Short Sharp Shocks – How Not to Be a Productive Writer of Short Stories

I’m not a very prolific writer of short stories. In the past five years, I’ve completed some thirty-odd shorts, including flash fiction. That’s in the ballpark of 15,000 words a year. Not a heck of a lot.

There’s a reason for that.

My mantra is: Don’t repeat yourself.

It’s a compulsion. Every single short story I write has to be very different from those I’ve already completed, whether in technique or genre. I want to learn something new from every piece I write. So I hop from traditional horror to avant-garde wordplay to crime to literary fiction, whatever feels interesting to me at the time.

This comes with a downside. If it looks like a story I’m planning will end up being too similar to an earlier piece, I lose interest in it and go back to the drawing board. I can’t even guess how many short stories I’ve started but then scrapped.

But why not? The short story, as a form, is perfect for experimentation.

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5 thoughts on “Short Sharp Shocks – How Not to Be a Productive Writer of Short Stories

  1. Hmm… what about in language or tone? Isn’t it the goal of most writers to find and hone their voice? (FWIW, I just discovered your blog today and I’m not familiar with your writing, but your post made me think.)

  2. Hi Jen – When it comes to my voice as a writer, I’m agnostic. It’s something I try not to think about too much. My aim is to shape the language and tone of a story to the subject matter. The same themes recur in my stories, to be sure, and the same stylistic tics, too. That’s my voice, I reckon — it’s defined by my limitations. (We can’t escape who we are.)

  3. Hear, hear Joe! I made a name and a career on 7 short stories. That’s all I had by about 2009 but I had awards and nominations for them. It’s not the amount of output it’s the quality and originality. I’ve rewritten a short story up to 150 times before putting it out. Excessive? Yeah… Effective? Whatever it takes. Loved your post.
    Best regards,
    Anonymous-9

  4. Thanks, Anonymous-9! Yes, quality over quantity. That’s certainly true of your work — I’m a fan.

    150 rewrites … wow. I don’t keep track of the number of drafts, but some of my best stories went through multiple revisions over several years until they were “done”. (And there’s a few I’d unpublish if I could!)

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