The Writing Advice that Helped Me Grow as a Writer

The Writing Advice that Helped Me Grow as a Writer 1024 576 Reader Views

by Dan Rice

I’ll be honest. I was tempted to title this post as the best writing advice I have ever received. But is it? I don’t know, not really. I do know that following science-fiction author John Scalzi’s advice to write short stories and treat them as writing assignments accelerated my growth as a writer.

Why Write Short Stories

When I first tried my hand at writing, I was obsessed with penning an epic fantasy series for adults reminiscent of the works of George R.R. Martin and Joe Abercrombie. Like many an aspiring scribe, my early efforts fell woefully short of my expectations. I dreamed of an easy button, a silver bullet, that would make my story on the page as brilliant as it seemed in my head. Of course, there is no easy path to publishable fiction, at least for the mere mortals among us.

Instead of giving up, I doubled down. My writing improved, but the pace was slow, too slow. I belonged to a critique group, so I was receiving critical feedback. Still, I had the sense that my writing wasn’t good enough. That I had a monumental mountain of improvements to make to create something worthwhile. At times, it seemed overwhelming.

Around this time, I attended an author event at my local library. The featured speaker was John Scalzi. He spoke about his books and writing short stories. At the time, writing short stories was a new endeavor for him.

Why was Scazli creating short fiction? He was writing short stories as assignments to improve his writing. His example was that he wanted to write a character who wasn’t particularly nice, a real “insert expletive here,” but was not a villain or a caricature. To do this, he decided to write a short story featuring such a character to see if he could do it without the expectation of publishing the story. If the story did end up being published, that was just icing on the cake.

I took this advice to heart and didn’t look back.

Experiment and Fail or Succeed Quickly

The Wrath of Monsters, my latest YA fantasy novel, is nearly 97,000 words. It is the longest publishable story I’ve written. In contrast, the shortest piece of flash fiction I’ve published is a mere fifty words. I put in more effort into crafting the 97,000-word novel than the fifty-word flash story. Granted, fifty words is on the extreme end of short, but the example illustrates my point. You can write a short story without dedicating months of labor to the task, making the effort great for experimenting with new techniques, practicing characterization, and shoring up weak points in your writing.

When I started writing short stories, I simply wanted to get published. In short order, I was published in a small e-zine that I suspect no longer exists. Soon, I started taking John Scalzi’s advice seriously about treating short stories as writing assignments. I had been told my attempts at adult fantasy would appeal to a young adult audience. So, I started writing short stories from the perspective of young adults. When I was told my protagonists were unemotional, I experimented with writing in the first person.

While creating twenty short stories over several years, my writing improved at an accelerated pace. I still labored away at my adult epic fantasy novel, but I realized my authorial voice was more suited to the young adult genre, in large part from my short story writing.

This all culminated with me penning what would become my debut novel, Dragons Walk Among Us. It’s a YA fantasy told in first-person present tense from the narrative voice of a teenage girl. I wouldn’t have been able to accomplish this if I hadn’t spent all those hours constructing short stories from the perspectives of preteens and teens and experimenting with first person. My debut novel has since become a series, with the third installment, The Wrath of Monsters, coming out in June 2024. Currently, I’m writing the fourth and final volume in the series.

Conclusion

Writing short stories is a fantastic way to improve your writing. You can experiment, practice, fail, and succeed at an accelerated pace. The lessons learned from crafting short stories can be applied to your novels.

And remember, some of the best writers in the world started with short stories. Here is what fantasy luminary George R.R. Martin said: “Start with short stories. After all, if you were taking up rock climbing, you wouldn’t start with Mount Everest. So if you’re starting fantasy, don’t start with a nine-book series.”

Author Bio

Dan Rice pens the young adult urban fantasy series The Allison Lee Chronicles in the wee hours of the morning. The series kicks off with his award-winning debut, Dragons Walk Among Us, which Kirkus Reviews calls, “An inspirational and socially relevant fantasy.”

To discover more about Dan’s writing and keep tabs on his upcoming releases, check out his blog and join his newsletter.

You can also connect with Dan Rice on Facebook and X.

Dan’s latest work, The Wrath of Monsters, is now available for pre-order!

THE WRATH OF MONSTERS

Can Allison and her friends save the world without becoming monsters?

Allison hoped her life would be free of torment after escaping the faeries. No sooner than Allison and her friends return home, the government imprisons Bria and Haji on a military base where scientists experiment on them. Allison’s plan to rescue them backfires when she reveals Bria’s location to the faeries, who mount a raid to capture the faery child. With Bria’s blood, they can create more enthralled super magicians to wage war against humanity.

The attack on the military base is just the beginning. When an electromagnetic pulse knocks out the power for the west coast of the United States, it is clear more powerful foes than the faeries are invading Earth.

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