Writing Discussion

Short Stories vs. Novel Length Fiction

The Empty Road
The Empty Road by Nicholas_T

The long and short of it:

Writing a short story is like running the 100 meter dash, while writing a novel is  like running a marathon. Though some of the mechanics are the same, there are differences in training and mindset. Some people can do both well, but not all.

When you’re running a marathon, you have to ignore the cramps in your side, the pain in your feet from the constant pounding against pavement, you have to figure in hydration and nutrition. You must pace yourself correctly, and even if you’ve calculated a strategy before hand, it usually requires some adjustment as you go. The psychological experience is drawn out, and the biggest challenge can be to outsmart yourself.

I recently took a break from my novel length WIP to focus on a couple of short stories. Now I’m having difficulty switching back to the novel. My pace was disrupted, and I am finding I need to warm up to the novel again. Though I’m happy with the short story I produced, I don’t know if it was a good idea for me to switch. I only hope that I can get back up to speed quickly, but so far it’s been painful.

Do you work on multiple projects at once? Are you working on short fiction at the same time as long? If so, how do you switch between them?

10 Comments

  1. I have in the past and to some extent still do work on multiple projects at once. But it hasn’t always been “long” versus “short” form fiction. At one point I was working on a novel, and sometimes working on an RPG adaptation of it, and sometimes writing short stories. I like the ability to switch tasks, because different creative projects scratch different creative itches, and sometimes I need a mental break from one and can then switch to the other. The switch was usually pretty easy for me, because it where I was just feeling inspired on the new project (not that I lacked inspiration on the other, just needed a short break). Always, though, I came back to the novel.

    These days, when I’m writing (when not writing for the blog) it’s usually working on a short story, but I still occassionally mentally switch by putting in a little time writing notes for the eventual from-scratch rewrite of that same novel. In the future, I anticipate having to do this more because I want to switch my novel-writing time to one of the other novel ideas I have, in the short-term, and I also plan to develop that side of my career by focusing more on short fiction first, so I’ll need to spend plenty of time working on short stories as well.

    Since my groove is already so interrupted by my work day and going to school and projects there, I find that when I can actually find time to write, it feels like a relief, so getting into that is no more difficult than any of the other task switching I have to do.

    1. So far I’ve found that I’m more productive if I focus on one thing at a time, but it’s not always possible. I wish that like you I could switch gears with greater ease.

      It’s probably true what they say, “if you want something done, give it to a busy person”. When you’re busy there’s no time to worry about writer’s block.

      1. I wouldn’t say it’s done with “ease”. I’d say it’s that (a) I’m probably mildly ADD and (b) I have to do so much task switching as part of my regular day-to-day that it comes more “normal” to me. That kind of task switching puts a serious slow-down in your productivity, but there’s the upshot I mentioned as well: the ability to fulfill multiple creative itches in short succession.

  2. I don’t really work on multiple projects at once, if I can help it, for precisely the reason you state: transitional pain. But sometimes it’s unavoidable, so you just gotta roll with it.

    Honestly, you’ll be fine. Just try to find the rhythm again, and don’t beat yourself up while you do. You clearly love the work, so it’s only a matter of time before you’re back in the groove.

  3. Lua

    I started my adventure of writing with short stories so they’ll always have a special place in my heart! I love both reading & writing them- I always felt they were somehow more intense and striking compared to novels.
    But now that I’m writing my first novel, I can see the differences and the similarities between the two better and I love writing in both forms…
    I do enjoy working on multiple projects- it even helps me to focus better, and if I ever to get stuck with one of them, I just move on to the other project and keep on writing. This was I always have something to write 🙂

    1. That’s great Lua! I started out hating short stories. All the short stories I read in school seemed boring, and for a long time I thought that was how all short stories should be. I don’t think that way anymore, but I do struggle with them at times. They’re not my first love like yours 🙂

  4. The long awaited comment:

    I find it hard too, though I usually stretch the completion time between novel and short story to a point, where it seems I am writing a novel, because I happen to be doing a short story and a novel at the same time.

    I suggest ease things into the rhythm. Start slow and then build to a bigger pace.

    1. I tend to speed through the short story process and maybe that’s why it takes a longer time to get through the transitional pain. I really should give myself more time to ease back into the flow of the story.

      Thanks Harry!

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