Friday, February 18, 2011

Guest Blogger: Theresa Milstein is breaking the self imposed writing mold.

I'm very excited! My first guest blogger ever takes place today. I want to tell her up front, THANK YOU!

Theresa blogs at Substitute Teacher's Saga. She has a BA and MA in History and works as an extended term substitute, teaching 7th and 8th-grade Social Studies. She writes children's books. Her current pieces are YA fantasy/paranormal romance.

But, Rosie and I asked her to talk to us about how she started writing short stories in honor of our Hone Your Skills Blogfest. Don't forget to sign up for that (see right sidebar). So, without further ado, here she is.

Self-Imposed Writing Mold
by Theresa

A good short-story writer has an instinct for sketching in just enough background to ground the specific story.    - Lynn Abbey
I shied away from writing short stories for years.  Looking back, I had no real reason for it. 

What type of writer are you?  I don’t plot or learn my characters’ backstories before I begin a piece.  I’m a panster; which means I just form a small idea or maybe just a first line, and I write.  As I write, the people and places come to life, and the story reveals itself to me. 

When I’m done, then I face months of editing to fix everything: plot holes, dialogue, pacing, grammar, spelling, character motivation, and so on.

This fall, I attempted my first short story (Visit Rosie's Blog to read about that experience. Click HERE.)

It was easier than I thought. 

Before I wrote it, I thought, “I can only write YA with some element of fantasy.  I can’t write adult.  I would have no idea how to write a short story.  And I can’t just write on demand.”

Really, short stories are like longer ones, only shorter.  And easier.  There aren’t as many words (obviously) so each one must count.  And the shorter the story, the more spare the writer must be.  My first short story I wrote was around 3k.

When writing a novel, a writer has a lot to keep track of, but with a short story, it’s easier to see the big picture, pacing, and so on because… it’s short.  Finding people to critique your piece if easy because who doesn’t have time to read 1k words?  Quick turnaround time.  So months of editing can turn into weeks or even days.  That means almost instant gratification!

I’d also learned to not wait for ideas to come to me.  Taking workshops at conferences has taught me to be handed a topic and just write.  I had to learn to lose control, and see where the story took me right then and there instead of looking for a bucket of inspiration.

While waiting to hear about my first short story (that’s pending until March), there was a call for short stories for an upcoming anthology to raise money for flood victims in Australia called 100 Stories for Queensland.

This one had to be between 500-1k words.  That’s short!  But that’s the size of my typical blog post.  The story had to be upbeat, which is a stretch for me.  And they weren’t looking for YA.

This was going to be a challenge.

The first words appeared in my head, but I didn’t know where I was going with them.  It was about a woman with a secret she decided to reveal to her boyfriend.  When I hit the time of the big reveal… I didn’t know what the secret was.  So I sat on it for a few days.  Then the rest of the book came to me in a rush.  Quickly, I typed it up.  When I checked word count, it was under 1k.  I’d done it!

Next step was to edit and pass it on to my readers.  I submitted the story just under the deadline.

Then I waited.

I made the longlist.  Hooray!

Then I waited – again.

A week later, I received an e-mail from the editor.  My story “Daisy” was accepted, and would appear in the anthology on March 8th.  I’d actually be able to say I was a published writer!

More importantly, in the last several months, I’d learned to break out of my self-imposed mold.  I could write a piece that wasn’t YA.  I could write a piece that wasn’t fantasy.  Mostly importantly, I could write a short story.  On demand.

I’ll still keep working on my novel, which is more than halfway done.  I already have another story to write as soon as I’m done with this one.  But when opportunities come up, I plan to take advantage of them.

Short stories are the same process as long ones in miniature.

Other links of interest this week:

What makes short speculative fiction GREAT? Here is one blogger's thoughts.

This isn't about short stories, but definitely worth a read. The Pressure to Jump in Too Soon by Jody Hedlund.

Janel compares Writing a Short Story to cooking a health meal.

And superstar Beth Revis (Across the Universe) writes on Short Stories: How to compress everything into a few pages.


  1. Hi Charity
    Thanks for posting this - an interesting read.
    Well done Theresa. I guess we don't know what we can do until we give it a try. :)

  2. Charity, thank you for giving me the opportunity to write a guest post. I'll link it to my blog as soon as Rosie's pops up.

    And thank you for the comment, Elaine.

  3. Congrat Theresa.

    At one stage, I only wrote short stories, but then moved one. Maybe one day, I will go back to them.


  4. Theresa, I've made the change. Thanks again for doing this for us!

  5. Congrats Theresa that is wonderful news, looking forward to reading it.
    In Ireland, short story is incredibly popular as it is linked to our oral tradition of story-telling. There is an element of craft to it, as you said, you have to make every word count and the writing has to be spare. Glad your writing mold allowed your short story telling to come through.

  6. Great post, Theresa, and thanks Charity for posting it. I agree that writing shorter pieces and finding them a publishing home can be a huge morale booster. I've recently begun to attempt some MG short fiction, since it's a genre I thought I couldn't write. I've got two pieces in process and I'm finding my fatigue from novel querying is lifting.

  7. Hi Charity - I'm already a follower, but I'm a fellow crusader so I just popped by to say "hi!"

    Hi Theresa - congratulations again on becoming a published writer! I'm so happy for you! The thing I like best about writing short stories is that it really trains you to make every word count.

  8. I'm glad you tackled short stories and won! :-)

  9. I'm a pantser too! But I really love character development so it's hard for me to get everything I want in a short story.

  10. Charity, thanks for bringing us this guest blogger!

    Theresa, nice to meet you and enjoyed reading this post!


  11. Beautiful and lovely Theresa Milstein!!!! Yay for you for breaking that mold and dipping - or should I say - THROWING AND DIVING HEAD FIRST!! - into the waters of short story writing!!!!!! Yay for you!!!! Thank you Charity Bradford for having the fantastic Ms Milstein here! take care

  12. Very inspiring, Theresa! I keep telling myself I can't concentrate on my novel and on short stories at the same time, but I've done it once before. Who's to say I cant try again?

  13. This makes me want to attend a writing conference. Thanks for the read.

  14. well done theresa! cant wait to read your story! Short stories can be addictive and such a thrill to write ...hope you keep writing them!

  15. Hiya, buddy crusader! I'm making the rounds today and checking out your blog. Nice to meet you, and Happy Friday! :)

    Artzicarol Ramblings

  16. I dropped in to say "You've been gifted with the Stylish Blogger Award." Drop by Saturday blog post ( to pick it up.

    Have a great weekend!

  17. Hello fellow Crusader! Thanks for stopping by my blog. Can't wait to read more of you!

  18. Should be pretty easy to break out of a self-imposed mold. If you make the mold you can just as easily make another one.

  19. Hi, fellow crusader! Just checking everyone out and adding you to my list of blogs I'm following.

  20. Great post! I've always found short stories difficult to write for some of the same reasons that you described. It's definitely hard to stay within a word limit, but sometimes that can be the interesting part. I'm a pantser too. I think it's fun to not always know what's going to happen when I sit down to write.


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