For a long time, I avoided embarking on a novel because I was frightened of failure. Afraid of not completing the novel. Afraid of creating something that was complete rubbish. Afraid of not getting the finished manuscript published. But most of all, afraid of wasting months or years of my life on something that no one else would ever read.
So, I stuck to short stories and articles. There was still the risk of time wasted on writing stuff that would be rejected. But these were much smaller blocks of time and the odds were, that with enough pieces ‘out there’, some pieces would be accepted by magazines for publication. Some were. And some weren’t.
The pull of wanting a novel with my name on the cover grew. I buried my fear and started trying. As expected, it was difficult. My first attempts didn’t get past chapter three or four. But, with persistence, I completed a novel. It went on to win a competition and was published through Amazon. And gave me the confidence to try writing another. The Book Guild thought this next one had commercial potential and that too was published. The third novel got me an agent but not a publisher. Just before Christmas I finished the second draft of novel number four. This novel is now ‘resting’ before I read it again with fresh eyes to spot what does and doesn’t work in the storyline.
I promised myself a treat during this resting period – some short story writing! I was looking forward to this because I’ve always loved the buzz of achievement on completing a story and sending it out into the big wide world. In novel writing that buzz is rare.
This treat is turning into wasted time. With short story writing there’s no continuity between writing sessions. New characters and situations have to be constantly created – and that’s hard work. It’s far easier to slip back into the familiar world of a part-finished novel and bash out a few more pages. My productivity has plummeted and I’m looking forward to returning to editing the novel.
Which is easier – short story or novel writing? Or is the grass always greener?
#1 by blogaboutwriting on January 14, 2020 - 3:58 pm
Interesting post, Sally! It seems whichever we’re more accustomed to, is the ‘easiest’! (although I don’t think either of them are actually easy, of course). I feel the same as you used to feel about novel-writing – all those ‘fears’ – will it be a waste of time and complete rubbish – are going through my head too! One thing I know for sure: it’s very hard to do them both at the same time. I think you either have to put your novel writing hat on, or your short story hat on!
#2 by Sally Jenkins on January 14, 2020 - 4:17 pm
Agreed, Helen. Combining novel and short story writing is almost impossible!
#3 by Jessica Norrie on January 14, 2020 - 4:23 pm
I think Elizabeth Strout found a happy medium with “Olive Kitteridge” – each chapter contains at least a passing reference to Olive who may have been the MC’s teacher, neighbour, etc, and some foreground her or her husband. But they’re also stand alone – I wonder if they started as stories all set in the same small town and Olive just bullied her way to the front! Perhaps a happy medium you could try would be stories unified by setting or theme or one character in this way so it isn’t a completely new start each time.
#4 by Sally Jenkins on January 14, 2020 - 4:45 pm
Funny you should say that, Jessica. My third novel had a similar ‘linked short stories’ structure but got turned down by publishers because it was too episodic. You’re right though, it is easier to write in that way. Haven’t read Olive Kitteridge – must put it on my list.
#5 by Jessica Norrie on January 14, 2020 - 7:56 pm
You’re in for a treat and the sequel was published in 2019 – “Olive, Again”. Similar. very good.
#6 by Jenny Roman on January 14, 2020 - 7:53 pm
Great post, Sally. I love writing short stories (and admit that’s partly because the ratio of effort to positive outcome seems better!) but I have many part-finished novels either in progress or languishing in a drawer somewhere. I find the structure required for a whole novel always fails me – but maybe one day I’ll crack that. Good luck with yours. 😀
#7 by Sally Jenkins on January 16, 2020 - 1:00 pm
Thanks, Jenny. Structure is essential (& difficult!) in a novel. Best wishes with the shorts, the important thing is to do what you enjoy because, as you know, it all requires hard work.
#8 by juliathorley on January 15, 2020 - 1:07 pm
I’ve had several non-fiction books published, but not a novel. My fiction writing is definitely in the short story realm, and in fact I’m happiest when I’m creating very short stories, sometimes just 50 words. .
#9 by Sally Jenkins on January 16, 2020 - 1:02 pm
A story in 50 words is a skill all of its own! I’m in awe, Julia.
#10 by Elizabeth Brown on January 16, 2020 - 9:50 am
And the answer is …… whichever form of writing you’re currently engaged in, the other feels like it would be easier. You will find this covered under the terms of Sod’s Law
#11 by Sally Jenkins on January 16, 2020 - 1:03 pm
Spot on, Elizabeth. I like the way you think.