Ages (as in, multiple presidential elections) ago, the lure of NaNoWriMo gripped me. For three successive years I tried and failed to write a novel. Well, three novels; I started over each year. Each time I rocketed through the words until around the 30K mark, at which point all my precious phrases and clauses would abandon me.
After my kids were born, I tried NaNoWriMo again. I carved out time, I outlined, I had micro-goals and checkpoints I worked hard to hit.
I won. And I did not enjoy the experience.
This isn’t the post to get into why I didn’t enjoy the writing. Here I only want to get into one factor: that as much as I love reading novels, there’s not a single bone in my body humming with desire to write a novel.
I Love Me Some Novels, Kinda
I love novels. Truly. Thin, wispy little things, gargantuan doorstoppers, everything in between. Standalone works, series, vaguely connected novels and ridiculous excesses in worldbuilding novels.
In creating, my preferences run to limits. Bread needs, what, four ingredients if we count water? Barbeque doesn’t scream out for complication (in fact, if prepared correctly the meat shouldn’t need sauce). My business emails adhere to strict Five Sentence structure. Not many posts on this site run over 300 words, let alone a thousand.
For science fiction, short stories and novellas are my first love. I’ve discussed before (or will discuss soon) how my entry to the world of written science fiction came in three books: Neuromancer, Ender’s Game and The Science Fiction Hall of Fame Volume 2B. I was around 10 or 11 when I read all three, but I didn’t go back to reread the two novels until much later in high school. Hall of Fame I reread endlessly, kicking off with Asimov’s Greatest Work (my opinion) “The Martian Way”, the classic E.M. Foster “The Machine Stops”, my weird introduction to Jack Vance in “The Moon Moth”, a James Blish “Okie” story, “The Witches of Karres”, “The Spectre General”…seriously, go to your library and check this volume out.
For every novel I read up through my 30s, there were two short fiction collections consumed. Before picking up a novel by an author, I’d generally try to find some short stories, just to sample the works first. This got me hooked on mystery short works, which pulled me into devouring The Best American collections.
To the point: I loved novels but was in love with short fiction.
It took winning NaNoWriMo and not liking it to guide me towards writing short stories, which I started off and on in 2019. Through the up and down nature of 2020 and 2021 (note: I didn’t take advantage of “free time” during lockdown and the pandemic. I worked in community health. It was not a relaxing let’s experiment with sourdough time.) I kept writing, kept getting rejected, and finally sold stories.
Make A Living With Short Fiction? Maybe…
This frees me up, the whole writing only short works and not novels. I can experiment with genre, topic, tone, perspective. I can write as fast or slow I was desire. Advice for finding an agent or refining a pitch or a number of other tasks I deem ridiculous can be ignored (but you should totally do them if you want, I guess, who knows).
There’s ink spilled and pixels burnt on not making a living with short fiction, the impossibility of it all, and how and why you should make a living with short fiction. As a professed Filthy Casual Writer, one who siphons money and eyeballs from far more deserving folks, I can pick and choose what I want from the two sides. Self- publish collections? Sure! Get used to not getting massive advances? Why not?
For a couple of takes on the subject, here’s three very different set of opinions from three very different times. Here’s John D Brown (back in 2010; it’s hard to do), Michael Swanwick (from 2016; don’t bother trying) and Dean Wesley Smith (from 2020; it’s possible, if you really, really work at it).