Thoughts on Short Story Production

In an aside at the end of yesterday’s post, I mentioned that I should consider picking up the habit of writing a short story once a week. Looking at my history of short story publication, there is a compelling case to do just that. All but one of the short stories I have published had its genesis in one of two writing groups. The first writing group was one I ran at the Downtown Seattle Barnes and Noble from 2015 to 2016. The other was a weekly writing group that met in a cafe in West Seattle, which I attended from 2016 to 2017.

Neither of these was “the toxic writing group” that I have mentioned in previous posts. I attended that one from 2012 to 2014, and the way that I structured my own writing group was a direct response to how the toxic group was run. In the writing group I ran, each member wrote for thirty minutes, then individuals paired up to read one another’s stories and give feedback. I set a bunch of guidelines for what kind of feedback was and wasn’t acceptable, and participants were good about following them. The West Seattle writing group I attended was “non-critique.” Participants simply showed up and started writing together. This was the writing group where I found myself scrawling an archipelago one day, the map that led to the generation of all the Palípoli stories.

Attending both of these non-toxic writing groups meant I had to sit down and write something short every single week. I haven’t done an exact count, but my guess is that about seventy percent of the writing I did during both of these sessions got filed away into my Dropbox account and will never see the light of day. However, that remaining thirty percent turned into the stories contained within Lore & Logos, Transmutations of Fire and Void, and The Shipwright and Other Stories, all except for the story “Rite of Courage,” which I wrote in 2019 in order to round out The Shipwright for publication. The only other short story I have written outside of this writing group construct has been “Hear Ye, Hear Ye!,” which is yet unpublished.

There’s a lot to be said for practicing discipline, for not waiting around for inspiration. Inspiration is a very fickle thing. Every story you write makes you a better writer, regardless of whether the story itself is any good. I see the same thing in my software engineering work. When I want to learn a new language or a new framework, I often have to build a piece of software that I don’t need, one which duplicates the functionality of something that already exists and works better than anything I will ever build. The point isn’t to produce something startlingly useful or novel, it’s to practice for the day that I do need to produce something startlingly useful or novel. And in both cases—writing and software—I surprise myself with what happens along the way. Not all of such ventures will be relegated to permanent storage.

As for building my short story writing habit back up, my working plan is to set aside Saturday mornings for this task. The schedule will look something like this:

  • 8:45-9am: decide on a prompt or topic
  • 9am-10am: write a story, any story
  • 10-11:30am: prepare a summary of how things went for this blog and post
As I have learned from experience, on the occasions that I do happen upon a story idea that is workable, I will make the time to expand upon it and clean it up. For everything else, Dropbox will suffice.