Friday, September 9, 2011

Stretching Out

In the last six weeks I've written first drafts of 16 stories ranging in length from 200 words to about 5500 words. Many of these have gone through revisions and/or Beta and are out to markets. I'm thrilled with the volume of writing I've gotten done, but I'm also running into a situation where I'm starting to feel like I'm doing some serious juggling. Several of my stories have sat in first draft now for 1-2 weeks without me revisiting them for a second draft. This is due to a combination of factors. One is that I'm spending time doing revisions of slightly older stories based on feedback from Beta crit partners. The other is that with my goal of having 500 news words every day and with the fact that my average story length is about 2000 words, I'm producing at least two new stories a week. Finally, just the process of submitting all these stories is taking a non-trivial chunk of time.

The longest story I've ever written is just under 10,000 words. When I first started investigating being published -- around 1990 -- the common wisdom was that novelettes and novellas were next-to-impossible to sell for non-established writers. That might be a bit less true today if you consider self-publishing options. But, for now, I'm still primarily interested in following the "traditional" publishing route. I'm interested in learning about self-publishing, but not ready to jump into those waters yet.

I've already planned to do NaNoWriMo in November. But I've got two novel ideas and I'm feeling the itch to try to start diving in to one of them sooner than that. Starting on one of these would let me keep working on writing every day while not adding to my backlog of short stories. I could still write a short if the mood struck me. In fact, I'll probably try to do that to make sure I don't let the short story muscles I've been building up recently get flabby. Looking at themed issues and anthologies seems like a possible way to keep myself using those skills.

On the one hand, it's an exciting thought, tackling something new. On the other hand, it's scary. A novel is a big project representing a lot of time commitment. The thought of spending all that time on something that possibly no one but my Betas would ever read is unsettling. But I think I'm going to take the plunge.

I'd love any advice from people who have gone through that shift of writing shorts to writing novels. Naturally, I'll keep everyone posted on my progress. My plan at the moment is to do some preliminary work over the next few days (while getting my 500 words in on other tasks) and start Chapter 1 by the middle of next week.

OK, I've said it. Now I just have to trust in myself and let peer pressure help keep me "honest" to what I've decided I want to do.


  1. I know how you feel! I write short stories, but I'm also working on some historical fiction. It can be hard to balance at times, but at the pace you're going I think you'll be just fine. Best of luck to you!

    Writing Through College

  2. I actually find it easier to write novel-length stories because I have problems with scope and tend to just write bigger stories. I think what's most important is consistency -- which is sounds like you already have. Then next thing is having some sort of outline -- no need to go completely plotter if you are a pantster, but have some idea of what the overall story will be to ensure your Nanowrimo time is well spent. And plan to spend oodles of time revising.

  3. Thanks, Samantha. Good to hear from someone else trying to balance the two!

    Bluestocking, thanks for the tips. I don't think I could do a completely-pantsed novel. The fact that some people can and not get totally lost amazes me. I make enough notes about some of my short stories as it is, while developing the idea.

  4. I wrote mostly short stories for many years and only started writing novels over the past few years. My first two novels kind of petered out after 35k and 45k respectively. Looking back, I think that the ideas I had weren't truly novel length. Maybe novella or novelette but they didn't have the strength to go the whole way. I do think that the practice of writing them helped me to learn what I need to put into a novel. So even if I spent all that time on 80k words I may never publish, it was time well spent, I think.

    The one I'm working on now is three scenes from completing the first draft and I'm at 90k words. After editing it will probably be more as I tend to write a lot of action and character and then add the mood and place setting in when I edit. I also found out that I'm a plotter, where I used to think I was a pantster. I've had this novel plotted out chapter by chapter - and scene by scene in places - from the start and it's the first one I've seen to completion.

    As for Nanowrimo, I'm hoping to have this novel finished and edited by then so I can try that. I'd say don't be tempted to revise too much while you're in nanowrimo, 1700 is a lot of words in a day in and of itself. If you start editing and cut some of those words, that means you have to write more, and pretty soon it will become daunting. Write your heart out for 30 days and then edit and see what you can salvage afterwards :)

  5. One of the reasons I wrote Until Death was several authors had told me they found writing novels easier than writing short stories! It seemed incredible at first, but they pointed out that a short story has to be much tighter than a novel, in a novel you've got some wiggle-room where with a short story every word counts.

    I'm thinking of doing NaNoWriMo this November as well! It'll be nice to know someone else as I go through the month of insanity. lol

  6. @Cheryl, thanks for all of the tips, I really appreciate them. I can imagine that trying to revise during NaNo would be a path into madness...

    @Karen, interesting comments/advice you were given. I guess I'll find out what I think in the next few months. If you decide to do NaNo, let me know, and we can be "writing buddies" on their site. :)

  7. I don't find it much different, writing short stories or novels. I guess the only thing you need to decide first is whether you're going to wing it or plot it. The hardest is to keep track of all the subplots, and tying up all lose ends.
    One of the things I did wrong in my NaNo novel is that I started writing before I had the grasp on the main characters, so they turned out very flat and there's basically no character development at all, and now I find it incredibly hard to edit something like that in. One thing is to tweak the plot, but when your characters suck, you might as well trash it and start again. My suggestion would be to write a few short stories with the characters you plan to use in the novel, just to get the feel for them.

    As for NaNo, winging it is a bad idea. It's possible, but under all that pressure even if you manage to squeeze out the whole plot, it will be forced and most likely crap. I lost days trying to come up with the right twists, just to go in the wrong direction and have to re-trace my steps and try again. Luckily, it still goes in the word count, even if you delete it later while editing. This year I intend to plan out everything, so in November I'd just have to write it, no thinking involved. Thinking slows you down.
    Also, during NaNo, unless you want to drive yourself nuts, no editing, no spell checking, no re-reading of what you wrote the day before (unless it's to get in the mood), best not even look at the screen as you type. No research, no coming up with names, no searching for the right word. You get stuck, you move on to the next scene. You stop for nothing. In the end, you get one ugly as hell first draft, but you get it in a month :D

  8. By the way, you've been tagged!

  9. Daina, thank you for all of the tips! I'm going to be starting with doing some writeups of my primary characters -- glad to hear that this is a fruitful approach!

    And thanks for the tag. I've got a couple of similar things to reply to. I'll probably roll those all into my Sunday Links post.

  10. Hi Michael! I've mentioned you on my blog and passed on the Versatile Blogger Award. You can find the info here:

  11. I don't want to say writing a novel is easier, because that's not quite the case. There are different factors. Short stories and novellas require economics of words where even the tiniest bit of flourish may be allowed with a novel. A novel allows a chance for more world building when it comes to fantasy/sci-fi/paranormal stories, things that you really can't go into detail with when doing a short story. I suppose it's for the latter reason that the shift from short stories to novels was a matter of progression...having more to share and more plot lines to develop to create a novel length tale.

  12. Thanks for the award, Ms. Saba!

    And thanks for the comments, Angela. I'm working on that world building right now. With short stories, it's usually more "here's key fact about this world now explore how that effects one small situation." It's going to be interesting try to stretch that out more globally...

  13. Some magazines will accept short stories under 10,000 words. But you're right, they're harder to sell. I have 2 beloved short stories at the 7000 mark and I'm not sure I'll be able to sell them. Ideally you want something more around 2,000 or 3,000, I think. But what can you do? I submitted both to workshop at 5,000 and all the crits came back wanting more, so I obliged with the requested scenes. Stories should just be the length they need to be, and at the end of the day we can only pray that at least a few of them are also the length publishers need them to be.

  14. Annalise, I agree that stories should be the length they need to be. I suspect ePublishing really can be a great option for those "too long to be short"/"too short to be novel" items. But I also suspect that they would be really hard to sell without there already being people looking for your writing from other publications. (Or a TON of time spent marketing...)

  15. Yes, I understand the scary aspect of putting all that time into something that might not work. I did a whole series on When Is A Story Worth Writing because of that issue. A novel takes a long time - a long, long time. And we understandably want to make sure it's not a waste of time. :) Good luck!