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shortstorymachinist

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I definitely cut and run, and I never regret it. Being stuck in revision purgatory is the worst. I couldn't put a number on it, though. It's more of a feeling, when I look at a piece and it seems like I'm getting diminishing returns with each pass.
 

Denevius

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It definitely depends. If it's a short story that I begin, then for some reason put aside and pick back up later, it's usually a lot of hours before it's finished because those narratives usually require more mental exertion (untangling) to finish.

But for the typical story, if the length is 20 pages, that means I wrote it in probably a month. I only write a page a day, usually starting around 5:20 am and ending about 6:10 am. I do that Monday through Friday, but lately I've actually been writing on Saturday morning because these days my social life is a bit flatlined, I'm not going out most Friday nights, and I'm managing to get up relatively early and not slightly hungover Saturday.

So averaging six pages a week (all in pencil), I'm done the first draft of a 20 page story in about a month. Typing it up is when I do most of the major revisions, and that process can range from two weeks to six weeks, depending on if I start writing a new story while I'm typing up the previous one.

But to answer your question, I probably work on a ten paged story for twenty complete hours, or a twenty paged story for forty complete hours. I don't *agonize* over each and every word because, though I think it sounds nice to say out loud, I don't think it's worth it to write a successful piece.

The more you learn to write the narrative the way *it* wishes to be told, the less you have to revise it. It's when you try to bend the budding life inside of you to your whim that you run into writer's block and plot holes and inconsistent characters, etc.

Though on the flipside, just like a pro-athlete lives a lifestyle to optimize the time during which they actually play the sport they're being paid to, do I think that, technically, I'm always writing even when I don't have a pencil and paper, or computer, under my fingertips. So an abstract and un-useful answer to your question would be that each story took exactly the amount of time I've lived to write it to its conclusion.

So if I finish a story today, it took 39 years to complete, since it's a sum of everything I am up to the point I write 'The End.'
 

Marlys

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I tend to plot short stories when I'm doing something physical that doesn't engage the mind, like running or raking leaves. That shortens the actual writing process. First drafts usually take three or four hours of computer time, almost always in one sitting but occasionally over two days if I get interrupted. I don't write a lot of longer short stories, which probably helps keep my time investment on the low side. 2000-2500 words is my sweet spot.

I don't revise heavily--for me, short stories either work or they don't. The ones that work take about an hour or two to polish, maybe more if I'm cutting to fit a specific word count. The ones that work don't get trunked, if I even finish a draft at all.
 

Harlequin

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@Denevius - yes I know what you mean by it taking the whole of your time.

SSM / Marlys - maybe the issue I haven't learnt to recognise that feeling yet, of when it's not working.

I've written a total of two, and the first in particular took a lot of time and revision; more than a novel, proportional to its length (about three months on and off). Second one shaping up to be quite annoying as a revision. Neither are quite right, still, but the more time I invest in them the more compelled I feel to make them work.

I'm probably just too impatient.
 

Marlys

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If you're new to short stories, one technique some of my friends have used is "the short story diet," which I believe originated 12-15 years ago on a site called WritersNet. What you do is read nothing but short stories for an entire month. Dozens, hundreds of short stories. The people I know who tried this swore it improved their own short stories immensely.

The thing that really helped me doesn't exist anymore, but could be recreated here if you were motivated enough. I belonged to a writers' forum, now defunct, that had a rolling short story contest. The winner of the previous contest would set the parameters for the next, including word count, required elements, and deadline. All stories were posted anonymously, and then all members of the community were encouraged to critique them. Members then voted for their three favorites (a 1st place vote was worth 3 points, 2nd worth 2, and 3rd worth 1), the winners announced, and after a guessing period the authors revealed. Dozens of the stories went on to be published.

Here on AW, CobraMisfit runs a cool event called the Sekrit Solstice Sci-Fi Fantasy Story Swap, in which each participant writes a story based on another participant's prompt. An excerpt of each story is posted, and people try to guess who wrote what. It's a lot of fun and another excuse to write a short story, but there's no critique involved (unless you choose to run your story past one of the volunteer beta readers, or people who ask to read the whole story give feedback).
 

Denevius

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If you've truly only written a total of two short stories, then I'm prone to agree that you might be a little impatient. It takes practice to streamline the process.

There are some general rules you can follow to make the short story easier to draft, however. Limit the number of characters to three, maybe four if it's a bit longish. Limit the number of scene transitions. Give your main PoV a goal that they won't have to move Heaven and Earth to resolve. Something that's almost but not quite within their grasp at the beginning of the story.

I do agree with Marlys that a short story either works or it doesn't. Unlike a novel with a lot of movable parts, if what you're writing is an actual short story you should more or else know with a fair amount of certainty relatively quickly if it's going to be successful.

For me, though, I have not found reading a lot of published short stories to be very helpful. I think workshopping short fiction has been more beneficial for me. Taking them apart, seeing why other writers are succeeding or failing in certain parts.
 

Harlequin

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I'm not sure I could write to a prompt, but will browse the links. Ty Marlys :) I do read a fair amount of them or used to, but I'm not sure I could read only shorts without getting fed up. Novels are so lovely >.> does it affect full length writing to read so much short?

I'm discounting highschool assignments in that "two" :p Both went through syw and cps which does help. I've started a few others but abandoned about 100 words in. What you (denevius) said about less moving parts makes a lot of sense. Possibly I will just never be very prolific with them; I'm not prolific with long, either.
 
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williemeikle

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It varies a lot. I've written flash pieces of around 1000 words in an hour, edited them in the next hour and sent them off. Up to 5000 words I can generally get all done start to submission in a day. I rarely spend more than two days on any short story, and at most they get 2 drafts then a final polish before going out the door.

Then again, I've had plenty of practice. I passed number 400 sometime this year. ( I've lost count. )
 

Denevius

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400 is a huge number.

I think I've completed about 30 or 40 short stories. I, too, am more comfortable with novels, and until two years ago, almost every short story I wrote was for class.

When it comes to writing, though, I have to take a break to recharge. I finished a 19,000 word piece two weeks ago, and I've only written about 500 new words since. Just looking at pencil and paper makes me feel tired. This morning, though, I woke up and actually wrote a full page without feeling like I was trying to pull water out of an empty well. So if I wake up tomorrow and write another page, maybe I'll have a new piece done by the end of next month.
 

dpaterso

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Just curious. How many hours or revisions do you typically put into your short stories? After a certain point, would you decide that it's too much time and just cut off, for example?
For up to 2K words, I've usually finished on the same day I started. From 3K to 5K words, that's maybe 2 days of first pass writing. Once it's done I'll leave it for a day or two, then re-read and tinker, and that's it for me, I can't face looking at something over and over again.

Sometimes I'll decide a story just isn't working and stop, saving it as a partial that I might come back to one day, or might forget about. Not everything is gold, lol.

This isn't an ad, I'm just saying I try to do the weekly flash fiction challenge (zanzjan or Julie post a prompt on Sunday night, which I see on Monday morning) and that's been giving me writing practice every week, even when my regular WIPs are stalled and annoying the crap out of me. Some flash stories don't want to stay under 1K words, they want to spread their wings and fly, so sometimes I end up with short stories (or even longer) instead. Whatever gets you thinking, whatever gets you writing, it's all good.

-Derek
 

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I wrote a 900-word story in, oh, maybe about 20 minutes. Five or ten minutes later I had made a satisfactory revision by moving a paragraph. I sold it shortly thereafter.

On average, though, a 3,000- to 6,000-word short story takes somewhere in the neighborhood of one to three hours, depending on how much I overthink things. Revisions are usually scant and quick. Occasionally I’ll add something I left out, but mostly it’s making sure the copy is perfect (no typos, misspelling, discontinuities). Most of these stories in this word-range have sold, some more than once, so I can’t say that spending a lot of time on a story, or agonizing over its parts, has been all that productive.

I see no compelling reason to doodle with a short story that simply doesn’t work, but rather see more value in writing a new one that does. Here’s why: every once in a very rare while I’ll figure out why the broken story doesn’t work, then proceed to fix it, but that almost never happens in the moment. In fact, it almost never happens at all. The last time this happened, the broken story had sat idle for two years.

A final note: Isaac Asimov once wrote that he considered whether he should be a “good” writer or a prolific one, deciding that it was easier to be prolific. The lesson I took from this: although I may like what I write, it’s really up to others to decide whether or not what I write is “good.” The first sign is that someone (an editor) buys what I write. The second is that a story sticks around long after it sold. (I’m still waiting on that last part to happen...)
 

Harlequin

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Haha, well, in fairness, I'm not sure that's a choice. I doubt I will ever be prolific! :)

I struggle with getting something down which doesn't interest me but tend to be more interested in concepts which require novels I suppose.

I should probably try some of those prompts, though. It is definitely helpful to have *something* to work on when longer stuff in lagging!
 

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I passed number 400 sometime this year. ( I've lost count. )

Um, wow.

I wrote six or seven short stories this year, and they were the first I'd written at all in five years. I'm more a novelist, so the short story is always something I'm trying to learn. I've written drafts in a couple days. Somewhere around ten to fifteen working hours, let's say. When it comes to revision... hard to even know. I think you know if a short story is working immediately upon reading it; writing it depends on the writer. George Saunders would tell you it can take years to find the right take on a story. I don't think any less work goes into them than a novel; some novels come out in a flash. It's a spectrum.

Prompts can be fun. Definitely worth a shot, even just to get your fingers moving.
 

veinglory

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A short story of less than 5000 words generally takes me a total of about 4-5 hours divided ~evenly between writing and editing.
 

veinglory

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I should add that I might think about a story off and on for months before I sit down to write it. I am only counting the time from when I start writing. By then I have decided exactly what happens in the story and how long it will be.
 

dpaterso

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I wouldn't get too hung up on how long you take to write anything, I know plenty of slow-timers as well as sprinters. Everybody's different, it's not a race. Whatever works for you is the right way.

-Derek
 

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Just curious. How many hours or revisions do you typically put into your short stories? After a certain point, would you decide that it's too much time and just cut off, for example?




When I was doing short stories full time (before health issues got in the way) I had made it a goal to publish 1 a week (52 a year) and usually ended up with around 30 a year instead. My method then was to spend a day writing a story, and then spend the rest of the week editing it. Usually I was writing the first draft in about 8 hours, then spending about 4 hours a day for 3 to 5 days editing. So total hours was about 24 hours of actual work, to have an end result of a story anything from 2,000 to 10,000 words long. Most were around 4,000 words.


When I'm doing the 8 hour fiction contest, which I tried to do every month for about a year, you are only allowed 8 hours to write, edit, format, make the cover, and publish to Kindle the story. My 8 hour fiction entries are usually only around 1,000 words because of the limit in time to work on them. It's really hectic though. There are people who doing it weekly and daily - I don't know how they do it. I struggled to do it once a month! LOL!


I don't think there is a cut off point of when to give up on a story that is taking too long to write.


Perhaps if you are having trouble, maybe it just means you need to set it aside for a couple of weeks and work on something else. Then go back to it later and maybe you'll see it from a new perspective and see something you missed?


I've done that before. Had a story, I just couldn't get written. Set it aside and write a few other stories. Then about 2 years later I thought of a story and I was like: "Wait... didn't I already start a story like that?" Yep. That one I set aside. Turns out all it needed was for me to forget about it for a while and then think up a new idea to add to it.


It varies a lot. I've written flash pieces of around 1000 words in an hour, edited them in the next hour and sent them off. Up to 5000 words I can generally get all done start to submission in a day. I rarely spend more than two days on any short story, and at most they get 2 drafts then a final polish before going out the door.


Then again, I've had plenty of practice. I passed number 400 sometime this year. ( I've lost count. )




400 is a huge number.


Not really. He said it was flash fiction (1,000 words) that's only 400,000 words. I reach 200,000 every NaNoWriMo since 2004, made it past 500,000 one year. When I'm working on a novel I write around 17,000 words a day, it usually takes me around 2 weeks to write the first draft of a novel (120,000 words). Most years I'm writing more then 3million words a year. (I also type 91 words a minute which is 5,000 words an hour). So, for me, I look at the 400 flash fiction story totalling 400,000 words in a year, and think that, really not that much when you look at the numbers... not when you are talking about someone who is writing full time and doesn't have an outside job taking up their time. It's a lot if it were longer works, or if you were talking about a college student mom trying to write between family, classes, and 2 jobs.


My point is... you can't just look at the numbers, you have to look at the person behind the numbers. Someone with years of practice has a ritual habit schedule that helps them flow quickly through the process, someone new to writing hasn't yet gotten their optimal flow situated yet. Someone with multiple jobs and small children has less hours per day to write then some one (like myself) who is a retired senior and has nothing but time to write all day long.


We each work at different speeds, different flows, and against different life situations. Some of us only have an hour per day to write, others have nothing else but writing to do. All these factors make a difference in each person's output.


There are a lot of bloggers who, though not writing fiction, are writing long form (2,000 words or more) blog posts each and every day. That's 365 articles of 2,000 words each year. Hundreds of bloggers do this, thousands of bloggers do this.


If you head to reddit there's a sub over there for writing prompts, and it has 11million members, and if you start reading the daily submissions, you start to notice there are flash fiction writers over there who are posting 1 or 2 or 3 or 4 or more short stories a day. (It's a subreddit where people post their daily flash fiction for others to read). They way surpass 600 stories written in a year and there's a LOT of them doing it. (And not getting paid either... I'm surprised, more of them don't seek to get published because a lot of it's really good, but they say they aren't interested in writing as a career, they just want to share their work online.)


So, yeah, 400 flash fictions in a year, not really that big of a number when you compare it to a lot of other writing out there. It's all about perspective and who and what you are comparing it to.


yes... so the main thing I take from this thread is that it shouldn't take me so long :p


I think I know when I want a story to work, but that's not of course the same thing.


Nah. Everybody works at their own pace, with the time they have available, around the life and family responsibilities they have. There's no right or wrong answer here. Don't compare yourself to others. Everyone's life situation is different. Every one's experience level is different. There's no such thing as writing too slow or too fast. The only time you can be writing too slow is if you are working for a company and you are missing deadlines - say a newspaper reporter - the boss isn't gonna hang on to a reporter that submits a news story a week after it happened. But if you are not working for someone else who gave you a deadline, then, no, don't worry about it and just take your time. No reason to rush it.

I think the worse thing we can do as authors is try to compare ourselves to other authors. It's way too easy to look at someone else's output and say: "That should be me, why can't I do that?" But we don''t know the other person's situation. We don't know what their training, experience, school, work, family, health, and life situation is. Just because they are writing the same genre as us, don't mean they have the same life situations as us. There are just too many variables for any author to compare themselves to any other author. We have to compare our current output with our life situations and not with what other authors write. Plus being very prolific and writing lots of words is not always a good thing either.


Me, when I was doing the 52 stories in 52 weeks thing, I was writing short stories as my full time career. I had to be putting out a high number in order to pay the bills. But most people who write short stories are not doing it as a full time career and can work at a much less hectic pace. And it was a very hectic pace for me, which is part of the reason why I don't do it anymore! LOL! It was just draining physically, mentally, and emotionally to try to keep up with that sort of pace. Sure I put out a lot of work, but looking back it wasn't always my best work because it was rushed.


These past few years I write much slower now than I did when I was younger and am only publishing stuff every couple of months instead of every week now. Which gives me more time to do other things. And that's something to consider as well. The more time you devote to writing, the less time you have for other things.


I should add that I might think about a story off and on for months before I sit down to write it. I am only counting the time from when I start writing. By then I have decided exactly what happens in the story and how long it will be.


Yep, me too. I keep a notebook full of ideas so that I don't forget them. It may be a year or more before I get around to actually writing the story after I've thought of it.
 

Denevius

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So I'm finally finishing a story I started around the beginning of this month. I would estimate I worked on it an hour a day, taking off every Sunday except today. So so far, maybe about 26 hours (including coming revisions), spread out over a month, for a story that will be about 4000 words.

This was a hard story to write because I didn't have an ending in mind before I began, and that always makes the process more difficult. It's easier to get lost in the wilderness when you have no idea where you're going.
 

Maria Ale Barrios

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Harlequin,

Some of my short stories take me a week to revise or something like that. I have a story that has taken me like three months, but I haven't given up yet.

Did you hear back from Aurealis?
 

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