The Short Story – Getting Started

Natalie Talks About What Works For Her

As writers we are all different. We have to be or we’d all be producing exactly the same story. When it comes to my work I am not a great planner. This has, believe it or not, advantages as well as disadvantages. For me planning impedes the natural flow as I write by inspiration – or is it desperation? From the word go I almost invariably know what the ending is going to be but hardly ever how I’m going to get there. I tend not to stop and think but just to head straight in from that first sentence. But where does that first sentence come from?

Ideas are not my strongest point but once they’ve been planted I’m off. There are several websites that offer prompts and these can be very useful, both for titles and subject matter. However, nearly two years ago when trawling for competitions I discovered something that for me has proved invaluable. A website called ‘Write Invite’ and I will try to explain how it works and why it has been such a useful tool.

After registration one has to purchase credits via PayPal (though the first competition is free). The cost per credit is £4 but this can be reduced considerably (to £3) when buying in bulk. Every Saturday at 5.30pm I can be found logged on and logged into the site waiting for the option to participate. You can of course decline. Three choices are given and the object is to write a complete story on one of them and submit within thirty minutes. The first time I tried it (and the second and the third) I was terrified but what an amazing adrenalin rush! Alarm ClockYour brain tells you that this is not the time to stare at a blank screen and something kicks in and you begin to write, not stopping to correct typos or grammar, a habit I find difficult to overcome but there is no place for it here; no time.

I have yet to win this competition though I have been placed a few times. Am I throwing good money after bad? Definitely not! I have built up a collection of short stories that would never otherwise have been written, all complete and most not long enough to be suitable for women’s magazines. I have taken those stories, reworked them and submitted to magazines with enough of a success rate that I am quids ahead. So I regard my fee as an investment, money well spent because by a longer route it has generated more.

If you don’t wish to invest in something like this try picking three words or phrases out of the dictionary and using one of those. It’s a method that can also work – but not always because there is no pressure. There’s nothing like a ticking clock to galvanise you into producing some very fine work.

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12 thoughts on “The Short Story – Getting Started

  1. What an excellent description of Write Invite. I too enjoy the buzz of producing something apparently out of nothing on a Saturday afternoon. ‘Where did that come from?’ is the question that comes to mind when I finally read what I’ve written. Well done, Natalie, for taking these stories forward and drawing on your (unexpected) treasury of tales.

  2. Very interesting, Natalie. I never plan properly for short stories either. I get a beginning or a situation in my head and I just start! Write Invite is brilliant for forcing us to just go with that tiny spark of an idea and see where it takes us. There’s no time to do anything else! I haven’t entered for quite a while but used to love doing it every Saturday, and I won it a few times. If only we could write novels that way, but I’m afraid planning is essential and it takes a lot longer than 30 minutes!! That’s what’s making it so hard for me to make the transition from short story to novel – it is SUCH a different discipline. Good luck. Viv x

    • Keep at it Viv and use the short stories as snacks, little refreshers before the more nutritious novel. If you think of Chapters as short stories the whole thing is not so daunting.

  3. A really good piece Natalie, it would be interesting to know how other people write short stories. I don’t plan either but then I always lose my way a little bit but I get there in the end!

    • An interesting blog. I’ve tried this writing site and yes it generated some ideas, that I went on to sell, but as I never start a story without knowing how it will end I favour my own approach to story writing. It is something we can do at home alone using a timer and a story genarator – if we are strict with ourselves and don’t cheat!
      Elaine Everest

  4. That’s very interesting, Natalie. I think you’re what is known in modern writing parlance as a ‘panster’, according to an article I was reading just yesterday. That’s not as bad as it sounds! It’s someone who writes by the seat of their pants rather than plans. I’ve employed both methods, depending on how the story came to me in the first place, though my novels always end up having a plan drawn up for them somewhere along the process.

  5. I’m happy to be a ‘panster’ – it’s like travelling. You may have a fair idea where you’re going but the excitement is in the details of the journey. Where will your characters take you and will they even change your destination? Let’s find out.

  6. What a lovely response. It’s interesting to see what inspires (or perspires) everyone else.

    Viv…I planned my current book in detail – something I’ve not done before – and in fact it’s slowed me right down as it isn’t ‘flowing’ in the way things normally do for me. However, I think in the end it will make for a better novel.
    Francesca…I’m definitely a panster
    Elaine E…what can I say – I’m SO good at displacement therapy

    Thank you all for your input and feedback

  7. As the creator of WriteInvite, this was the initial vision: to encourage people to write in a way that was perhaps different from their normal style/approach. Copyright always remains with the competitors, so it’s always encouraging to hear that writers are making this site part of their literary journey. Thanks for the kind comments!

    • Write-Invite is a very important part of my literary journey. Writing with no prior knowledge of the subject is a superb exercise and I’ve produced many stories ‘out of no-where’ that can be worked on later. It’s taught me to write spontaneously – I wish I could do it all the time.

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