Keeping it short

I can’t remember the last time I wrote a short story. For (literally) decades I’ve been attempting to write novels, but back in olden times I wrote nothing but short stories.

On Friday or Saturday evenings I used to fire up my green-screen Amstrad PCW 8256, bought with savings and a bursary from my first term at university, and tap away long into the night. I always wrote my stories in single sessions, sitting at the keyboard until I’d come to the end even if it meant writing well past midnight. I’ve never been a night-owl, generally – I’m more an early to bed, early(ish) to rise sort of person, but finishing a story was the only excuse I’d ever accept for staying up late. Yes, I’ve always been pretty rock’n’roll.

This meant that most of my stories were pretty short – there’s a limit to what you can write in a single session. I don’t recall any ever breaking the 4,000 word mark, and most stories clocked in at between 2,000 and 3,000 words. I only ever produced a single draft, too, and barely ever checked over what I’d written for typos. These are habits that make me cringe, now. These days I write in 1,000 – 2,000 word stints. It’s a pace that suits novels far better – short stories are sprints, while novels are marathons.

I also produce at least three drafts of everything I write. When I see the mistakes (often just typos, but sometimes far, far worse) that still hang around after those three drafts, I dread to think what state my single-draft short stories were in when I took them to the post office to submit to magazine editors.

Still, several of my stories were accepted by speculative fiction magazines, so I can’t have messed up too badly with my single-draft efforts. Maybe I was smarter back then. Or maybe I was just luckier.

So I managed to surprise myself when, earlier this week, I started writing a new short story for the first time in over twenty years. I’ve spent so long writing (or attempting to write) full-length novels that I’d almost forgotten how. I’m not writing it the way I used to back in my story-writing days – I’ve worked on it over four nights, rather than attempting to get it all written in one go. I’m also aware of the necessity to produce further drafts – I haven’t been reading over the story as I write it, as I’ve just been concentrating on getting the words down. It’s already at about 3,500 words, and will probably clock in at the 5,000 word mark when it’s finished, making it the longest short story I’ve ever written.

Unlike my novels, this isn’t a story I’m particularly interested in publishing. I’m still doing everything I can to get The Chimney Rabbit (and, with any luck, its sequel) published, but this story is more of a writing exercise than a commercial endeavour. This is definitely a story I’m writing for myself rather than anyone else. Which of course gives me the freedom to include things I personally find amusing, even if they’d be completely lost on anyone else.

This is a bit of a diversion from starting on my next novel, but I’m not quite ready to start that yet. While I’ve been busy working out the details of the plot and characters and geography, my writing fingers have been getting itchy. This silly little story lets me scratch that itch without jumping prematurely into writing my next book.


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