Over at StorySleuths this month, we’re reading a fun collection of short stories, Geektastic, as well as hosting a short story writing challenge. Somewhat coincidentally, writing short stories dovetails nicely with one of my own personal writing goals for 2010, writing short.
Let me explain the motivation for this goal. Novels are my form of choice, both for reading and writing. Opening the pages of a novel, I dive into a new world. And when I close the covers for good, I often miss my favorite characters for days.
While reading a novel requires a time commitment of a few hours or days or even a week, writing a novel requires far, far more. In the past five years, I’ve worked on drafts of three novels. Where reading a novel is like flying from New York to San Francisco, complete with in-flight snacks and entertainment, writing a novel is like walking the same distance, without a map.
Sometimes, it’s easy to get lost.
And really, to make the metaphor more apt, to write a novel, you need to make the trip multiple times, with each revision layering in more emotion, more characterization, more detail. The good news is that by the third or fourth time around, hopefully, you’re traveling a more direct route from start to finish.
In other words, it takes a long time to write a novel.
And I’ve been one of those “I can only do one thing at a time” kinds of people. I made the decision to focus my writing time on my novels only, rather than jump from chapter book to picture book to non-fiction and back. I don’t regret that decision, but sometimes, I hit roadblocks and I don’t make any progress on my drafts or revisions.
I don't just get lost. I stall.
This is where the quantity vs. quality argument comes to play. How many of you have heard the anecdote from the book Art & Fear, where the pottery instructor tells half of the class to focus on quantity alone—he’ll grade them on the number of pots produced, with no concern about quality—while the other half must focus on quality alone—they must only produce one perfect pot. To his surprise, when he compares the work produced by both halves, the quantity group ends up with better quality work as well.
More work produces better work in the long run.
So this year, while continuing working on my novel revision, I also plan to write two short stories a month. I’m hoping short stories will let me work on shaping plot, experimenting with character, and revising. And since I also want to have more fun with my writing, short stories give me an opportunity to write about a variety of subjects—when my novel gets serious, for example, my stories can be light.
What kinds of writers are you? Do you work on one project at a time? Or do you have several projects going at once? What’s your take on the quantity vs. quality story? Have you ever conducted such an experiment?
By the way, if you like the idea of playing with quantity, please sign up for the StorySleuths StoryChallenge. We’re encouraging writers to take a stab at writing a Geektastic-inspired short story. It doesn’t have to be perfect—we won’t be judging stories. Just suggesting a general story topic (something geekish), and asking writers to check back in with us on January 31st. We’re even offering a prize!