Why I Write Short Stories
When I started out, I wrote and sold a bunch of short stories before I wrote and sold my first novel. It was the traditional route to becoming a professional SF writer. Things are a bit different now. It’s no longer necessary to make a name for yourself in the short story markets before writing and selling your novel; instead, it’s essential that you get a good, smart, hungry agent who can push your portion and outline. And there are certainly plenty of younger writers, especially those working in the heroic fantasy field, who started their careers as novelists and have never written a short story in their life. But almost all the writers of my generation here in Britain started out by publishing short stories (the only exception I can think of is Gwyneth Jones). I’m pretty sure it’s the same in the States. So, my first short stories were not only provided invaluable writing experience; they were also in part advertisements for myself.
And perhaps that’s a small part of the reason for continuing to write short stories, but it’s by no means the main reason. Now, I do it because I like to mess around with ideas - not just the ideas that form the story’s backbone, but with ideas about structure and form, voice and pace. It’s a form of play. I can also use short stories to explore and elaborate worlds that I may use in novels, or uncover corners of the world of a novel I’ve just written. The Quiet War stories are a good example of that. Over the past decade, I’ve written stories that I’m now mining, mostly indirectly, for material to supply two big novels. Right now, I’m working on a couple of stories about a shabby little interstellar empire, set in the very near future. And I have to admit that I still enjoy the tremendous satisfaction of working quickly and in a small compass, taking one idea and pushing it as far as it will go, or knocking two ideas together to see what will happen, or creating a moment that illuminates an entire life. If things go right, I have a finished piece in a few days. I tell you, it’s as bad as crack cocaine. Plus, when things go right, I get paid for it, too. It beats working for a living.