One of the many topics our writing group beats about the head and shoulders with a verbal stick is which short story markets to write for. Paying? Non-paying? Established? Newbie? Electronic only? Print only?
My opinion is simple: Writing short stories only for paying markets is like making only movies that will win Oscars or singing only songs that will be on a commercial album. A waste of time. Write because you have a story to tell, not a story to sell.
“What if I write a great story and give it to a no-pay market when I could have been patient and sold it to a major market?” So what. Write another one. In the past year I have written 18 short stories and two poems, so I’m not particularly sympathetic when someone whines about where to sell their one short story. If your story sold to a small market but you want to sell to a major market (one which pays pro rates or anything at all), then write another story. Then write another one. And another one. Don’t stop writing and don’t stop submitting.
Another reason to keep writing short after short is that it’s highly unlikely that the first story out of your head will be the best thing you EVER write. Most writers get better when they write more. When I look at what I wrote a year ago compared to now, eighteen stories later, I can see a difference, a level of polish developed in twelve months.
Make each story a little different, a little better than the last one, and write a lot. I get sad when I speak to writers who have one or two short stories that they have been working on and polishing for a year or two (or more!) and never submit anywhere. Write the best story you can, have someone with experience critique it, do your revisions, then submit it. While the editors are looking at it, start the next story. Create new characters to fall in love with and keep the ball rolling. Personally, I have no time to stress over what an editor might say because I have at least one short story and two novels on the go at all times. At least.
If you want to call yourself a writer, at some point you have to gather all of your research, brainstorming notes, and brilliant ideas, and write. It doesn’t even have to be good. That’s one of the biggest mistakes rookie writers make — thinking that what they write must be good. They’re dead wrong. It just has to be written. It’s in the proofreading, revising, and editing that the greatness comes out.
Write crap then revise brilliantly.
The more you write, though, the better your first drafts will get and soon you won’t be writing crap and revising/editing won’t be so tedious. Writing is a craft. Or a sport. Tiger Woods did not walk out onto a golf course and win his first championship without hitting bucket after bucket of balls with his dad. There’s a reason there are driving ranges and batting cages and backyard ice rinks. Skill comes from repetition. Anyone can throw a football. Whether it’s 50 yards or 5 inches, it’s thrown, by definition. But to go from 5 inches of a floppy toss at age 2 to pin-point accuracy in the rain with four three-hundred-pounders of the Packers D-Line bearing down on you… that takes throwing and throwing and throwing. Years of practice and more bruises than you can count.
Writing is the same. If your stories suck, don’t stop writing, just stop showing your work to other people until you think it’s ready. Write. Write. Write more. Then, dammit, write until your brain wants to explode from the sheer magnitude of the ideas busting to get out. It will happen.
Do I guarantee it? No. But I can guarantee one thing: You will never be a great writer if you don’t write.
That’s it, that’s all folks.
Ciao for now.
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