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This Writing Life: The Stories You Need To Write

12 January, 2012

In the last couple of years, I’ve worked on a number of novels and many more short stories. Although the process for each can be very different – and no two novels get completed in the same way either – it would be sensible to suppose that my end goal for them all would be the same. That goal would, of course, be publication, if you haven’t already guessed. However, out of the four novels I’ve worked on in the past 18 months, there’s only a single one that I’m going to send out to agents.

The more projects I work on, the more I realise that my stories typically fall into three categories. The first: those I want to get published. These are the ones I work on the longest, edit the most exhaustively and get beta-read. The second category, therefore, is fairly obvious: stories that are unpublishable. A fair chunk of what I start never gets finished, either because it doesn’t go to plan or I decide my initial idea really wasn’t as good as I thought. Even when I do finish these stories, sometimes I decide they’re just not good enough to send out into the world, and that it would be better to sit on them (and maybe rewrite them later).

There is a third category, though, which is what this post is really about: stories that are unpublishable, but that you need to write – and finish – anyway. I think a good chunk of the fiction produced by a beginning writer will fall into this category, my own work included. These are practice stories, shorts to test out world-building for later novels, experiments in tone and style. These are the stories that frequently turn out utterly unreadable, but were absolutely necessary to improve your writing skills.

For me, this category is not just made up of short stories, either. I’ve written any number of novels that I’d also include, which were experiments in everything from first-person POV to writing longer chapters. It’s possible that I’ll rewrite these novels some day, but given the number of new ideas I have on a daily basis, it’s unlikely. The important thing, though, is that these novels were necessary for me to write; instead of rewriting them, I’ll go off and write newer, better novels in first-person POV or with longer chapters, using what I’ve learned the first time round. I haven’t been wasting my time writing unpublishable fiction: I’ve been learning, and strengthening my writing skills, and getting to the point (hopefully) where more of my stories are of publishable quality than not.

So, the next time you start writing a new, unplanned novel in the middle of the night, or decide to write fan-fiction, or a story from the POV of a snail, remember that you’re not wasting your time, no matter how unpublishable the story might be. Instead, you’re practising your craft, and writing the stories you need to write to make you a better writer in the long run.

  1. 12 January, 2012 11:51 am

    Great post, I agree! I just hope one will get published one day 🙂

    • 13 January, 2012 1:13 pm

      Me too! Whilst I like to embrace my crappier pieces of writing as experiments, publication is still the ultimate goal.

  2. 12 January, 2012 1:04 pm

    Yes, it is always good to remain positive…nice post.

  3. 12 January, 2012 1:12 pm

    So very true. Somewhere I read that we need to write a million words before we become “good” writers. I don’t think I’d be that specific, but (sorry for the cliche) practice really does make perfect – or as close as we can get.

    • 13 January, 2012 1:10 pm

      Yes, I’ve read the ‘million words’ piece of advice, too and it really does boil down to what you say – practice makes perfect. Not that that makes it any easy when you realise a story you previously loved has just crossed the line from ‘needs lots of revision’ to ‘never going to sell’!

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