Tuesday, October 14, 2014

One Tiny Piece of Advice For Novelist

You learn by writing short stories. Keep writing short stories. The money’s in novels, but writing short stories keeps your writing lean and pointed.
- Larry Niven

Larry Niven is a science fiction writer but the tiny piece of advice he gives in the quote above is one that every would-be novelist should take seriously. It only makes sense that you need to be able to write a good short story before you can write a novel.

After all, when we learn to walk, we take tiny, toddling steps long before we begin to run. We go to grade school to learn basics before we venture into high school. Athletes work their way up the ladder before they're ready to play in top competition. 

In the workshop that I taught at Kansas Authors Club convention this past Saturday, I expounded a bit on this idea. We need to work on the small projects before attacking the big ones. We need to submit our work to small publications before reaching for the big name publishers and magazine editors. 

Why? One reason is that we may not be ready for the bigtime until we've spent a lengthy period working on smaller projects and submitting to smaller publications. It is my belief that we need to write shorter works and submit to the smaller places for a long time before considering jumping into the deeper waters. 

We learn to write by writing. It is hoped that the more we write the better we write. But just writing alone is not going to help us write better. We need to read other writers' work but do it with the writer's eye. Enjoy the reading but evaluate as you read. We should read books and articles about writing whether online, in books you purchase, or those you borrow from your local library. We can't help but absorb some of that information. 

Next, we need to apply what we've learned. If you start having some success in the smaller markets with shorter pieces, then you're ready to move on to bigger things. It might be time to begin that novel you've always wanted to write. 

Lastly, Mr. Niven mentions that the money is in novels but that writing the short stories has its own benefits. A big controversy in the writing world is whether anyone should write for no pay or pitifully low pay. We can find pro and con arguments for each side, and both have some valid points. I am of the opinion that it's OK to write for no pay in the beginning. If nothing else, it gets your foot in the door. I did so in the beginning and am not sorry. It was publication and gave me exposure. I still occasionally submit to one of the places I sent to many years ago. They had the grace to publish my work so I can return the favor now. 

Mr. Niven gives us a tiny piece of advice that might become something you'll be happy you heeded. 

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