I think I’m starting to get the hang of this. I may not be particularly good at it yet, but I’m managing to balance what I do for a living with writing regularly, and finally managing to balance my writing a little between working on short fiction and working on my novel.

(I have also spilled coffee all over my work, my notes, my ideas book and my writing log this morning. This is NOT a key part of the balancing act.)

The main thing is, I want to be able to enjoy my writing without just pouring all my efforts into an empty, worthless hole. That means working on my novel, even if that novel may eventually go nowhere; because the act of working on a novel will improve me as a novelist. But at the same time, I need to write short fiction to improve myself as a short story writer — and I believe that becoming stronger at short-form fiction, using tighter and more refined prose, will ultimately roll over and improve me as a novelist too. So both disciplines are required.  And balancing them is critical to getting what I want out of it.

I just discovered even elephants have better balance than I do.

I just discovered even elephants have better balance than I do.  That’s sort of depressing.

I may also consider an online creative-writing course at some point. That’s something I’ve resisted more out of wanting to work on my writing myself than out of anything else, but I think it could be something very useful to me. I strongly doubt I’d come away from it any worse as a writer, and I may discover something that would improve what I do. It seems likely, at least. Classes in person are also an option, but I think the time investment there may be too much for me to afford — it’s hard enough balancing everything I already have going on without adding in something like that.

However; yesterday, I worked on my novel some more, and today I’m putting it partly to one side. Later on, I will be re-reading parts of my first draft again, as well as some of the background stories, and I may well go back into the text to make a few small revisions and additions. But for now, this morning, the main focus is a simple, mainstream slightly-black humour short story — a piece called The Mighty Pie Man, though I’ll leave out all explanation of the premise for this one. As with much of my short fiction, I feel wonderfully liberated while writing it. I have no expectations of it being anything that I might get printed, so I’m simply enjoying writing it.

I do need to spend some time today editing some of my other pieces, though, as I have some lined up for submission. I have a plan of action, which includes submission to a number of markets. And I have a market sequence lined up for some stories, planning ahead for the rejections. Eventually, something won’t get rejected; but it seems sensible to plan ahead nonetheless.

The first piece I’m planning to submit I have low expectations of, even though I like it a great deal. It lacks a traditional story-arc, largely bereft of elevation, conflict and conclusion, but those facts were all deliberate, as I was attempting to give the story a hollow feel that befitted it. I think they’ll count against it for publication, but it’s a piece that I will keep in this form, and I won’t rewrite it to give it what it’s missing. What it’s missing is at least partly the point. So I’ll submit it, and when it comes back, I’ll submit it to somewhere else. I’ll give it a proper run at least. If it did get published, I’d be delighted, as I really love this story — but as I say, my expectations are low, as I’m not sure how easy it will be to find a market that thinks it would suit them.

That’s a lesson I’ve been learning lately. If you write a good story, and it comes back, it’s still good. It simply may not suit the market you submitted to. (Or, alternatively, it may be awful, and you may be wrong. But hey, you’ve got to be optimistic!)


Partly as a way to spike my interest, I’ve been looking at a couple of sites that run themed story competitions. I recently assembled a database for my writing, adding in my stories and also markets, with genres and length restrictions so that I can automatically match them together (though for short fiction only, novel-length being another game entirely), and while scanning over interesting markets — this one good for me, that one good for a friend of mine occasionally given to a Cthulhu tilt — I came across a couple that run contests.

If you’re interested in taking a swing at them yourself, you’ll find them here:


I’ve only entered large competitions in the past (see: Bridport Prize, a rather hefty British annual writing contest), meeting with outright failure in all cases, but these are smaller and different, and each is themed. The two I’ve chosen both kick off their next hop in March, one in the first half, one in the second.  (But if you’re reading this later than March 2013, then give them a look anyway.  They each run several competitions a year.)

Of these, the first is a sixty-day deal, where you write, revise, review, improve, and try to perfect the tale that you’re submitting. The second is more rapid, lasting 48 hours from start to finish.  It opens, you write, you submit and it closes, with little room for you to spend hammering away at the same tale. I like the second one particularly, because it forces a certain brevity in the approach, though I think I’ll like the one later in the year better.  The Spring one is Mystery themed, which is something I have precious little experience with writing.

(Toasted Cheese run four competitions a year; the Spring and Autumn contests are 48-hour ones, while the Summer and Winter contests are longer.)

Both are currently closed until the next window opens, but yesterday I toyed with an old theme from the former for a writing warm-up. The results were poor, not least because I forced myself to write into an idea when I hadn’t fully established the concept of exactly what it was I was trying to write, but I enjoyed it nonetheless. I’m looking forward to the official opening of each.

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I took some time today to dig through my copies of both the Ellery Queen and Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazines, in search of a sub-250 word flash fiction tale.  Both magazines publish them, EQMM apparently as an open submission, and AHMM as (at least in my old copies) as the “tale that won” in response to some kind of challenge.

(In this case, stories are inspired by a “mysterious photograph”, an interesting and far more open take on the more usual given theme, title or subject matter.)

Anyway — in the back of the March 2007 copy of AHMM, I found a tale called “A Prickly Figure” by one Monica Clark.  I tried to find her online to see if I could request permission to repost it, but had no luck; all I can find is that she also won the contest in May 2007, with another tale called “Three Amigos?” that I don’t have.  However, I’m going to type out and post “A Prickly Figure” as a password-protected post.  The password is the short, one-word name of the school I went to when I was fourteen, give or take a couple of years either side, all in lower-case.  So to get at it, you’ll have to know me; I’m not planning to post it publicly without given permission!

The whole story will be in the post following this one.

Short shorts.  Normally, flash fiction is five hundred words.  Certainly, my shortest full story runs in at four hundred and ninety-three.

However, the Bridport Prize’s flash-fiction category is capped at two hundred and fifty; and the famed mystery magazine Ellery Queen also publishes what they call “minute mysteries”, also limited to two hundred and fifty words.

Writing a story that’s complete at five hundred words is tricky, so what can you do with two hundred and fifty?  It’s got me thinking, and I’m definitely going to give it a try to see what I can do.  Maybe I’ll even try it today…but not before the novel work is finished!

Over the last month and a half, I’ve had a blast writing short fiction.  I started by myself as a break from novel writing, then found that an old school-friend of mine had some of his own work online, which only further fueled my enthusiasm for it.  I’ve worked on fifteen pieces through that time, split around 2:1 between entirely new work and either revisited or rewritten older pieces, and I’ve really been enjoying it.

Unfortunately, as a side-effect, I’ve barely worked on my novel at all.

The novel’s first draft is just over ninety thousand words.  The second draft is currently resting on around seven and a half thousand, and is drawing on some secondary writing I did after completing the first draft, exploring several characters in the time before the novel to get a better feel for who they are and what they want, in order to better flesh out and drive the core story forwards.  That whole process revealed a lot to me, and got me very excited about the prospect of what I could write.

Then I started writing short stories again, and it fell by the wayside.  I think part of that is simply to do with the fact that, at its heart, short story writing is easier; there’s less of a commitment to it.  If I write a short story today, and it’s crap, then I’ve not lost much.  I’m free to play and to write utter junk, which can be fun in itself at times.  But with a novel, there’s a time and care investment that outstrips that, and which can be intimidating at times.  I find it a little harder to gear myself up mentally for it.

So, today, I’m going to put the short fiction to one side.  Instead, I’m going to return to the novel.  And I’m going to make a point of working on it at least every other day from now on.  I don’t want to drop the short fiction, but I don’t want to have it

Since the end of NaNoWriMo — an experience shared with a few others this year — and shortly after that the completion of the novel’s first draft (hurrah!), I’ve turned my attention quite heavily to short fiction writing for a while.  To date in 2013, I’ve already worked on ten stories; of those, four were new tales that I completed.  Four more were new tales that remain outstanding; the other two are ongoing, but are both rewrites of old stories that I never got round to finishing.

One of my worst habits as a writer is flitting from one story to the next, a tendency that often leaves me with unfinished stories (often including stories I really like, and would like to finish).  Going through my old work and cataloguing it a little has helped immensely on that front, as it’s allowed me to look at some of my older stories and see which ones I have still waiting to be finished.  Some stories I had finished in my mind, but apparently not on paper, while others I was still exploring.

I’ve also seen now that I have a need for a better system of cataloguing than the one I have now.  I’d like to be able to note things about the stories, when they were written, revised, completed, submitted and suchlike in a ready and simple fashion, and I’m not fond of using Word or Excel for such extensive things.  Instead, I think I’m going to build myself some tools, some kind of database thingy to track it all.  Should be simple enough to do, if I can be bothered to find the time.

But that won’t happen this week.  It’s too busy.  But writing continues, and that’s more important anyway.

P.S. – though that first draft is indeed complete, it bears little resemblance to what the second draft will be.  I still like the story, but the lead character was in need of some considerable work.  That said, I’m enjoying the process of writing, and learning more about the mistakes I’ve made with every time.