Growing up, I was always jealous of my brother. He was popular, athletic, and could make friends anywhere he went. And I mean anywhere—we moved to a different school his senior year and he was still voted prom king.
Imagine living with a person like that.
Now that I am no longer a child I think I have a much healthier, less resentful relationship with my brother. But I still get jealous. While he’s not scoring the winning touchdown or waving the “Prom King” sash above my head, he is a musician and compared to a novelist like me, that gives him instant gratification.
I’ve been writing since I learned how to read, and 17 years later I have one novel to show for it. And even then, I can’t really show it. I’ve got a 100 pages left to revise and despite all my goals, deadlines, hopes, and dreams, there is no telling when it will be done or when I will be satisfied.
In the same 17 years my brother has created nearly 100 songs. I won’t say all of them have been amazing (though a lot of them are! Check them out!), but I’ve sat by and watched him complete whole albums while I struggle to get through one chapter.
That’s the problem with writing. It’s tedious. It can’t be forced, and it takes time. Whether you’re writing a 30-page story or a 200-page novel, from the moment you start you’re staring down the barrel of a gun. Finishing the first draft of a novel can take anywhere from a few months (if you’re incredible) to a few years.
And that’s just the first draft.
Then we have to revise the story if we want to fix the plot holes, 2-D characters, unnatural dialogue, flawed descriptions, and basically everything we spent all that time writing.
And THEN we need to make it good and pray that other people think it’s good so that when we admit how many months/years we've been working on it, the look on our reader's face makes us feel proud instead of embarrassed.
And even then (assuming we live in this perfect dream world where we already have an agent and get a book deal), it’s another ~2 years before our book hits the shelf.
So how are we supposed to stay motivated when any gratification from what we write is literally YEARS away? My fellow suffering writers, I present to you: short shorts.
What is a short short?
A short short (also known as “flash fiction”) is simply a really short, short story. If you google “short short word limits” you will get a variety of answers, but the general consensus is anywhere from 0-2,500 words. Unless you’re entering a contest, it really doesn’t matter.
They can be whatever you want them to be.
Some short shorts take the form of traditional stories, but others read more like breadcrumbs of a story, giving you a taste of the setting or character or scene that leaves you both satisfied and wanting more.
I've written some that are 1,000 words, others as little as 300. I just take what inspires me most and run with it. The beauty is with a short short I don't run out of steam. I write what I want and get to end it at that.
Now don’t get me wrong. There is definitely an art to the short short (if you’re looking for a master, check out Lydia Davis!) But I’m not asking you to master the art. I’m telling you to open a blank Word Document and see a story to completion.
Sure, you’ll probably still need to revise it. And if you’re dedicated, you’ll go back again and enhance it. But doing that for a 500 word story, while still tedious, is a lot less daunting than doing it for a whole novel.
Why Write a Short Short?
Because we deserve gratification, too! If writing a novel is like creating enough music to get to the “Greatest Hits” album, then writing a short short is like completing a single.
Maybe it won’t become #1 on iTunes, but it’ll be something you can write, polish, and put out into the world as an example of who you are and what you’re capable of. Or you can keep it for yourself! It'll be a reminder that you can create great work and when you finish that novel, it will be great too.
Short shorts are perfect writing exercises because from the onset of the story you are looking at a manageable size. We can wrap our minds around 250 words. We don’t have to create the perfect algorithm of character development + exciting plotline + perfect style, we can focus on any one or none or those elements and just write what inspires us.
And because it’s so short, you can do anything! You can write what excites you the most without worrying about what to do when that excitement is over and you’ve run out of steam.
You can experiment with new genres, narration styles, and forms. You can test drive future characters, novel ideas, or create isolated scenes and love them for what they are. The possibilities are endless. So what are you waiting for? Take a break and get writing!
Tomi, you've convinced me! I want to write a short short. Where do I start?
Literally anywhere because it can be anything. But if limitless possibilities have you feeling stressed, here are a few prompts and primers to help you get started.
- Click here to scroll through my weekly writing prompts!
- Your protagonist just found out she only has one day left to live. What is the last thing she does?
- You’re in a grocery store and the food starts talking. What do they say?
- You go to close the window in your apartment when you see something crazy happen in the apartment across from you. What did you see?
- What is your favorite part of writing? Setting description? Character development? Dialogue? Pick your favorite element and write a short short that just relies on that one element.
- Got a story scene you can’t wait to write? Skip ahead and write it! Don’t worry about the gap in plot or if the reader has enough information to understand the characters or the story world. Just dive in!
- Have a genre you have always wanted to experiment with? Write a short short for it!
So there you have it! Get writing and go get your much-deserved gratification! Let it tide you over as you continue slaving away at your novel.
Have a short short you want to share? Put it in the comments!
Liked this article? Check out 7 Kick-Ass Writing Tips from 7 Best-Selling YA Authors!
And as always, feel free to contact me and let me know what you think or what you want me to write about!