Yesterday, I posted a short story (flash fiction?) onto the blog. I was happy to finish another little story, but it brought up an old debate I’ve been having with myself for the last year or so: Is it better to focus what limited time I have to work on my book-in-progress? Or should I be writing and submitting short stories to hopefully build a publishing record that might help get my book picked up somewhere? It’s that darn chicken or the egg problem again.
I never used to write short stories. Once I got into the habit of writing, I focused exclusively on my book. But after several months, I needed a little break from it. I was struggling with some plot issues that weren’t resolving themselves by writing the same chapters over and over. Fortunately, that was right around the same time that we got our puppy and the decision to take a break from my book was more or less made for me. Instead of writing, I was getting up in the middle of the night to let the dog out, playing with her, and taking her for long, long walks in the afternoon. (It was exhausting but totally worth it. She’s a great dog.)
The long walks solved the plot issues and the puppy grew up and needed not quite so much constant supervision. I was able to get writing again. But instead of jumping back into the book, I found I had a few short story ideas that seemed to come out of nowhere. Again, it was probably the walks. Nothing like movement to get the brain working.
I tried splitting my time between the book and the short stories. The result was hyper-slow progress on each. Then I worked on just the short stories for a few weeks, one at a time, and finished a couple, but never made the time to polish them. So now I have four or five short stories in the bag, and maybe one of them has enough potential to work on a little harder – but of course, I’m driven instead to work on the book! I want to finish a few chapters that I’m actually happy with!
So, anyway, that’s the dilemma. I mean, how do you know when to submit the short stories and when to work on the book? My boss gets on my case for this; telling me I just have to work on more than one thing at a time. He’s right, but I still struggle to make progress in anything if I’m not totally focused.
I think I understand part of the attraction to flash fiction now. Less words to edit and polish. I’ll try and submit that story somewhere soon and get that first rejection letter under my belt. But, that’s another thing: it takes time just to figure out where to submit your fiction! It’s a hard job, trying to be a writer. Good thing it’s fun.
What do you think? Is it better to work on short stories if you're not an established writer? Or should you double-down on the book, if that’s your real goal?