4 Things I Learned in the Writing and Selling Short Stories Workshop

The last week’s worth of videos from the Writing and Selling Short Stories workshop was released on Wednesday. I’m through it now. Great timing, as I’m expecting novel edits from Tales of the Republic to come back in the next week or so.

Final assignment for the workshop: go back over everything, fill in my notes, and keep writing.

My way of going back over the notes is to write about what I learned here.

As background, the workshop lasted 6 weeks. Each week, a series of short videos was released. For weeks 2 through 4, a short story was assigned with an anthology topic. So at the end of the 6 week course, I had written 4 stories, plus another I started that is 80% written.

It was a good workshop. Most of the info was not new to me—I’ve been studying story craft for years—but it’s good to reiterate the key points, and I like Dean’s perspective. He has a lot of experience, and he’s funny and quirky, which makes the videos enjoyable. The workload was also the perfect amount.

What I liked most was the way the course was set up and how productive I was during those six weeks. It’s great fun to come out of that with a bunch of new work and a kind of high from getting things done. That alone made it worth doing.

Here’s what I learned…

workshop

1. Take advantage of deadlines

Deadlines have an incredible power to help me finish stories, especially when the deadline is unmovable and set by someone else.

I wrote 4 stories in 4 weeks. I know it’s true and writing that still leaves me with a sense of wonder.

To give you some perspective, the first short story I published took me 3 months to write (and I had been trying and failing to finish stories for years before that). I’ve done better since then, but it’s not uncommon for a story to take me a month to finish.

But no more. For the last assignment, I had family in town visiting, so I didn’t even get a chance to begin the assignment until Saturday morning. I then proceded to throw out all of Saturday’s words and start over on Sunday. And by Monday I had a 6,000 word story—easily my best story of the workshop.

2. More effort doesn’t mean better quality

Your best story, you ask? Yes, of the 4 I wrote for the workshop, the last one was the best. Which brings me to my next point:

A story can take years to finish and still suck. Or a story can take an hour to finish and win awards.

More time at the keyboard doesn’t mean a better story.

I can’t help but wonder how many good stories never got a chance to exist because I spent the weekend rewriting a story that didn’t work the first time.

Sometimes, it doesn’t even work the second time.

I won’t be doing that anymore. Especially not with short stories. Why bother, when I can just write a new one in two days?

3. Use short stories as exercises

The workshop gave me boundaries by assigning anthology topics for each short story (i.e write a story about solitude).

I found that the topics helped me get started faster. I had my assignment. I didn’t know what I was going to write, but I knew I was going to write about X. So I sat down and just did it.

No outlines, no procrastination, no brainstorming. Just sit down and write.

Reflecting on this, I realized that exercises—writing prompts—have always helped me write. At some point I started thinking of them as a crutch. But that’s a dumb way to think about it. And if thinking about short stories as exercises helps me get good new short stories written, stories I can publish and sell, I don’t care how it happens.

Since I won’t be getting anthology topics from the workshop in real life, I’ll just give assignments to myself.

Write 5 stories about young men in the wilderness.

Or write a 3,000 word story set in the Washington, DC in the present day.

Write about aliens. Mermaids. That trash can. A cup of coffee.

The prompt or challenge can be anything.

But most of all…

4. Have fun

The words always come faster when I’m having fun. When I latch onto an idea I like, a story I enjoy, everything is smooth sailing.

When I’m not having fun, that’s usually a symptom of a larger problem.

Last Saturday was not fun. I wrote 2,000 miserable words and eventually abandoned them. The story just didn’t work. It was a broken, missing some crucial component—or it just wasn’t something I’m capable of writing now. Either way, not fun.

As soon as I gave up on that mess and picked a new story to write, the words flowed out of me. Just like that.

Easy and fast. And fun.

•••

I’m off to finish “Wendigo” and fix the ending of “Earworm” so I can get those out of my hair now. Novel edits come back soon. Maybe I’ll write a short story in the day or two I have between those two events. I know I can do it now.

If you’re interested in taking a workshop like this, all the info you need is on this page: Lecture Series by Dean Wesley Smith.

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