be counted one way or another! And nice to welcome some newcomers to my blog too! xx

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  14. Hi
    Started out trying to write a novel many moons ago. Rubbish! Then got the short story bug. Better! Sold a couple and was also short listed in a comp. Now considering the novel again. But not sure if I've got the stamina for it!
    Mary

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  15. I'm not sure how this is going to effect your statistics, but I started off writing a couple of novellas, in the region of 25,000 words. After that, I took up both longer and shorter works, focussing mainly on the novels. Also, many of my short stories ended up being a serial so, again, I don't know how they count in your survey.

    This probably isn't helping, is it? I suppose if you count anything less than a novel as a "short", then my vote is "yes".

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  16. I'm similar to Old Kitty; runner up in a Good Housekeeping competition, one short story recently accepted by People's Friend and a few Highly Commendeds; also finished an OU degree in literature last year. I got up to a 50,000 word first draft for a novel last year and came to a frustrated halt. As soon as my first short story was accepted I found the problems I had with the longer length novel coming in to focus; due I'm sure, to the experience and confidence gained with short stories.
    Deb

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  17. I know I answered this on Facebook, Olivia, but I thought it would help you to have it all in one place.

    I started out writing short stories, tried a couple of novels (thankfully lost to time) but have mainly concentrated on shorts for the past ten years or so and have had quite a few published. But I have now progressed and am writing pocket novels, and enjoying every minute of them. My next aim is a full-length saga, which is already planned out.

    I think writing shorts is an excellent way to hone your writing skills. You learn about economy of language, and how to make every word count. And if you have success with them, it helps you to know you're on the right track with your writing. As somenoe else said, it gives you experience and confidence.

    It is sometimes hard though - or at least it was for me - to progress to longer works when you've concentrated on shorts, which is why I think so many of us fizzle out halfway through writing a novel.

    For me, the full-length novel is the next logical step in a career plan I have for myself. But I'll always write shorts too as I do love that feeling of knocking off a story in one afternoon.

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  18. I've come over via womagwriter's blog, too.

    I started with short stories and now write novels as well (so far the novels haven't been published) Success with short stories encouraged me to try longer works. There are advantages to both forms, so I doubt I'll stop writing short stories.

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  19. I started writing novels as a child and still think of myself as mainly a novelist. But when I went to creative writing classes, the tutor asked us one week to try to write a short story and I fell in love all over again! I sold my first short story to Loving (lovely editor Lorna Read) and shortly afterwards my first novel. The two for me have gone hand-in-hand ever since. I love the variety of the shorts as I now write and sell regularly to Woman's Weekly, Take A Break, People's Friend, My Weekly and The Weekly News. I used to write a novel and then when I finished, would write a batch of short stories to sell before starting the next novel (in an attempt to lay the last novel characters to rest). But now I write full-time for a living I can't afford to be airy fairy like that and so write both at the same time. I find it helps to extend my writing concentration in the day by working on short stories in the morning and the novel in the afternoon, with the odd article and ghost writing thrown in. I get different things out of each. Short stories are a buzz because there is generally a quicker turn around between idea to cheque whereas the novels are satisfying to really develop both characters and situation. Hope that helps Olivia. All the best with the article.
    Tess Niland Kimber

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  20. Science Fiction writer Jim Hines recently did a survey about just this subject. See the results at his blog: http://www.jimchines.com/2010/03/novel-survey-results-part-i/
    and
    http://www.jimchines.com/2010/03/novel-survey-results-part-ii/

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  21. HI Olivia,

    I'm not published so don't know if this counts, but I started off in novels, have since done the odd short story, but I'm back to novels, since that is where my heart is. Having said that, I currently spend most my writing time doing articles and interviews for the Literary project, so sorry if that messes up your figures!

    I much prefer novels, to be honest, and honest to god, the word count bit doesn't scare me at all, even though I get why it does unnerve some writers. I have huge respect for short story and flash fiction writers, though. It's an artform I just can't master.

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  22. I started by writing poetry and then moved into novels, pretty much bypassing short stories, apart from a few publications here and there. I've now had two novels published, with a poetry collection between them. I find short story writing to be an awkward mix of not enough words and far too many.

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  23. Everyone - thank you so much. I'm overwhelmed by your responses: altogether now (including those from the RNA forum, and Facebook) I've got between 70 and 80 responses, which makes for a fantastic survey. I'll be sure to let you know when the feature is accepted - (NB I'm being unusually optimistic here, saying 'when' rather than 'if', as the editor has already approved the idea and I've written for him before, so fingers crossed!).
    Your opinions all count and are very much appreciated. x

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  24. Yes, I started with short stories.

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  25. Thanks Sylvia - and thanks to all those who e-mailed responses 'off Blog' too! I think I've got enough now, as I need to get on with analysing the responses and ... erm ... writing the feature.

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  26. Hello Olivia,

    My background is journalism but, believe me, fiction writing is a whole different ball game so I thought I would break myself in gently by attempting some short stories.

    That's been going quite well and I had an added boost last week when Woman's Weekly fiction ed said my serial synopsis had potential.I'm holding my breath now while she considers the first instalment.

    It seemed like a natural progression to attempt a novel - and that's what I'm busy with now. I don't think I would have considered this, though, if I hadn't had a few short stories under my belt first.

    Your feature, and the poll you are compiling, look like they are going to be a good read, Olivia. Like everyone else I'll be looking forward to reading it.

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  27. I do both - perhaps a reason why I'm not published yet hahaha!? I love the challenge thrown out by the limitations of a short story, and the space for development in a novel. I find if I get stuck on the novel, I dive into a short story for a day - then I go back to the novel, somehow with fresh perspective. I'm not sure how / why it works, but it seems to work for me.

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  28. Hi Olivia,
    I found you via Teresa Ashby's blog. I started with reader's letters, then travel articles, I have yet to have a story published, but send out loads. Also have a novella written, but yet to be published.

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  29. I wrote poetry for twenty years and considered myself a poet. Then, after a three-year bout of writer’s block I sat down and wrote two novels back to back before returning to poetry. A few years later, halfway through my third novel, I found myself stuck and so, after getting an idea on a bus, I sat down and began to churn out a collection of thematically linked short stories before finishing off the novel. I’ve since completed a fourth novel without any hitch and am again stuck halfway through my fifth but all I seem able to write at the moment is poetry. Since that block of short story writing I have only written four pieces of flash fiction and God alone knows where they came from.

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  30. Interesting question Olivia.

    Well I'm a short story writer who sticks with short stories. I have written longer pieces but find that, in writing terms, it's the short form that interests me the most and what I'm better at writing; I can see its shape more clearly. Also (and I'm mostly thinking aloud here) I wonder whether the type of story I tell is better suited to fewer words; I think it's moments magnified, points of change that I'm interested in, rather than the longer arcs and character progressions and sub plots et al that one would find in a novel.

    Err. Hope that helps!

    Nik

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  32. I have been writing short stories for some years but the market has been so moribund lately that I decided to have a break and attempt a first novel.

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