Writing is my hobby. It is not my full-time job. It is not paying to support my family. Sure, it can make some money on the side, but I generally write to be creative. I have stories and ideas that I want to get onto the page and out to the world. I started writing for fun in college, creating a series of intertwined short stories I wanted to collect into a novel-length book. Nothing ever truly came of these short stories, other than to convince me that they were possible.
Then I wrote my first novel. I found it ironic that I didn’t pursue a thesis-based Master’s Degree, but ended up doing nine months of research to write a thesis-length book in roughly six weeks. This was the largest thing I had ever written. Unlike my previous short stories, though, a coupon to get five free proof copies of this book was the impetus I needed to edit and polish this novel. Six months later, I was holding a physical copy of my first novel in my hands. It was available on Amazon, and anyone who wanted to could buy this book.
I was now a published author.
I’ll leave the debate as to whether self-published authors are “real” authors to the comments section (spoiler alert: they are still authors). Regardless, now that I had written and published a book, I suddenly knew it wasn’t impossible. This allowed me to start planning the next book in the series. And the next. Suddenly, three years had passed, and I had a trilogy on my hands. With this story complete, I collected all three books together and published them in a single omnibus. I also included an appendix to help explain the tons of references I made throughout the series. While there wasn’t too much new content in this omnibus, it was technically the fourth book I ever published.
For the next few years, I mainly focused on writing novels. This was something I now knew how to do, so I stuck with it and became more serious about creating a professional product. And I kept writing. Even though I contained most of my writing to National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo), I eventually became aware that I could submit short stories to anthologies. Sure, I had a few poems accepted into a creative anthology while I was in school, but I had never thought I was good enough to submit short stories elsewhere. Since my writing focus was on novels during November, there were still 11 months of the year I could write short stories.
These short stories didn’t come as easily as they used to.
After spending so much time focused on long-form narratives, it was difficult to revert to stories that had a word count limit, instead of a minimum word count. Finding ideas that could be contained within the bounds of a short story was harder than it used to be. I wasn’t writing 11 short stories a year, but I was managing to crank out one or two. Some of them were accepted. Others were rejected. Still, I kept everything I had written, and I kept writing regularly.
In 2017, I decided to take my writing hobby a lot more seriously. I published the second editions of my original trilogy, giving them updated covers that weren’t basic designs from an online cover creator. Part of taking this hobby seriously meant that I intended to publish a book every single year from then on out. In 2018, I published my fourth book (or fifth, if you count the omnibus), Fourteener Father. I had written the first draft of this book back in 2016, so it wasn’t too hard to get it polished and out to the world by 2018.
Then I hit a snag.
Unfortunately, while I had four manuscripts in my “to edit” pile, one of them I wanted to submit to agents, which probably meant I couldn’t publish it in 2019. Moreover, the other three still needed a lot of work before I would want to release them. It started to seem that I didn’t have anything to publish in 2019. Then I remembered that I was going to be wrapping up my movie blog, Cinema Connections, by the end of August. I had been writing this weekly blog since 2012, and I suddenly realized that I could combine these 400 posts into a single volume. A single volume that I could publish in 2019.
I write all this to arrive at the central question of this post: how much should you write? I know most authors dream of writing the greatest book ever written and using it to rest their laurels. It’s worked for a few over the years, like Harper Lee and To Kill a Mockingbird (I’m going to ignore that she wrote a so-so sequel). But if you look at other authors like Neil Gaiman, Ray Bradbury, and Kurt Vonnegut, you’ll see that—along with the novels that they wrote—they also wrote short stories and other pieces of fiction. They were always writing.
Write to fill out your portfolio.
I understand that not every short story I write will be accepted into an anthology. I know that I probably won’t win every flash fiction contest I enter. And yet, I write. I write blog posts for organizations I am involved with. I write stories that interest me. I write, and I write, and I write. Eventually, I’ll have written enough little bits and pieces that I can collect them all together into a book. Authors have done this before, like Neil Gaiman’s Smoke and Mirrors, Ray Bradbury’s The Golden Apples of the Sun, or Kurt Vonnegut’s Welcome to the Monkey House. I’m starting to eye the short stories I’ve written over the years, wondering if there’s enough there for a book. I think there is, but until then, I’ll keep writing.