Guest Blogger: Theresa Milstein is breaking the self imposed writing mold.
I’m very excited! My first guest blogger ever takes place today. I want to tell her up front, THANK YOU!
Theresa blogs at Substitute Teacher’s Saga. She has a BA and MA in History and works as an extended term substitute, teaching 7th and 8th-grade Social Studies. She writes children’s books. Her current pieces are YA fantasy/paranormal romance.
But, Rosie and I asked her to talk to us about how she started writing short stories in honor of our Hone Your Skills Blogfest. Don’t forget to sign up for that (see right sidebar). So, without further ado, here she is.
A good short-story writer has an instinct for sketching in just enough background to ground the specific story. – Lynn Abbey
I shied away from writing short stories for years. Looking back, I had no real reason for it.
What type of writer are you? I don’t plot or learn my characters’ backstories before I begin a piece. I’m a panster; which means I just form a small idea or maybe just a first line, and I write. As I write, the people and places come to life, and the story reveals itself to me.
When I’m done, then I face months of editing to fix everything: plot holes, dialogue, pacing, grammar, spelling, character motivation, and so on.
This fall, I attempted my first short story (Visit Rosie’s Blog to read about that experience. Click HERE.)
It was easier than I thought.
Before I wrote it, I thought, “I can only write YA with some element of fantasy. I can’t write adult. I would have no idea how to write a short story. And I can’t just write on demand.”
Really, short stories are like longer ones, only shorter. And easier. There aren’t as many words (obviously) so each one must count. And the shorter the story, the more spare the writer must be. My first short story I wrote was around 3k.
When writing a novel, a writer has a lot to keep track of, but with a short story, it’s easier to see the big picture, pacing, and so on because… it’s short. Finding people to critique your piece if easy because who doesn’t have time to read 1k words? Quick turnaround time. So months of editing can turn into weeks or even days. That means almost instant gratification!
I’d also learned to not wait for ideas to come to me. Taking workshops at conferences has taught me to be handed a topic and just write. I had to learn to lose control, and see where the story took me right then and there instead of looking for a bucket of inspiration.
While waiting to hear about my first short story (that’s pending until March), there was a call for short stories for an upcoming anthology to raise money for flood victims in Australia called 100 Stories for Queensland.
This one had to be between 500-1k words. That’s short! But that’s the size of my typical blog post. The story had to be upbeat, which is a stretch for me. And they weren’t looking for YA.
This was going to be a challenge.
The first words appeared in my head, but I didn’t know where I was going with them. It was about a woman with a secret she decided to reveal to her boyfriend. When I hit the time of the big reveal… I didn’t know what the secret was. So I sat on it for a few days. Then the rest of the book came to me in a rush. Quickly, I typed it up. When I checked word count, it was under 1k. I’d done it!
Next step was to edit and pass it on to my readers. I submitted the story just under the deadline.
Then I waited.
I made the longlist. Hooray!
Then I waited – again.
A week later, I received an e-mail from the editor. My story “Daisy” was accepted, and would appear in the anthology on March 8th. I’d actually be able to say I was a published writer!
More importantly, in the last several months, I’d learned to break out of my self-imposed mold. I could write a piece that wasn’t YA. I could write a piece that wasn’t fantasy. Mostly importantly, I could write a short story. On demand.
I’ll still keep working on my novel, which is more than halfway done. I already have another story to write as soon as I’m done with this one. But when opportunities come up, I plan to take advantage of them.
Short stories are the same process as long ones in miniature.
Other links of interest this week:
What makes short speculative fiction GREAT? Here is one blogger’s thoughts.
This isn’t about short stories, but definitely worth a read. The Pressure to Jump in Too Soon by Jody Hedlund.
Janel compares Writing a Short Story to cooking a health meal.