Some of the best writing advice I have ever received was given to me by an editor at World Fantasy Convention. Simply put, he said I needed to write short stories. His reasoning was that writing short stories will teach you craft better than jumping straight into novels will. Also, it will teach you how to actually finish a story. After slogging through two novels (both still incomplete) and then successfully completing six short stories, I can tell you that his advice certainly worked for me. And each story written was better than the last.
In a recent blog post, Kristine Kathryn Rusch gave similar advice, but for different reasons. She looks at the short form from a business perspective. I’d highly recommend reading her original post, but basically she said that the current market conditions, as well as the ability to reassume complete control of the rights of your story after a short amount of time, lend great potential to making a career of short story writing.
There are other reasons as well. If you write speculative fiction, you probably have plenty of notes, or perhaps even notebooks, of worldbuilding trivia, including some semblance of a history of your world. How many interesting stories can be mined from all this material? Chances are there are a few, and if you’re writing a series, these stories will also help draw new readers to those other works, and vice versa (which is the exact tack I’m taking with my short story collection and subsequent novel). An author whom I think has done a remarkable job with this method is Peter Orullian. Before his book was released, he published a few short stories related to the novel on Tor.com. I’m sure the stories helped generate more interest in the book than there would otherwise have been. It worked for me; I bought the book on release day based on the strength of those stories. Another advantage to writing stories about those events that otherwise exist only in your notes is that it could help flesh them out in your own mind, providing more concrete detail from which to draw for your novel.
I know what some of you are thinking: “I’m a novelist, not a short story writer!” I thought the same thing before. But then I gave it a shot, and now I’m a firm believer in short stories. While not everyone will get much out of writing them, it costs very little in the way of time, and the potential benefits are too great to ignore. Who knows? You might even like it.