One of the most important books I’ve read is “The Talent Code” by Daniel Coyle, which looks at how people develop talent. The primary thing they discuss is the concept of Deep Practice. Deep Practice intentional, focused performance of a targeted skill, where mistakes are identified and corrected soon after they are made in order to develop new mental processes which avoid those mistakes in the future.
The questioned I’ve pondered for a while is how to do this with writing. Writing doesn’t have the instantly identifiable ‘mistakes’ that are easy to see in fields like music or gymnastics. Additionally, it is commonly agreed that mental and emotional “distance” are vital to good editing, which seems to go against the principle of identifying mistakes soon after they are made. To make things even more difficult, when working on a novel, it can be months or years before a first draft is completed. Only then can we look back effectively on things like character development, plot, or general tightness of narrative. Unfortunately, when our inner editor finds some horrifically handled plot device and confronts our inner writer wanting to know what it was thinking, the answer is usually along the lines of ‘I dunno what I was thinking, I wrote that a year ago. I’m sure I won’t make that mistake again” but there is no conscious correcting of the mental processes that led to making the mistake.
Enter short stories. A short story can reasonably be planned, written, and edited inside of two months, allowing the editing process to confront mistakes and weaknesses in the story soon after we write them. This allows our inner editor to correct our inner writer’s tendencies while the processes we used in composing are still present in our minds.
Beyond simple writing mistakes, one of the most difficult skills for many writers is finishing. Novels can often drag out because any deadline is months away. It is easy to reason “If I miss a day here or a day there, I’m sure I can make it up”. But if you set out a schedule for a short story with deadlines only a few weeks or even days apart, there is less wiggle room and you will develop the habit of writing every day. It will get easier and your writing will get better.
Short stories have a third benefit; they show your progress as a writer. You may not want anyone to see your first couple of efforts, and that’s fine. But don’t throw it away, keep it and look back at it every once in a while, it will encourage and surprise you to see how far you’ve come. Some of your better ones you can post to your blog or share elsewhere online. Putting your writing out there is an important part of starting to build a readership, an important step as a young writer. Finally, when you get those stories that shine and gleam with your hard work, self-publish them. Kindle’s Direct Publishing program is tailor made for short stories. Having published works, beyond being motivating in itself, gives you legitimacy and will continue to build your readership for when you finish that novel you’re working so hard on.
So give it a try, you might be surprised by some of the ideas that come to you as you write! If you haven't read it yet, check out "The Talent Code", it is a fascinating read and well worth your time.