Recently I was looking through a folder with all the short stories I’ve ever written. A handful have been published in journals, but many haven’t. Some are nothing stellar, but others really should have found their way into the world by now. So why are they taking up space in the column of unpublished stories? I decided it was time to return a bit of my focus to the short story form.
Brushing Up on the Shorts
Many fiction writers get their start with short stories. Generally, the hope is to eventually write an epic or bestselling novel, but for many of us there is a need to crawl before we run. For anyone coming through a high school creative writing course or an undergraduate writing program, so much emphasis is put on reading and writing short stories. If you do not have this background, I recommend you first familiarize yourself with some of the masters of the form: Alice Munro, Anton Chekhov, Flannery O’Connor and Raymond Carver. Also brush up on some of the latest stories in your genres of choice by checking out the latest volumes of Best American Short Stories.
Get to Writing
Writing a complete story in the span of 3,000 words can be difficult. How does one express a thousand images with so much constriction? In short, a story must remain very focused. Short stories are all about narrowing in on one character, one event or one idea. Brevity is key.
Ray Bradbury recommended that writers write “a lot” of short stories. “If you can write one short story a week—it doesn’t matter what the quality is to start, but at least you’re practicing, and at the end of the year you have 52 short stories, and I defy you to write 52 bad ones.”
If you haven’t had much training or experience writing short stories, check out one of these resources on the subject.
So why haven’t more of my short stories been published? Most likely it’s because I have not sent them to enough potential publishers. So many of my stories have been sent to one or two journals, rejected, then filed away for a decade. Even well-established, award-winning authors generally do not find a home for their stories so quickly.
Writers wanting to publish their work must send it out. With thousands of journals each with their own style and formatting preferences, where does a writer even begin? Jenn Scheck-Kahn, writer and founder of Journal of the Month, recommends these resources. Duotrope, a subscription-based service, is one of the most widely used resources for finding potential publishers and tracking submissions.
A print resource that also collects information on literary magazines that may publish your work is Writer’s Digest annual Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market.
Could you be sending more of your short work to literary journals and magazines? What’s holding you back? As we enter into a new calendar year, I encourage you to set a goal for how many pieces you can send out for publication. You may end up buried in rejection slips, but courage is the biggest step toward receiving a reply that starts with “Congratulations.”