If you are looking to write short stories (or anything else for that matter), here are some pointers which I hope you will find useful. It’s never a bad time to start writing, however old you are or whatever situation you’re in. With commitment, I’m sure that it will bring joy and meaning to your life.
Marathon not a sprint
While some writers like Stephen King may have an inherent understanding of story, no writers are born great. Writing effectively is not about happening upon a great idea for a story, or capitalising on a current trend. It is about honing your skills as best you can, to deliver stories that only you can tell. ‘Talent’ takes a great deal of practice to develop.
Fiction writing is more of a ‘philosophy’ more than a hobby. Before long, writing will become not just something you do, but how you do everything. Observation and creating narrative is the way we process the world around us, and by ordering your experiences as fiction, you might find yourself seeing the planet in a different way.
Live your life
Ideas cannot be generated without experience. Even authors writing about far-off galaxies or mythical beasts are documenting their unique experience in some way. Make sure that you visit places that interest you, meet up with people new and familiar, and ground yourself by connecting with the physical spaces around you.
However you choose to note down what you experience (on a phone, in a notebook), make sure to observe. Writing, more than anything, is the successful reframing of observation. Interrogate every detail with a question, and never take things for granted.
Split your time between reading and writing. Even superstar authors read a great deal. If you don’t have time to read, you will never produce the writing that you really want.
My advice is to read everything. Read stories that you love, and the genres that don’t appeal to you. Think about why they don’t appeal to you. Read the classics and the bargain holiday trash. Read the How To books and marvel at how conflicting their advice is. Read authors who have similar beliefs and backgrounds to yours, and read ones who are completely different to you. Alternate between the great sagas, non fiction articles and the funny tweets.
Through varying your literary diet, you will develop the ability to identify what makes for good prose, and solid narrative.
When you are starting out, online and physical courses can be of great help. Many of them are designed to give learners a foundation of good reading habits and basic writing practices to help set them off on the right path. Of course, each individual will bring their own unique style and voice, but it’s worth learning the rules before starting to break them.
Local writing groups can also be a great help. Not only are they a good way to meet fellow scribes, but sessions can give you the confidence to share your work and eliminate errors and bad habits. If nothing else, groups serve as a timely reminder to get on and write!
Critiquing is another useful tool to employ. If you are not willing to give and receive constructive criticism, it is unlikely that you will reach your potential. Doing this anonymously online is a good way to seek feedback on your work in progress.
Set attainable goals
To avoid getting depressed about not instantly selling your manuscript for six figures, try to celebrate the small successes you’ve had, and set realistic short, medium and long-term targets.
A short term target, might be something as simple as finishing a story, or attending an event. Medium term goals could see you entering competitions or maintaining your writing through a change with your work or home life.
A long term goal is likely to be publication. Jumping straight in then losing momentum when you can’t see your sitting next to J.K. Rowling on the shelf is not uncommon. Set up and check off smaller goals to keep yourself motivated.
Above all, remember that if you write, you are a writer.
If you are a short story writer, you may be interested in Philip’s critique service. For a $15 fee, Philip will provide detailed feedback and suggestions for developmental edits on you short story (up to 5,000 words). Simply send $15 via PayPal to firstname.lastname@example.org to purchase, then send your draft to Philip’s email.