Several years ago, fed up and burned out after a long series of disappointments, I gave up. At one point, I even threw away all of my story ideas, manuscripts, rejection letters, and research. Yup, I gave up.
Sorta. When I stopped writing novels, I still wrote. Every so often, I'd get an idea for a short story, I'd pound it out, I'd put it away. I submitted a few of them, but I didn't put pressure on myself. Writing short fiction gave me the opportunity to craft a story without having to commit to a long-term project - no pressure. It also allowed me to learn the quick and dirty route to telling a story.
Arc a character and bring the plot full circle in just twenty pages? No prob.
Give two characters the means to overcome their conflicts and find a happy ending within 5000 words? Piece of cake.
Were my stories good? Mostly not, but I can read a few of them today and not want to hide under my desk. Did they teach me how to write fiction?
There are so many pros to writing short fiction. As I've said, it's a fast way to nail a story and move on. If you learn best by seeing the big picture before the details, short fiction gives you the chance to get a good grip on the mechanics of storytelling - write the big picture and then have a limited number of pages to deal with in revisions (the details).
Recently, I attended a class on writing short fiction, and the lecturer (Dr. Lee Tobin-McClain) pointed out a few other benefits.
- Experimentation. If you've had an itch to try a different genre or sub-genre, try it short first. See if you feel confident in the result. Try a new style or play with POV. Learn from the experience.
- Improve your craft. It's easier to toss a failed attempt when you're talking about 10 pages. If you know your strengths and weaknesses, you can play around and learn from both the mistakes and the successes. Do you have trouble with world building? Write a short fantasy. Not sure if your voice shines through? Try out a literary story. Need help with plotting? Give mystery a shot.
- Break open a creative block. There's no pressure in a short. It's short. There's very little lost investment of time if it bombs. You're a writer, and that gives you permission to pull out the most outlandish characters, plots, conflicts, and settings you want. It's your world. It's your story. Do whatever you want. When you're writing a short story, you can be as crazy as you want, and there's no loss because at the very worst, you'll have learned that something doesn't work for you (and maybe even why).
Now that you've considered the benefits of writing short, head over to Duotrope and look at the markets that are available. Read a few issues and get inspired. Then give yourself permission to write a quick story. Go nuts. Unleash the muse. You might be surprised at the result.