Single Sitting Stories

Hopefully by now you’ve seen the two pieces of my own humble attempts at fiction posted to the blog recently, the short short story “Kenning” and the longer “Rites of Passage.”

Since finishing the longer piece, I’ve decided to turn my hand to more short short stories (1500 words and under). Writer’s Digest is holding a competition for stories of that length and I’ve decided to focus my efforts on that before taking up a different writing task.

I’ll likely post the stories that I write but don’t submit for the competition to the blog, so–provided you enjoy reading my writing–there should be more to look out for relatively soon.

Having completed the first of the pieces of several I’ll chose from for my ultimate submission, I’ve got to say that I wish that I’d started writing short short stories much sooner. I highly recommend them.

A story of 1500 words or less can be written in a single sitting. Yes, this might be a somewhat long sitting depending on your own writing/editing speed, but that’s not a bad thing. Writing a self-contained story in a single go offers many advantages.

First, it forces you to push through. If you’ve determined in advance that you’re not getting up until the story’s finished, you can work on your writing discipline in manageable but meaningful chunks. Discipline is one of the most important attributes of a successful writer (maybe the most important–the lack of such discipline I’ve had until relatively recently certainly prevented me from improving and enjoying my writing to this extent earlier in my life).

Like most skills, you have to work your way up. Over a decade ago, at the end of my college career, I wrote my first novel. No, you can’t see it; I’m embarrassed to even think about it, it’s so poorly written. But one major difficulty I had with it was sitting for long periods to focus on writing–combined with disappointment about my perceived lack of progress.

Writing a short short story gives you a small place to start to build the perseverance necessary to writing longer works over multiple sessions.

Successfully completing a story is a big confidence-builder, too. One of the difficulties of establishing good habits and a sustainable mindset in the pursuit of any complex art is that you have to maintain the focus and will to keep going over periods of time. It’s in some ways the ultimate test of delayed-gratification, exacerbated by the neurosis that most (if not all) creative-types have about the value and worth of their creations.

As important, stories of about 1500 words are a very good length for having a complete (albeit condensed) narrative to practice with, allowing you to experiment with and develop different writing and editing skills more quickly. We don’t all need to write a Mrs. Dalloway or Ulysses to learn valuable techniques from imitating and playing with those styles. Further, if–like I used to be (and probably still am, though hopefully to a lesser extent)–it’s sometimes hard to get to the editing phase at all, shorter works can help with that.

In undertaking this endeavor myself, I’m discovering things about the art of writing and the structuring of narratives at microcosmic levels that will nevertheless pertain to and inform future longer works I write. Try it out!

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