The Value of Short Stories By Martin Haworth
Let’s welcome back monthly columnist Martin Haworth as he shares with us “The Value of Short Stories.” Enjoy!
As a business writer, I came to writing articles late in life. Eventually, from 2004 to 2013, I wrote over 400 and posted them out there in the world — on my own blogs; on other peoples’ websites, and on article banks. They have been read by over 630,000 people (at the time of writing). If you’re so inclined, you can read them here.
During that time, I wrote – and then stashed away – a little anecdotal book about Leadership, called “Conversations with Juliet” and published it in 2015, as an e-book and a real book on Amazon.
I don’t know when it occurred to me, but at some point, I realized that as much as I enjoyed writing for business, my articles and books were often built around incidents or people that I came across. I did not need to be burdened by the context of business anymore. I did not need to show off my perception or ideas by writing for business, as I had enough work already.
So I began to toy with writing fiction.
Whilst this does not limit me as a belief, it is true to say that my personality is challenged by doing the same thing for too long. For a while I was put off by a whole 60-80,000 word novel stretching ahead of me, so I struggled and didn’t write very much, shallow little soul that I was! Finally, last year I waded through the words needed to write a whole novel. Then I stopped, exhausted, bored, and off writing altogether.
But I did love writing in short bursts. Writing that I could complete in virtually one sitting, polish just a little, and then be done with and move on to the next idea. That might mean I’m afflicted with some sort of minor attention deficit disease, but I was brought up in a world where it just meant you were different. You simply had to overcome it. So I took a personal challenge to find what’s the right story length for me and got on with it.
I’d found that I loved writing shorter stories. They were practically scenes, though somewhere I found a distinction between a short story and a scene. I was happier with myself.
At last, I had a format that I could enjoy and use to keep writing, even when bigger stories looked too much of a hill to climb. Bigger stories are a larger investment of my time that might be naïve and pointless at the end of the day, for “it might not be any good.” That’s the constant internal threat that holds many writers back, makes them failures in their own eyes, and often prevents them from writing at all.
Last month I entered my first short story competition with three 300-word stories. First ever. I did not achieve the long-list or receive any feedback. For about 5 minutes, I was shattered that I was no good at writing stories, and then I remembered something…
When I wrote my business articles, I wrote them fast, with no applied technique at all. I was underwhelmed by critique or complaint because I never received any. My goal, as I realized just last week in a training I delivered, was to help someone, maybe anyone – maybe only one person – with an angle that I gave them through one of those my 428 articles out there.
The same applies to my fiction.
With my short stories, who cares if the world loves them or not?
If they make a tiny difference to someone’s day, then I will be happy. Though I have learned that I don’t need to know I’ve made someone’s day to shore up my ego.
If I have fun seeing an idea and writing a little story about it; if I keep writing and refining my skills (but without getting too hung up about it either); if I move closer to a small remunerative mini-career, then I’ll be all the happier.
If I don’t achieve all those things, I’ll still be happy that I have a story in me, and that I might have put a smile on someone’s face when they read it. Or made them think for a little while.
My short stories are from ideas I see everywhere. The one I’m working on today is about a man in a café eating a very thick sandwich! It’s quickly written, lightly edited, fun to write, and for at least a few people, hopefully, interesting and enjoyable to read. But I’m not going to lose sleep over the outcome of writing in this very suitable–for me—format.
Who knows? One day I might gain the stamina to write something longer again, but for now, I’m happy. Which, after all – and in this world – isn’t such a bad thing.
You can read a few of my ideas that I’ve come up with on my free blog here. Enjoy!
ABOUT MARTIN HAWORTH
Martin Haworth is a coach, trainer and would-be fiction author with a manuscript that “needs work.” He lives in Gloucester, England and has two grown-up kids and three grandchildren. He loves walking, travel, and supporting Burnley Football Club. Check out his website at http://martinhaworth.com.