On Writing Short Stories “to hit Target”

There are days that I cannot touch any of the main novels in my series. This can be because I get overwhelmed by them. At times I’m lost and need a while to find my head within the reeds. At times I come to loathe the stories and do not wish that to translate onto the page. I have to step away, as even thorough rewrites can’t purge bile baked in so deep.
On those days in a time gone by, I opened a Google Doc, and I began to write out my thoughts. This had a name, I called them “extra ideas”, and in total, I wrote 50. I also wrote 7 “recovery docs” post breaking up with my partner to get back on my feet. That rounds out the list as a neat Heinz of these brain dumps. They served their purpose, but now they’re a relic of times recent, yet so far ago.
So on days where I cannot face my main stories what do I do? I write short stories. In the last year, I’ve written a total of 23 of them, only including those on Google Docs that I titled. Plenty more I wrote in part then abandoned. In the overwhelming majority of these stories, I had one goal: get to a thousand words. That’s fine, 1K is my target and I can hit it with anything. I’m aiming to hit it with this essay for example, though I do not count my regular blog entries.
There is a problem with this: I should not write only to hit a goal. In my head, writing should be to weave stories. Its goal is to encourage debate and make people feel in ways they haven’t tried before. I don’t claim to have any notable skill in that but my integrity for my main series is intact, that is always my goal. Not so with many of my short tales.
There are exceptions. The Rope Broke smashed target 4 times over but I wrote it to tell a story. I have a couple of private stories that I write for my enjoyment alone. A couple of commissions on top that I know have brought joy to the people who requested them. But many – including several horror shorts – add nothing to the pool of my work other than words. I’m not writing this to question the merits of any one story. All great writing is rewriting and many would work as longer pieces, or even as they are with tweaks.
I ask alone, what the purpose of a short story should be. Should I, for example, write every short for my WattPad audience? Should I write these one-shots for me alone, as the closest thing to “breaks” I take within 1K? Or, should I not write them at all? I purged Extra Ideas because I looked at my stats and saw clear as the day they held me back. A third of your average month got consumed by them, and they were bile and nonsense, for the most part, not fit to share.
Thing is, 1K grew on a foundation of as few arbitrary rules as I can get by with. In fact, I can list them on the fingers of one hand:
  • I must before going to bed – whatever time that happens – write a thousand words.
  • Messages do not count unless they stand alone outside the message (ie, I write an essay in a text).
  • My blog doesn’t count.
  • Stuff I do for my job at the college doesn’t count.
You can even condense it into one line. ‘I must write a thousand words a day that are not messages college work or my blog before I sleep at night.’ That’s it. So introducing a “short stories only count if they are WattPad ready” clause is against what 1K stands for. Take this essay – I could upload it to WattPad, but I won’t. You could argue of course that as this is on my blog it does not count. In the latter case, it happens to be here, it’s not a blog entry.
My biggest case and point though is in the bullet points above. Read those rules again. Do you see where I ruled out Extra Ideas? No? That’s because I never did. In the same way, I do not believe in prescribing what is and isn’t writing to others, I do not do so to myself. My journal, for example, can count towards 1K, but I only write it after I’ve hit target anyway. In a pinch, there’s a loophole waiting for me.
So this has been one-sided so far, let’s talk about the merits of a prescriptivist approach. First, more content for my WattPad page. That can only be a plus, though there is an argument that not all those stories work for WattPad. Then again if The Wanderer is going to get put on there then all bets are off.
Another good point in favour of being restrictive with what I count is not slipping back. I don’t want to end up back in the 50% efficiency early days of the project. If I do, then I will fall behind and miss upload deadlines I’m committed to.
But I have one argument that seals it for me, and it’s why I made a conscious choice to type this instead of VOL today. That is, even if I have to write, I have to have breaks too. If I don’t, I crack. Want the proof of that? Look over the blog posts from this month. Safe to say, I ain’t been doing so good.
I wrote this essay because I did not know which way I would come down on the issue of the purpose of short stories. I still see them as more than 1K fodder, but I need a bedrock that can catch me somewhere. On a positive note, I have to remember that TUS started as a short story eight years ago. That grew into my greatest achievement. Even when works come about out of need instead of art, they can still grow into beautiful outcomes.
Food for thought.